Bromley and Croydon Women’s Aid (BCWA) Safe Beds Scheme has been announced as a prize winner in this year’s London Homelessness Awards. They will share in a prize fund of £60000, with the final results announced at a special event in central London on November 1st. We asked Shoba Shantha, a Refuge Support Officer at BCWA to tell us more about what she does on a typical day with the team.
As a Refuge Support Officer for BCWA, I manage and provide advocacy, emotional and practical support to women and their children fleeing domestic abuse in two of BCWA’s communal refuges. One of these is for our SafeBed Scheme which houses five women and their children.
In a typical day the support that I provide to the women in refuge includes safety planning, referrals to GP’s, Dentist, and health practitioners such as health visitors & midwives. We also have complementary internal services such as in-house counselling, NRPF advice and access to therapeutic children support services. I address any cultural needs, using interpreters and signposting for immigration support. Safebed clients are signposted to ESOL classes, for education and training, courses supporting for employment or volunteering, therapeutic art session, culture and community support etc. I also assist with ensuring women understand what welfare benefits they are entitled to and help apply for them and their children, and help with queries related to housing, their rights within the home (refuge) and also outside. I work with individuals to assess their support needs and goals and agree a plan to help them progress. I hold regular meetings (key working sessions) to review and revise these support plans.
A woman/ and family is referred for a Safebeds space, when they have no recourse to public funds, and/or an unsettled immigration status. The referral comes via social services or other specialist agencies as they have a duty of care, especially if there are children involved. A risk and needs assessment is carried out to ensure the space is suitable and I am responsible for taking new women into the refuge, preparing admin packs and making sure the rooms are warm and welcoming by providing toiletries and basic essentials for them.
We recognise that women and their children have experienced lots of trauma and upheaval due to the domestic abuse and may present with complex needs. We liaise with our pool of immigration solicitors and our in-house legal advisor and work in partnership with GP’s, Police, other women specialist agencies and organisations to make the transition as smooth as is possible. We then work to provide statements of support, along with similar support letters from other professionals working with the said family, that are sent to the Home Office for women to get their settled status.
The children who come into refuge with mum often have varying complex needs. We secured funding for a Child Therapeutic officer who works with them using art, drama, and play and drama therapy to encourage and help them settle into refuge life. We organise trips and activities during school holidays for mum and children and try to create a stimulating and safe environment so children can develop and ultimately thrive.
BCWA recognised that one of the barriers to women and their children moving out of refuge accommodation is a lack of appropriate supported housing for those families that need longer-term support. We have recently started our ‘Safer Futures’ project of dispersed self-contained move-on accommodation. This is for survivors of domestic abuse with low to medium level support needs currently living in refuges across Bromley and Croydon. Women and their children can stay in this accommodation for up to two years. This will ensure that those women with longer term support needs receive appropriate support until suitable long-term housing is secured. This in turn reduces the risk of repeat victimisation as well as minimising the number of moves families have to make when leaving refuge.
We also provide move-on/resettlement support for up to 3 months after the women move on from refuge. This provides basic practical support to women and their children i.e. applying for school admissions, housing benefits, council tax, and support with move-on funds for their essential home décor needs.
BCWA is a good supportive organisation. I feel heard and listened to by our senior management, colleagues and peers. The team support and uplift each other. This applies throughout the organisation irrespective of the hierarchy. We get our birthdays off, have two ‘Wellbeing Days’ a year, reflective practice, well-being/self-care workshops, and support with current prevailing issues that women may face i.e., menopause support, understanding tax and inheritance etc.
Staff and volunteers often get together, share milestone birthdays and an afternoon out sharing food and drinks. We have one thing in common at BCWA, our passion for the cause of bringing awareness about domestic abuse, one day at a time, thereby empowering the future generation. Prevention is better than cure, right?
I enjoy working with Bromley & Croydon Women’s Aid. My work profile is gratifying and the job satisfaction I get is excellent. I used to work in advertising back home in Chennai, India, and have completed a Masters in Mass Communication (specialising in Journalism and advertising). However, when I came to the UK, a decade or more back, my qualifications were not recognised. Not wanting to waste my time I started volunteering. This enabled me to access training and support in the field and I then managed to get a short-term contract with a resource centre. My ability to speak five languages, four South Asian languages, came in handy at this point, and I started work with a specialist organisation catering to South Asian women.
I found this quite overwhelming in the beginning there is so much to learn but I thoroughly enjoy my work now. Yes, no two days are the same but It’s interesting and challenging at the same time. What better way to spend my time and energy, time off from my children, than here where you can give back to society? I have realized this is my calling and there has been no looking back since. I have been with BCWA for over 4 years now and enjoy working with the team and women here.
I do believe that – You don’t need to start a revolution. You just need to do your part! Thank you