Engaging in the development of a Pan-Sussex Strategy for Domestic Abuse Accommodation and Support
Setting the scene
Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act, which achieved royal assent in April 2021, placed a new statuatory duty on local authorities to assess the need and commission support to victims of domestic abuse (DA) and their children in safe accommodation services in their areas. Local Authorities were required to conduct a local needs assessment and prepare and publish a strategy for the provision of such support, and to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy.
At Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE), we know that women who have multiple and complex needs (MCN) are disproportionately affected by DA yet are often felt to be the most challenging to reach for consultation activity and service design and as such, are most at risk of not having their voices heard and needs met. This is a group that services most struggle to build trusting relationships with, and as a result often fail to provide appropriate, person-centred, empathetic support. This is why FLSE is passionate about sharing these women’s voices through coproduction.
What we did
In August 2021, FLSE submitted a report to the Sussex Local Authority Project Team in the Office of Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (OSPCC), which focused on the needs of women with MCN, to support the development of the Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Councils, Pan Sussex Accommodation Based Support Needs Assessment. When writing this report, we adopted a co-produced approach by including staff and volunteers with lived experience of complex needs and domestic abuse in the process, including attending and participating in planning meetings, in-depth research of our case study database and in writing the final report. The evidence presented was gathered from our client work and FLSE volunteers and staff to express both the needs of this group of women as well as their reflections on how the wider housing and support system can be developed.
Members of the FLSE team also attended an online market engagement event to consult on specialist refuge accommodation for those with MCN, hosted by East and West Sussex County Councils. We reflected on the needs of women with MCN who experience domestic abuse and facilitated discussions on the various operating models for refuge provision and the factors that need to be considered when designing these services.
Upon the release of the draft Pan-Sussex strategy for domestic abuse accommodation and support in October 2021, the FLSE project group presented a subsequent report to the OSPCC, to support their public consultation. This expressed our impressions of the draft strategy, identifying what we were pleased to see and areas for improvement. Project group members also completed the online survey conducted by the County Councils to share feedback on behalf of our organisation.
Measuring our Impact
Within our contribution to the Sussex needs assessment, FLSE made a specific recommendation for women with MCN to be named and considered in the strategy. We are delighted to see ‘Responsive to Multiple Disadvantage’ listed as one of six key strategic priorities in the finalised strategy published in January 2022. This priority establishes the need for specialist provision to support victim/survivors with MCN, and makes recommendations for Sussex local authorities, specialist domestic abuse accommodation providers and support services to holistically support those with MCN, whilst ensuring accessibility of services
We also raised concerns around limited and unsuitable move-on options for victims/survivors with MCN. We highlighted the benefits of adopting a ‘Housing First’ model paired with specialist DA wrap-around support, in ensuring accommodation is appropriate to MCN and simultaneously provides a long-term housing solution. As a result, the strategy commits to exploring accommodation and support options appropriate for the needs of survivors with MCN including short-term respite facilities, specialist housing, move-on pathways, and long-term floating support.
Reflections and Recommendations
Engaging and consulting in the development of the Pan-Sussex strategy for domestic abuse accommodation and support provided space for FLSE to have an open channel with local commissioners to share our learning and support the commissioning teams to engage with discussions about the needs of those who experience domestic abuse as one of several complex and intersecting needs. We believe that this was best achieved by giving prominence to the voice of those with lived experience:
‘’The contribution and time invested by the team in providing Sussex with the lived experience work demonstrated to us and further strengthened the importance of ensuring better support is provided to survivors with MCN…by being given the opportunity to corroborate our findings with lived experience feedback was invaluable and helped provide a more meaningful evidence base for our recommendations’’ – Commissioning Project Manager, OSPCC
With the strategic goals in place, we are hopeful that many women with MCN experiencing domestic abuse will have improved opportunities to access appropriate safe accommodations and would be more likely to reach out for help and support. However, in order to break down current barriers experienced by those women with MCN, local authorities, commissioned services and the wider support system must develop tangible action plans that will operationalise the commitments made within the strategy and bring the voices of experts by experience to the forefront.
Emily Page, Systems Change Project Assistant
For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:
Systems Change Project Assistant
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead:
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