“Cyfannol Women’s Aid provides support to victims and survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence across five counties in South-East Wales.
Like many specialist providers, we offer a range of support options and we’re constantly evolving our services to meet needs and address gaps. So, when statistics revealed only one in four people who rang the police about domestic abuse went on to access support services offered to them, we began talking with Gwent Police about how to address this.
Together, we established a partnership whereby our specialist support workers attended domestic abuse incidents alongside the police, to provide additional expert support to victims at the point of crisis and help them to access specialist services thereafter.
Now in its fifth year, the Assertive Outreach project recently made the shortlist of The Charity Awards 2022; one of only 30 charity projects and organisations from across the UK to receive this recognition.
The Assertive Outreach initiative is aimed at anyone over the age of 16 who has reported a domestic abuse incident to Gwent Police more than once in a 12-month period. The project grew out of an initial pilot, which found that individuals experiencing domestic abuse engaged more with officers when a specialist support worker was present. After securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, we launched a large-scale pilot, with support workers based in police stations attending domestic abuse call outs alongside officers.
Support can be provided in individual’s homes, a safe place within the community, over the phone, or via text or email, and can include completing a risk assessment, discussing what the individual wants and needs, formulating a safety plan, and establishing ongoing support needs. The Assertive Outreach team aims to bridge the gap between the Police and Support Services, making sure individuals feel heard and understood when reporting a crime or seeking advice, knowing they will be taken seriously and believed.
In the first three years, our Assertive Outreach team supported 1,651 victims. Of those, 98% engaged with safety planning activity, and 97% gave consent to share details with specialist services.
Some 96% found the project beneficial, but the biggest change was in how people viewed the response from Gwent Police, with 83% feeling listened to in year three compared to 52% in year one.
One woman, who received support from Sophie in our Assertive Outreach team, before being referred on to the IDVA service, told us: “Just knowing the support was there was so beneficial. It really helped with my mental health and was enough to keep me going – basically, it was the difference between life and death for me. Before I received this support, I had no clue there were so many resources and sources of help available – I don’t think the staff realise the impact they have. Now I know there are people willing to listen, if I ever knew anyone else who was going through domestic abuse, I could share what support is out there. I’d tell anyone going through this: ‘you are not on your own’.”
Both Cyfannol’s staff and Gwent Police officers are so positive about this project, and we all value the journey we’ve been on collectively to get to this point. One officer told us: “There are times in policing where you need a lifeline to deal with incidents, which need experience, knowledge and skill to understand what is taking place. The assertive outreach team is exactly that.”
During the course of the project, three other police forces have shared their interest in adapting Assertive Outreach for their areas. It is our hope that by highlighting the work done in Gwent, decision makers will recognise elements of best practice and look to adopt this sustainable approach more widely.
As a forward-thinking charity, we’re committed to continued innovation. Most recently, this has led to us expanding and diversifying Cyfannol’s refuge accommodation options. We’ve introduced a flexible model which can better cater to the needs of larger families, people with disabilities and/or carers, and women with older children, and embedded security to provide an option for women who face barriers to leaving their county.
Going forward, our priority is to secure ongoing funding for the Assertive Outreach project when it reaches the end of its 5-year pilot next year.”
Thanks to Cyfannol Women’s Aid for this blog.