In this blog we reflect on how effective partnership working can support new outcomes.
Stonewater and Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE)
In 2021 Stonewater was awarded the new contract to provide refuge accommodation for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in Brighton and Hove
“…a leading social housing provider, with a mission to deliver good quality, affordable homes to people who need them most. We manage around 34,500 homes in England for over 76,000 customers, including affordable properties for general rent, shared ownership and sale, alongside specialist accommodation such as retirement and supported living schemes for older and vulnerable people, domestic abuse refuges, a dedicated LGBTQ+ Safe Space, and young people’s foyers.”
The FLSE project, hosted by BHT Sussex, is one of 12 partnerships funded by the National Lottery Community Fund to provide intensive support for people experiencing multiple and complex needs (MCN), involve people with lived experience at all levels and challenge and change systems that negatively affect people facing MCN. While this eight-year project will soon be coming to an end, we recognised the value of collaborating with Stonewater.
At FLSE, we were keen to collaborate with the Stonewater team as we saw a real opportunity, when they were awarded the new refuge contract, to work together to share our learning of working in a trauma-informed way with women facing MCN and domestic abuse to help this particular group of women to better access and sustain their stay in refuge.
The importance of defining MCN or multiple disadvantage
There is much disagreement in this sector about the merits of having a unified definition of MCN or multiple disadvantage. There are concerns in some quarters around the negative effects of labelling on people experiencing multiple disadvantage. At FLSE we understand and respect this viewpoint. However, from eight years of learning, when it comes to the design and commissioning of services for this client group, we know that there is more risk in not naming multiple disadvantage than providing a clear definition. We feel this is important so that services are designed with the specific needs of this group, who are often excluded from services, in mind. For women experiencing intersecting needs including homelessness, mental ill health, substance or alcohol use, repeat contact with the criminal justice system and the repeat removal of children, when domestic abuse is added to this complex array of issues, it is vital that services are equipped to work with these women, who will all have experienced trauma and require an appropriate response.
Recently, FLSE worked alongside the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office that led on the Needs Assessment – a requirement of the DA Bill – to assess the need for safe accommodation and support for victims/survivors of domestic abuse across Sussex. We coproduced a written submission detailing the specific needs of women fleeing domestic abuse using case examples from our client-facing work. We were delighted to read in the final Pan-Sussex Strategy for Safe Accommodation and Support for Victims/Survivors of Domestic Abuse that FLSE’s definition of multiple disadvantage was included and ‘responsive to multiple disadvantages’ was cited as a key priority in the Strategy. We recommend that all agencies in Sussex use this definition when commissioning or designing domestic abuse services and safe accommodation options:
Multiple Complex Needs (MCN) has a variety of meanings in services and third sector organisations, depending on the needs of the client group. In general, MCN includes people on the edges of society who are often excluded from or who cannot access who is experiencing 3 out of 4 of the following:
What we did together
In April and May 2022 the FLSE team delivered two training sessions for refuge staff. The first session focussed on complex trauma; its causes and how it manifests in behaviours and tools to manage potentially difficult situations and was informed by the refuge team feedback in a pre-training survey.
The second session focussed on deepening conversations around:
- The window of tolerance.
- Dissociation – being the most misunderstood responses and the most common in women and children experiencing domestic abuse and how to recognise and work with it.
- Practising some grounding techniques and tools.
- The working together tool.
- Further reading and training that staff can access.
Following the two training sessions, the Stonewater refuge team felt they had a better understanding of:
- The meaning of MCN.
- What women experiencing MCN and domestic abuse might need.
- Different trauma-related responses.
- How to take a different approach to clients affected by alcohol and substances, including ways to organise a multi-agency meeting involving clients.
- A number of staff reported feeling confident creating and using a Working Agreement.
- All staff reported that they felt ‘completely comfortable’ now with using grounding techniques.
The Stonewater team felt that the collaboration and sharing learning had a positive impact on their work, with one staff member sharing:
“The training was absolutely excellent, I felt as though I learnt a lot and I have already used the working together agreement and the window of tolerance work sheets in my case work sessions”.
Looking to the future
As FLSE is now reaching the final stage of the project, we are proud to know that Stonewater will continue influencing the system to make refuge accommodation more accessible to, and impactful for, women experiencing MCN.
Sandra Sylvester from the FLSE team reflected that “it is so positive to see what can be achieved when working in a strengths-based way with a partner such as Stonewater, who have been open to learning from our 8 years’ experience to develop the tools they need to successfully accommodate women with complex intersecting needs, but also how to give the amazing staff the space to reflect on the difficult work and to provide opportunities to attend relevant training. It has been an honour to be part of this project.”
Wendy Sheehan from Stonewater, shared how enthusiastic the staff were to attend the two training sessions and how they really appreciated them being in person.
“The support and training that the Refuge team have received from Fulfilling Lives has been invaluable. The training was tailored to the specific needs of the team and was based on real life case studies. The feedback from the team has been extremely positive and has improved their confidence with supporting women with MCN’s. This will ensure that we can support more women with MCN a group that is often excluded from accessing many refuge services.”
Sarah Pugh, also from Stonewater, is in the process of developing the organisation’s training package and is using the learning from the training and partnership to inform the content of this framework.
“Refuge has to be more than just bricks and mortar and the practical and therapeutic support survivors, including children, receive is crucial to their recovery. Stonewater are dedicated to ensuring that refuge staff have the opportunity for continual professional development and are equipped with specialist knowledge and confidence to support the multiple and complex needs that residents present with. The feedback from staff who attended this training is overwhelmingly positive and has whet their appetite for more! Learning in the field of domestic abuse and its radiating impact on all aspects of its survivors lives is continuous and we’re working on a Domestic Abuse training plan for all Stonewater employees, incorporating what we’ve learnt so far and utilising all the resources you have provided. Knowledge is power, and effective training results in knowledgeable, skilled staff resulting in improved outcomes for survivors. Thank you Fulfilling Lives, for your time and energy!”
Sandra Sylvester, Systems Change Officer
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead
For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:
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