Our work around domestic abuse is integrated into residential, community and outreach services.
Today the incidence of domestic abuse particularly in young people’s relationships is alarmingly high. 75% of the women we work with are affected by domestic abuse.
The DiVa project
We run the DiVa project with our young parents and our outreach team in Lambeth. DiVa has been running since 2007 and aims to support women to permanently leave abusive relationships, improving their lives and those of their children.
DiVa consists of a weekly facilitated peer support group for mothers aged up to 25 who are affected by domestic abuse as well as additional one to one support work around issues raised. Our staff are trained on domestic abuse indicators and responses.
Learning from DiVa members informs all our work in residential, community and outreach. We may now also invite young mothers in residential assessments to join the DiVa group.
The need for DiVa.
Persistent abuse affects a mother’s wellbeing, her self-confidence and her self-esteem; it can ultimately lead to depression and isolation. On average a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police. Women tend to return to the abuser a number of times believing that things will be different and from our experience; they leave one abusive relationship only to end up in another, at least initially.
The impact on young mothers is profound, affecting them at a time when they are learning to be a parent and grappling with very different demands as well as making the transition from adolescent to parent.
DiVa is the only domestic abuse group for young mothers in Lambeth (other groups are for mixed ages) and was developed at the request of young mothers. It continues to evolve in consultation with group members past and present.
In the last six months:
- 5 mothers have taken up counselling
- 5 children have been deregistered from Child Protection plans
- 2 mothers have obtained non-molestation orders
- 13 mothers have attended other support groups
- 2 mothers joined training courses
- 3 mothers found employment
Retention is high and we also find that mothers return to the group because they appreciate the sisterhood that has developed.
The Impact of Domestic Abuse on Children
St Michael’s exists to safeguard children, and domestic abuse is a significant risk factor for child abuse. The risk of child abuse to a child under 5 years is 23 times more likely where there is already domestic abuse (Journal Public Health 2013). In our work, we find children under one year and pre-verbal in domestic abuse households withdrawn and fearful, with delayed developmental milestones.
Effects are long term. Children exposed to domestic abuse are more likely to have behavioural and emotional problems (CAADA 2014); boys to engage in domestic abuse as adults, girls to become victims (Cross Currents 2003).
Who are the DiVas?
"I lost my daughter, she got removed from my care. I know that it was the right thing to happen but I can’t stop crying, so I travelled all the way from West London to come back to the DiVa group because the other mothers can understand me and not judge me.”
DiVas are young mothers in Lambeth, aged 25 and under. The project is also publicised with children’s centres, Children’s Social Care, various health services, housing agencies, and voluntary and community groups supporting women.
Mothers may not recognise the abusive nature of their relationship, or do not wish to because they want their children to have a relationship with their father, something denied to many of these young women.
Some feel guilty and believe that domestic abuse is their fault.
Some are anxious about what will happen if they leave the relationship, (we know the risks to women are highest at this point), where will they live, how they will manage financially, and what family and friends will say.
Some young parents refer themselves to our outreach (11% of all referrals). Group members also recommend the projects to friends.
The group is also open to mothers from our residential homes and welcomes back mothers who have moved out of the area. In 2016, there was an average attendance of eight per session.
Domestic Abuse in Lambeth
Levels of sexual violence against women and girls in Lambeth are some of the highest in the country. Violence against women and girls is intricately linked to gang activity, disproportionately high in the borough.
In consultations, teenage parents tell us that for many, rape is the norm and not reported because ‘you’re more at risk from the gang for reporting’. They describe sexual exploitation as rife in schools and teachers/mentors unable to protect.
Facilitated peer support
“I have a lot in common with the other DiVas. The role plays were hard to do as it was upsetting to show myself and the other DiVas how I behaved with my ex-boyfriend. It is a friendly and safe group, I felt safe enough to discuss the rapes I experienced when I was much younger. I also spoke about the harm that I did to myself as a result of the rapes and being put into care. I’m dyslexic but I could understand the exercises which were changed to fit my learning needs.”
The group meets weekly in a confidential space that can accommodate up to 12 people. Each group session is scheduled to last for two hours whilst children attend the crèche. The emotions displayed are not suitable for young children to experience and there is real value in enabling children to play and socialise.
The facilitator introduces a range of resources including the Freedom programme, the Power and Control Wheel, domestic abuse & the law, the impact on children, safeguarding and leaving an abusive relationship. Sessions are flexible and may build around a participant’s urgent issues. There may be additional one to one work during the session in a separate space.
One to one support
Facilitators follow up, managing issues that arise from the session. These might be reporting to a Child Protection conference, helping a mother take out a non-molestation order or organising additional emotional or practical support.
Some mothers will require a visit from a facilitator to feel able to engage with the group. We encourage other professionals to accompany a young mother to her first group. We check in with participants to find out how they are, particularly when there is an important event or they have missed a group. Missing a group is often a warning sign.
Sharing best practice with other professionals
We debrief children’s centre staff following every DiVa group, an opportunity to share particular concerns and celebrate positive changes in both parents and children. This provides a space for centre staff to raise any issues about the delivery model. We have developed good professional relationships with centre managers to air and resolve any concerns. We share the results through networks in Lambeth which are extensive and longstanding – we chair the Voluntary & Community Services Forum.
Mothers’ self-care and presentation is another accurate measure of their wellbeing and we will raise concerns with other professionals having informed the mother first.