As Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) welcomes the government’s long-awaited Domestic Abuse Plan, we reflect on how far the measures go in meeting the needs of women with multiple and complex needs (MCN).
Specialist support in safe accommodation
Throughout our project work, FLSE have continuously advocated for access to appropriate housing options for those experiencing domestic abuse as one of several intersecting needs. We know that for those made homeless by domestic abuse, the path to stable accommodation is not easy, particularly for those experiencing MCN. Refuge referrals are frequently rejected on the grounds of clients’ mental health and substance use needs being too high. This results in women facing multiple disadvantage being excluded from accessing the current refuge service models, meaning many women are being forced to return to their partner and abuser or being placed in non-specialist accommodation settings.
We are particularly encouraged by the government’s commitment in the plan to provide funding for specialist support services in safe accommodation to ensure that vacancies are available to a greater number of victims and survivors, no matter how complex their needs. It is also heartening to see that the Ministry of Justice will look into introducing national commissioning standards across all victim support services and the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities’ Quality Standards for support in safe accommodation. This will ensure that the commissioning of support in safe accommodation for domestic abuse victims and survivors and their children will be subject to the same standards as all victim support services.
Training for non-specialist services
At a local level, FLSE have made specific recommendations for staff in non-specialist services supporting women with MCN to be equipped and trained to better respond to domestic abuse. We have evidenced the need for MCN specific domestic abuse training to be provided across Sussex, to ensure that police forces are more informed of the complexities facing women with complex needs experiencing domestic abuse.
As such, the provision of up to £3.3 million to fund the rollout of Domestic Abuse Matters training to forces which have yet to deliver it, or do not have their own specific domestic abuse training, is a welcome step. We also welcome the government’s commitment to provide £7.5 million to upskill healthcare professionals to identify and refer victims and survivors to support services and ensure that healthcare professionals are appropriately equipped to support those suffering trauma from abuse. We hope that these measures will be built upon, with the long-term view for all public services and non-specialist services to be able to respond appropriately to domestic abuse, with an intersectional understanding of the experience of women with MCN.
Collaboration and coordination across the sector
Women with MCN who are experiencing domestic abuse do not typically present at specialist domestic and sexual violence services. For example, they may present for help in the first instance at their Local Authority Housing Options Service, where clients can experience judgemental and stigmatising responses and unsatisfactory outcomes. Women frequently do not receive a service which reflects an understanding of the complexities, dynamics and risk issues of domestic abuse or receive a trauma-informed response.
As such, it is positive to see the importance of collaboration and coordination between and within statutory services in better supporting survivors recognised within the plan. We are hopeful that the government’s upcoming new Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance, which will provide further details on the different types of abusive behaviours, will help to facilitate a common understanding of domestic abuse across the whole system, ensuring that women do not fall through the gaps in provision.
The measures set out in the ‘Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan’ represents a positive step toward better coordinated and trauma-informed support services which can holistically meet the needs of the most marginalised women. The government must now bring lived experience voices to the forefront in decision-making forums when translating these objectives into practice and instigate the change that is truly imperative.
Emily Page, Systems Change Project Assistant
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