A Careers interview with…Leesa
Job title – Outreach Worker (Domestic Abuse Charity)
Tell me a little bit about your job. What are your main responsibilities?
I work for a Domestic Abuse Charity as an Outreach Worker; we get referrals from various people and organisations. A lot of the time it is from the Police who have responded to an abuse call. I have a caseload of approximately thirty. We also get self-referrals from women and men and from organisations such as Social Care and Health. Usually referrals are made in a couple of days unless it is very high risk and it can be any time of the day.
Although the charity has a refuge (self-contained units which accounts for about 20% of referred cases), my role is outreach and involves the non-refuge cases. This primarily involves speaking to the Survivor (mostly this is a woman, but we do take calls from men too). Their personal circumstances vary and include those that are living in the family home to others who have left but still receiving threats. A recent example is a woman on my caseload who left her abuser 15 years ago but still receives ongoing threats to this day; her only respite being when the abuser is in prison.
I work very closely with a specific team in the Police Force called Safety Planning Team. This team is specialist and not what you normally associate with a regular PC role.
The refuge staff are separate to us (the outreach team). However, I also do some work in the refuge. This involves supporting victims of abuse and includes things like educational workshops, safety planning and practical support such as finding them a move on property.
We have a duty rota for our helpline and our office. The days I am on duty, my role is to check the list of referrals that have been made normally this is 5-10 per day. If you are on duty you will contact all those people and ask if they want a service and only some will accept help. We always make sure we say how to contact us in the safest way possible.
The ultimate objective of my role is to prevent injury or death, and sadly the number of cases since lockdown has risen. There are no reliable prevalence data on domestic abuse but the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) offers the best data available.
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2019, an estimated 5.7% of adults (2.4 million) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. There was no significant change in the prevalence of domestic abuse experienced in the last year compared with the year ending March 2018. The police recorded a total of 1,316,800 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes in the year ending March 2019. Of these, 746,219 were recorded as domestic abuse-related crimes, an increase of 24% from the previous year.
If I had to ‘divide’ up my working week I would say its 70% talking to Survivors and 30% admin/action planning/dealing with other agencies. A big part of my role is referral to other agencies, but we also signpost to counselling. The most common question I ask is ‘Are you safe?’ and ‘Do you feel safe?’.
What kind of support do you offer?
When I talk to the Survivor I would check what practical support they need, and again this can range from practical support such as home security, re-enforced door locks, special letter box guards for arson and also emotional support.
Initial assessment is critical and when I talk to them, the first question is to assess whether they need to get out of the house and if they require a refuge space. We can locate one either within our charity or on via the national database. We are always full. Every day each refuge releases what spaces they have so we can monitor who has places.
We also talk to the Survivor about how they can access support if the abuser comes to the house. For example, there is a system called ‘Silent Solutions’ where the Survivor rings 999 and then presses 55. This indicates to the Police that the Survivor is in danger but not able to talk (e.g. often the abuser is in still in the home). The Police would attend immediately.
We would also provide advice to the Survivor to get their permission to talk to their neighbours, we call this cocoon watch, so a trusted neighbour can refer to us if they hear or see something suspicious.
We also have programmes (educational) workshops that people can attend. E.g. the impact of domestic violence, coping strategies and how it can affect your family.
How do people access the support?
Most people who self-refer or need to refer a friend for example will look online and search for ‘women’s aid’. From here they can access an online chat, send an email and ring. There are also posters in the community that explain how to contact us and where we are located. However, it is important to note that it explains where our office is, not the refuge.
How does a referral work?
We use a referral form if we receive a self-referral. Other organisations can use our referral form or submit their own to us.
The referral itself includes details of various things such as:
The nature of incidents
Whether the abuser is living with the Survivor
Whether there are children involved
Type of abuse e.g. mental health
Risk of physical assault and damage to property.
Whether the Survivor needs and wants a refuge and if children are to be referred with him/her, e.g. we can help with transport.
The referring person or organisation will carry out a safer lives dash risk assessment; a set of 16 questions that identify a risk score of the individual, however the referrer e.g. The Police or other organisations are also trusted to make a professional judgment.
Sometimes if the risk is high we can refer to a MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) for people at risk of homicide or serious harm. Staff from our team attend MARAC to represent the organisation and Survivors. The purpose is to share out what needs to be done in order to support the Survivor and others involved, for example a typical action might be for a Housing Association such as Gentoo to look at relocating the Survivor and potentially children.
Tell me a bit more about the impact of Covid-19 on your work.
Prior to Covid I would say the majority of contacts was face to face support, Covid has meant some of the issues are dealt with over the phone. However, if we assessed that the person needed to be seen face to face then we would carry this out. We are tracking how much Covid is impacting on both the referrals and the work we do, but as I said earlier it’s all about risk management and if a person is assessed as requiring face to face (e.g. they may require a place in the refuge) then we would carry this out as safely as possible.
What are the primary career skills needed for this type of work?
Emotional listening – this is absolutely critical; sometimes the Survivor does not feel comfortable talking to their friends and family, preferring someone who is neutral.
The ability to stay calm – often you are faced with emergency situations, so panicking is not an option!
The ability to have emotional resilience and strength – let’s face it, you are dealing with awful things and the need to be strong (not just for the person, but also for your own mental health) is paramount.
Personally, I think you need life experience because this helps build resilience and the practice of emotional listening.
Do you think your background has helped? (Leesa used to work in social care with families and looked after children).
Yes, but when I worked in child protection I thought nothing would ever be as bad as that and yet I am still both shocked and affected by the stories that I hear on a daily basis in this role.
Although the skills I have gained through my years working with children and families are transferable I do see this role as requiring a different set of skills; there is a strong focus and responsibility around risk assessment and safety. Sometimes it feels like there is more at stake because you are dealing directly with life threatening situations. There feels like there is an even greater responsibility somehow. I would say this job is higher risk because children in a safeguarding situation have Social Workers, whereas here, we are often we are the only port of call.
Do you enjoy the job?
I really enjoy the job; the best part is seeing the Survivor becoming empowered; I like the fact I enable them to do things again for themselves and be independent. It has been lovely to see people who have left an abusive relationship and now have own house and have a sense of self. I also enjoy running the workshops as people can share experiences and coping strategies. I find this really rewarding and people feedback that talking to and learning from others who are or are in the same situations really helps.
What kind of staff development training does your organisation offer?
We get a lot. Topics range from understanding domestic violence, safeguarding, risk assessment, drug and alcohol and mental health. Some training programmes are accredited.
Staff can also access support from Managers and have supervision if required.
What kind of career progression opportunities are there in your field of work?
A possible progression route is the IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Adviser) and ISVA (Sexual Violence) programmes. By doing these you can then work different agencies e.g. the Police or in a Hospital setting.
You could progress to being a Manager of a refuge, but personally I am keen to work with the Survivors more than being a Manager.
What would be your career advice to people considering this type of work?
I would say that a good starting point is to work in Social Care or Childcare. This would provide a good grounding for this type of work, as I said before, life experience is paramount.
If someone is considering a Childcare or Health and Social Care Cache qualification I think this is a great thing to do. I would say these need to enable a student to become aware of specialisms such as Domestic Violence. In my experience it is not a ‘career’ that people tend to consider at the beginning of their career decision making. For example, lots of people tend to see Childcare or Health and Social Care as being a Social Worker, A Nursery Nurse or a Care Assistant. I would like to see a widening of information around more specialist career choices such as mine to encourage more people to consider it as a rewarding choice.