UCLan research reveals need for flexible, tailored support for domestic abuse survivors

The new report comes during Domestic Abuse Awareness Month.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 3:45 pm

A four-year evaluation led by academics at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in partnership with Bangor University, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of East London, has revealed the need for flexible domestic violence and abuse services that are more tailored and responsive to survivors’ changing needs.

The research, published in a report on Monday, analyses how domestic abuse support services in the UK can become more accessible to those that need them, and comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The report is published by Women’s Aid and SafeLives, two charities that collaborated with survivors of domestic abuse over a period of five years to develop and deliver their Roadmap Programme.

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Research by UCLan, Bangor University, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of East London revealed the need for flexible, tailored, domestic violence services.

Carried out between 2017 and 2021, the evaluation involved interviews and surveys about the experiences of 300 women and 70 children affected by domestic violence and abuse, spanning five sites across England.

Researchers found that survivors of domestic abuse valued services that were survivor-centred and enabled them to choose the pace and type of support they received, and that many needed help with parenting, as well as support in their own right.

The study showed that when direct support was provided for children who had lived with domestic abuse, it could assist their mood, sleep, physical health and reduce their fear and anger, having found examples of children who received support from Roadmap services successfully navigating key transitions in their lives.

One child said: "[My worker] really helped me. I feel more secure and I know people will listen to me and what I want more. I think I am more confident."

UCLan's International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm played a vital part in the evaluation.

The research also highlighted improvements in safety, coping and confidence and mental wellbeing for women and children using the services provided by Women’s Aid and SafeLives, with one survivor saying "My mental health has obviously got a lot better…I'm not waking up every morning feeling like I'm going to be sick, fearful."

These findings will contribute to the development of statutory guidance on the UK government’s new Domestic Abuse Act, which became law earlier this year.

The study found that the changes achieved by services for women and children generated considerable social value, which was enhanced by the use of volunteers – many of whom were survivors themselves.

This included those who volunteered as Women’s Aid Ask Me Ambassadors, who provide advice to women experiencing domestic abuse in their local communities.

One Women’s Aid Ask Me Ambassador Ambassador reported how she had successfully assisted a woman who needed to leave her abusive partner, saying "by 8 o’clock that night, she was on her way to freedom. It was amazing, she was really grateful for what I’d done and I felt proud..."

Roadmap staff also provided training for frontline workers who encountered domestic abuse in their work, such as employees in benefit offices, housing and children's social care, with this training improving professionals’ knowledge and confidence in responding to domestic abuse.

However, health services were less likely to take up the training and were less likely to work collaboratively with Roadmap services.

Professor Nicky Stanley, from the Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said: “This extensive research demonstrates the vital role that specialist domestic abuse services play in supporting survivors and helping them to rebuild their lives.”

“Many of the women using Roadmap services had high levels of health and mental health needs, indicating the importance of good communication between health services and domestic abuse organisations. We’d recommend that the 2014 NICE Guidelines on domestic violence and abuse are revisited and updated to provide up-to-date guidance for health professionals and encourage them to collaborate with domestic abuse services.”

Suzanne Jacob OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives said: “The innovative, tailored interventions in pilot ‘Beacon’ sites recognise that to make sustainable change, we need to acknowledge and respond to families as they are, deeply interconnected with one another, with intertwining situations and needs. This includes putting accountability for change on the individual(s) causing harm, directly addressing their behaviour.

“After this research published today by UCLan, SafeLives is more confident than ever that putting survivors at the centre of domestic abuse response work is crucial and delivers better outcomes. If solutions are designed with survivors of abuse themselves – both adults and children – they are much more likely to meet their needs.”