Local Authorities must ensure survivors’ safety through innovative partnership working, new report says

Leading domestic abuse charity, Solace, Commonweal Housing and Southwark Council, are today advocating for strong and effective partnerships that deliver a life-changing combination of safe, suitable housing, and holistic emotional and practical support to ensure those experiencing abuse can flee safely and recover.

As we enter the 6th week of another national lockdown, the local authority and charities are highlighting how the pandemic has exposed a lack of a safety net for survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of violence.

A new report is advocating a joined-up approach, drawing on the resources and capabilities of Local Authorities, housing organisations and specialist domestic abuse charities.

Published today, the report comes as the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill continues its passage through the House of Lords, bringing forward new measures to ensure local authorities commission accommodation-based domestic abuse services.

This independent evaluation of the Rhea Project, a pilot partnership between Solace, Commonweal and Southwark Council, shows that a successful support model for survivors, strengthens referral pathways, enables a smooth transition from abuse to safety and includes the provision of safe, suitable and secure housing.

Through the Rhea Project, survivors are identified and referred via Southwark Housing Department. Assessments are conducted by a Solace staff member who is embedded within the Southwark Housing Team. Following acceptance into one of eight properties, which Commonweal provides at a subsidised rent, the Rhea key worker provides holistic 1-1 key work support to survivors, for up to 12 months. This can include practical advice around such issues as children gaining places in new schools; helping with benefits forms, as well as emotional support.

The impact is powerful: interviews for the evaluation found the project has improved outcomes for survivors’ wellbeing, empowerment, confidence, and capacity for self-advocacy, as well as their ability to ‘hope and dream’ for the future.

Women who used the Rhea service said:

‘I didn’t want to be in Refuge and anyway I couldn’t be because of my son’s age. So, Rhea really saved us actually. I don’t know how we would have got out together if not, an I wouldn’t have left him there’

‘Along with my own family and friends my key worker got me through. If you were just plopped here, that would be much harder to cope, to not go back [to my abusive partner]’

 

Judith Banjoko, Director of Service at Solace, said:

“As a leading frontline domestic abuse organisation running women’s refuges and housing projects, we know from talking to women that the fear of being homeless is one of the main reasons why women are unable to escape abuse. In 2020, 70% of women Solace has supported have had a housing need. This is simply unacceptable to us and we are committed to finding solutions that work for women.

“We’re delighted to see the evaluation of the Rhea Project confirm what we see on the ground – that though innovative partnerships, like the Rhea Project, we can really help turn the tide by getting the right support to women and children sooner and aid long term recovery from abuse.”

Amy Doyle, Deputy CEO of Commonweal Housing said:

We are delighted to publish this evaluation of the Rhea project, which highlights the powerful impact of safe housing for survivors of domestic abuse and their children.

“The partnership between Southwark Housing and Solace is at the heart of the project, and brings important learning for, other local authorities.

“There is a clear case for the development of similar projects in other areas, and we would encourage anyone interested in doing so to get in touch.”

Councillor Helen Dennis, cabinet member for social support and homelessness at Southwark Council, said:

“The provision of safe housing is vital in any response to domestic violence – as many women will understandably feel unable to escape from abusive situations without knowing that this is in place. Over the years, Southwark Council has sought to strengthen its partnership work in this area, bringing together experts from different fields to support domestic abuse survivors in a holistic and effective way.

 “The project evaluation from this work with Commonweal and Solace shows the success that can be achieved when the right resources are put in place and the whole system works together. We will continue to urge the Government to provide funding to local authorities so we that can continue with this kind of life-changing provision. I want to thank Commonweal and Solace and all the staff at Southwark Council who have been involved in this ground-breaking work. We remain committed to prioritising the needs of domestic violence survivors through our housing team and to learning from this evaluation.”

 

Councillor Leanne Werner, Southwark Council cabinet member for domestic abuse, said:

“This effective partnership with Solace, Commonweal and the Rhea project, means that we can more quickly identify and act on the needs of abused women in order to get them to safety, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The pandemic has dramatically increased homelessness applications from those experiencing domestic abuse, up 40% on last year. But we want those suffering to know that they need not isolate with their abusers, the rules do not apply in this situation, and the support is here for them.”

 

Read the Evaluation of the Rhea Project: Executive Summary

Read the Evaluation of the Rhea Project: Full Report