Tackling violence against women
A new report, “A place to go like this” from the charity Advance explores how violence against women and girls lies at the heart of the intergenerational cycle of harm, including links with serious youth violence. Advance supports women experiencing domestic abuse to be safe and take back control of their lives, and helps those who have committed crime or are at risk of offending to break the cycle of reoffending and keep families together.
The report examines Advance’s Minerva WrapAround services which operate in partnership with both statutory and voluntary organisations. The report considered what Advance and other agencies could do differently to improve outcomes for mothers to break the cycle of reoffending, ensure that the children’s best interests are served and prevent families breaking down.
The Minerva programme
The programme offers intensive one-to-one wrap around support to thousands of women in London each year, working across 22 London boroughs in partnership with statutory and non-statutory agencies, in a whole system approach. It offers safe, gendered, targeted support and advocacy to help women address their often complex needs in relation to offending behaviour, with women’s centres in North and West London. The charity’s approach is holistic and woman-centred. Keyworkers offer tenacious advocacy on behalf of their clients, practical help, frequent communication and support, access to peer support and one-to-one and group programmes. For mothers in contact with social services, keyworkers can be crucial mediators, helping them to navigate the system and providing an additional resource to inform social workers’ decisions.
At the heart of the service is the keyworkers’ consistent, unconditional positive regard for the women they support. This may be regarded as the professional equivalent of a close, positive family relationship or friendship. With histories of poverty, trauma and abuse that often go back to early childhood, many women have never experienced such a relationship before and the effect can be transformative.
Funding from London’s Violence Reduction Unit enabled a number of additional services to be provided by Advance and its partners, Women in Prison, Hibiscus Initiatives and Pact. These included:
- Provision of childcare spaces for children to enable mothers to engage with one-to-one support and group activities.
- Wellbeing-focused activities for mothers including movement and mindfulness, visioning and developing powerful narratives.
- Talking therapy for mothers.
- Access to immigration legal advice .
- An Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) co-located with children’s services, focussed on mothers involved in offending.
- Training for social workers in the dynamics of domestic abuse, risk assessment and the drivers of women’s offending.
- Development of resources and materials for mothers in prison and the community.
The report highlights a number of key findings:
- Greater investment in early intervention is needed to avoid being limited to a crisis-driven approach.
- Co-Locating Minerva key workers in social services teams would improve understanding about the complexities of domestic abuse and women’s offending.
- Women-specific, community services operating in a ‘wrap around’ model are crucial to achieving better outcomes for mothers and their children and supporting statutory agencies to deliver better outcomes and reduce reoffending.
- The police need a deeper understanding of the complexities of domestic abuse and women’s offending, and for that understanding to inform frontline responses to women.
- Better opportunities must be created to ensure women and children are heard in criminal justice proceedings, and that courts have the information they need to make their decisions.
- Service provision for community sentencing and post-release supervision must include practical childcare arrangements to allow mothers with dependent children at home to comply with criminal justice proceedings and undertake rehabilitative one-to-one and group work.
The report concludes by noting that domestic abuse is significantly more widespread than knife crime but receives much less public attention.
The report concludes with a detailed list of recommendations which encourage a wide-range of statutory and non-statutory agencies to make changes, calling on the police and social services to develop closer working relationships with women’s services like Minerva, to enable a more expert understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse and the drivers of women’s offending; asking local and national commissioners to invest in early intervention, specialist services for girls, and support for children whose mothers are involved in the criminal justice system; and encouraging the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to lead a scoping exercise for the establishment of specialist women’s courts in London.