Refuge helps prepare women and children for life after abuse
Story by Diane Parr – Domestic Abuse Refuge Worker
I think for many people it’s easy to forget that a refuge is so much more than four walls and a roof where women and their children find safety and relief from domestic abuse.
When you think about the names a refuge has acquired over the years – safe house, halfway home, home for battered wives – it’s no surprise people don’t always see more than bricks and mortar. But since the day I walked into a Llamau refuge, every preconceived idea I ever had stayed at the door. I walked into a home that day, not just a building.
When a woman comes into a Llamau refuge she’s reassured that alongside her own personal space and time, she also has our full care and commitment. What that means is that anytime she has a wobble and needs a friendly chat, we’re here. Anytime she needs a moment to be alone, we’re here for her children. Anytime she doesn’t know what she needs, we’re here to remind her that’s normal.
It can be very difficult for a woman to process why abuse has happened to her and for a time she’ll likely blame herself for it.
Her mind will take her on a journey that throws out questions she’s unable to answer and she’ll often consider whether the abuse was that bad, so should she return home. Refuge grants her the time and space to process these thoughts and begin to understand why she’s thinking and feeling the way she does. Through one to one sessions, group work and the New Beginnings programme, we come together to not only help her understand and come to terms with abuse but to start the process of moving on from it.
The trauma of domestic abuse often leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms that help them to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced. Some women may use drugs or alcohol as a way to numb their pain and dull their memories. As Refuge Workers it’s our job to help a woman make up her own mind about whether she should carry on with these unhealthy behaviours and to work with her to get the right support in place, so she can move away from them when the time is right. A woman recently told me how she respected the fact we never stopped her doing anything but through the questions we asked her, she realised stopping was the best thing she could do.
Refuge is also a place to help children heal from the trauma of abuse.
Within our refuges we have rooms set up just for children, allowing them to relax and play in their own space. A lot of the time, children don’t understand why they’ve had to move from the family home, so they act out and become quite hard to parent. A mother who’s had to muster all her will to walk away from an abusive relationship needs time to heal and so can find the behaviour of her children very draining during this time. My colleagues and I within the refuge recognise that children need their own support because they’re on their own journey of recovery. Although there is normally a lead Support Worker with child support skills, we all come together to help children just like we do their mums.
Some women come into refuge having had their children removed from their care because of the abuse she’s been put through. It’s not uncommon to read on a women’s paperwork from Social Services that her children have been removed due to her inability to keep them safe. I know I’m not the only person that finds it hard to digest the fact that we live in a world where the victim of abuse is blamed for the removal of her children rather than the perpetrator of the abuse. If this is the case for a woman in refuge, we work so hard to help her understand that this is a narrative that desperately needs to be changed and we do all we can to support her to get her children back.
Towards the end of a women’s stay in refuge we start the process of supporting her in finding her new home.
The legalities and procedures of finding accommodation can be overwhelming for anyone, so we do all we can to support women through this part of their journey. Even when their new home is found they can feel safe in the knowledge that our support will continue through floating support services.
I’ve only worked with Llamau for just over a year now but already I’ve been privileged enough to meet so many courageous women. And not just the women in need of our support but my Llamau colleagues and peers too. Together we do all we can to support and prepare women and children for life after abuse. Because even though it takes them a while to see it themselves, we know a new chapter is beginning for these brave women.
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Last year across our domestic abuse refuges we supported 142women and children to move on from abuse.