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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
September 23, 2017
Canadian Excellence

Post-Shelter Experience

This project is a 3-year study on community support and integration of female domestic violence survivors in the Waterloo Region, Halton Region and Dufferin County areas of central Ontario.

The overall aim of the multi-phase research project is to develop a better understanding of service provider and service user perspectives on the goals, values, practices and contexts involved in supporting women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. The study results will be shared with community and social service agencies for the purposes of building knowledge capacity, developing or enhancing programs and services, and facilitating collaboration, coordination and service delivery within and among service agencies on both a community and a regional scale.

Women’s shelters and other community and social service agencies play a central role in providing safety and support for abused women and children. The Phase I research study focuses on answering the broad question: How do women’s shelters and other service organizations support survivors of domestic violence who live in the community, including those women have lived in shelter and then transitioned to community living?  Phase II research will address service user perspectives of 100 or more women who self-identify as domestic violence survivors by inviting them to share their experiences with accessing and receiving community and social services.

In Phase I we surveyed 41 service providers who work in women’s shelter agencies at 5 residential shelter sites that offer a range of services, including:  shelter, outreach, individual and group counselling, family and children’s services and transitional or second stage housing services. In addition, data collection included the perspectives of 18 service providers who work in other organizations that serve VAW clients, namely sexual assault centres, counselling agencies, child welfare agencies, police services, housing services, Ontario Works, Legal Aid workers and court support services.

The Phase I survey focused on perceived successes and challenges within the VAW sector and allied service agencies related to identifying and meeting the needs of domestic violence survivors. Participants were engaged through open-ended questionnaires in semi-structured focus groups and interviews, and data collection was followed by comparative coding and analyses that identified a set of key themes, as follows:

1) Women’s shelters support abused women by meeting their immediate needs and offering practical support.

2) Shelter agencies recognize that clients have many different needs based on their specific circumstances.

3) Shelter agencies face challenges in meeting client needs with limited resources.

4) Shelters and other service agencies work hard to bridge clients with other sources of support in the community.

5) There are additional contextual factors that limit available supports in the community and/or a client’s ability to access them. These include geographical, financial and cultural barriers that pose challenges for clients; a lack of affordable housing and legal services; and funding and time constraints impacting agency service delivery.

6) The larger service system is complex and difficult for women to navigate, particularly social housing services and the justice system.

7) The formal service system can also be challenging for service providers to navigate and build connections.

8) Service providers express feelings of hope, helplessness and anger about being part of a service system that is not consistently helpful for all women.

9) A supportive community plays an important role in formal and informal service delivery through facilitating connections among people and agencies, and easing clients through transitions.

10) More voices of VAW service providers and domestic violence survivors should be included in programming and policy decisions across the entire service system.