Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meeting Survivors' Needs: A Multi-State Study of Domestic Violence Shelter Experiences

On Wednesday I attended a webinar about the findings of the study: Meeting Survivors' Needs: A Multi-State Study of Domestic Violence Shelter Experiences.

At the end of the webinar participants were told that the federal government's primary funding for DV shelters, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act expired last September.

I'm highlighting this before getting into the details of this study because continued funding is necessary to not lose the progress DV shelters and DV advocates have made in helping shelter residents with safety and practical issues and in doing community outreach which often focuses on violence prevention.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides some funding for coordinated community responses which includes domestic violence, but the core funding for DV shelters is critical. Many states are slashing their funding to a variety of programs and this will likely include cutting funding related to helping victims of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, those who have always opposed DV shelters and other services for victims of violent crime will use our current economic crisis as an excuse to heighten their opposition to funding these programs. Their excuse is invalid. Effective prevention and effective responses to violence is less expensive than waiting until the violence escalates to the point where it cannot be ignored.

I am asking each US citizen who reads this post to contact President Obama, your 2 senators (or 1 if you live in MN) and your representative and ask them all to support the reathorization and the funding for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. After you contact your representatives, please ask those you know to do the same.

Helping a victim get out alive is both a better outcome and cheaper than arresting, trying and incarcerating a man for brutally murdering his wife. This is also a better outcome for children who end up losing both parents.

Okay, back to the study.

This study was conducted by Eleanor Lyon and Shannon Lane of the University of Connecticut's Institute for Violence Prevention and Reduction at the School of Social Work in collaboration with the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The heading on the press release (pdf) accompanying the publication of the report on this study captures some of the major findings.


Domestic Violence Shelters Are Meeting Needs of Most Victims, Comprehensive Federally-Funded Study Finds

Victims Report Satisfaction with Services, Help Achieving Long-Term Safety,
But Say More Help Needed with Health, Housing & Children's Issues
The Executive Summary and Full Report (pdf) are available at: http://www.vawnet.org/ Currently multiple links related to this study are on the right side of the main page. This web site also contains the toll free numbers for 3 different hotlines.

The study, with data collected from October, 2007 to March, 2008, is based on surveys of 3410 residents in 215 domestic violence shelters in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington. The shelters chosen for the study were selected because they represent the diversity of communities and domestic violence shelter clients in the US.

Thirteen men were surveyed so that 99.6% of the respondents were women. Most men served by DV shelters are given motel vouchers or stay at separate safe houses which weren't included in this survey. 68% of those surveyed had minor children with them at the shelter.

98% of shelters were able to accomodate people with disabilities.

Residents who participated in this study completed a survey at or near the time they arrived and they completed a second survey at or near the time they left. This allowed the researchers to measure their initial needs and to look at how well the shelter was able to address those needs during a client's stay.

This study highlights that domestic violence shelters are both needed and largely effective when they have funding to match the needs in their communities. The needs of residents went far beyond having temporary safe housing.

Needs included support groups, creating safety plans, legal help, assistance finding affordable housing, help making educational plans and meeting the needs of the children impacted by DV. This study highlighted areas where domestic violence shelters can do more to meet the needs of those who come to them or to help connect their clients to other services which can meet those needs.

One of the major needs highlighted in this report is for shelter staff to have strong conflict resolution skills. One-third of respondents (32 percent) said they had conflicts with other residents, and 73 percent of those conflicts were resolved.

Despite many stereotypes repeated by people who dismiss the importance of DV shelters these shelters are not the first resort for those who are trying to get out of a marriage or relationship.

The most important outcomes related to long-term safety for those leaving the shelter are having a safety plan and knowing what local resources are available to help them be safe and rebuild their lives.

Funding for shelters is already being hit so some shelters are having to cut back on their 24 hour services (hotlines, for example) or they are having to cut back on other services. This can increase the number of people who are turned away from DV shelters because the shelter is full.

There was a question about whether domestic violence increases during recessions and we were referred to information on economic distress and intimate partner violence. Studies haven't found evidence that economic distress causes domestic violence but economic distress can lead to an escalation of abuse and/or physical violence.

I applaud the researchers for studying the effectiveness of DV shelters from the residents perspective. Too often programs are designed and modified while those making important decisions (including funding decisions) remain disconnected from those being served by those programs. The results of this study will be used to give legislators important information which should help legislators support funding for DV shelters based on solid research about everything DV shelters can do for their clients.

The full report is available in PDF format.

Here are a couple more resources provided during the webinar:

National Network To End Domestic Violence

Helping Women Understand Their Risk in Situations of Intimate Partner Violence (requires subscription or fee to access full article)

For more on DV/Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) check out my series of posts about a one-day IPV seminar I attended last October at the Mayo Clinic.

Part 1: Barriers
Part 2: Universal screening
Part 3: A sister's story
Part 4: How to get men involved
Part 5: A physician's experience as a victim of IPV

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