April 16, 2024

What we are learning about what works in supporting women affected by domestic violence from our partner, the Haven

Domestic abuse is a scourge on our society that can take many forms: physical and sexual violence, verbal bullying, psychological torture and coercive control. Not only does it leave women in grave danger – and women are the primary victims – it can have an enormous impact on the children who witness it.

The Haven, based in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, has spent the last 50 years supporting women who have been subjected to domestic abuse and homelessness. The Charles Plater Trust supports them in their work with one of its large grants.

Safe Accommodation Manager Kiran Balu explains that when women take the courageous and sometimes perilous decision to leave an abusive partner, their primary requirement is a safe and secure place to stay.

So The Haven provides five communal refuges, four safe houses, and eight self-contained apartments, assigned according to the specific needs of each woman and her children.

“It’s about offering women more choice,” says Kiran, who explains that for some women the idea of communal living, can be a barrier to leaving their abuser.

The charity’s 70-100 employees and volunteers helped more than 2,000 women in 2023. Despite an annual income of around £3.5 million, the charity still has to turn women away each week, such is the demand for their services.

The first port of call for most women is the charity’s helpline run by a small, dedicated team, which allocates the appropriate service for each person. Women who seek refuge are supported by key workers who offer emotional support, and refer into The Haven’s wraparound services including counselling and skills training.

Cases can be complex, with some women having co-occurring needs like using substances as a coping mechanism for example. This is why The Haven employs a dedicated Recovery Caseworker. Some women have been so conditioned that they may not realise that what they’re experiencing is abuse and not normal behaviour. There are a number of pressures that can make women reluctant to seek refuge, as well as the fear of violent repercussions at the hands of partners or relatives.

This complexity necessitates adopting a multi-agency approach, Kiran explains, consulting local authorities, the police, immigration expertise, housing, children’s and other charities where necessary.

A compounding tragedy of abuse is the impact on children and young people, which can last into adulthood if they don’t receive the right support, which is why The Haven has a dedicated Children and Young People’s team.

In an attempt to address societal attitudes towards women and girls, The Haven runs a programme for schools called ‘MENgage and EmpowHER’, to educate girls and boys (aged 13-14) about gender roles, healthy relationships, and the nature of consent.

After the sessions the majority of students often recognise that they were not aware of the prevalence of abuse and violence. This lack of awareness can sometimes create an environment that enables abuse. Many students express the need to be more aware of things like sexual harassment and consent, and to be better equipped to support others who may be vulnerable.

Pastoral care

The Charles Plater Trust’s £53,000 grant to The Haven paid over two years is helping to pay for a Domestic Abuse Keyworker, who started in July 2023 supporting predominantly single women.

This person becomes a main point of contact and trust for the women so they don’t have to keep repeating the same account of what has happened to them multiple times to each agency they deal with.

A keyworker will usually have 5-10 women under their care, at various stages of recovery, says Kiran. The role is pastoral as well as administrative and strong relationships can be formed given than some of the women might be in the charity’s accommodation for as long as two years.

Some of the women supported by The Haven have insecure immigration status and need help with securing their status, claiming benefits, and language skills. Students who’ve come to the country on a student visa who may have been in a forced marriage are often in a much more difficult situation because the authorities won’t fund their care to the same degree as someone who’s arrived on a spouse visa, Kiran explains.

In addition to basic life skills, the charity offers leisure activities, such as yoga classes, film nights and cooking sessions. For example, the new key worker CPT is funding has access to an allotment, says Kiran, and has been taking some of the women along. They picked some apples and made an apple pie, which was a wonderful opportunity for them to get to know each other and participate in an activity many of us take for granted.  

While the work can be stressful and upsetting at times, it can also be very rewarding. Kiran said “When the women come out of the tunnel and are back on their feet again it’s a wonderful feeling. They’re like new women.”