Empowering women and children to rebuild their lives following domestic violence

Name of the organisation: Refuge

Contact person: Anne Duncan


Phone: 07584 233466

Personalisation Activity:

Flexible Support Delivery

Who was involved?

Women and refuge workers



Refuge has been running specialist domestic violence services across East Sussex for 15 years.  Since opening their first refuge in Hastings in 1999, Refuge has developed a small network of safe houses in Eastbourne, Lewes, Wealden and, most recently, Rother.  These services have the capacity to support a total of 47 women and their children at any one time.

Many women arrive at a refuge feeling shocked and traumatised.  Some may have just escaped a violent assault.  Some may have lived with abuse for months or years and become isolated from friends and family.  Refuges are so much more than a roof over a woman’s head – Refuge’s specialist workers provide expert support on a wide range of practical and emotional issues, helping women and children to rebuild their lives, free from fear.

The support Refuge provides is tailored to each individual woman and child.  Refuge recognises that every woman and child has a different experience, with different needs: they do not believe that ‘one size fits all’.

When women arrive at the refuge staff work closely with them to help them identify and articulate their own needs – a process which informs a comprehensive needs assessment.  Using this assessment, the refuge worker and the woman will then work together to create a bespoke support plan.  The whole process is centred around the woman and her children, as they are empowered to identify their own goals and needs.  The support that Refuge delivers is flexible.  Some women, for example, prefer not to engage with structured support sessions in the refuge building, but prefer to meet with their support workers in communal settings, such as the local park, or in cafes or gardens.  In one case, a worker went running with one woman, because this was the time when the woman felt most comfortable in opening up and discussing her experiences.  Staff also operate an ‘open door’ policy, so that women are free to access support as and when they need it, instead of adhering to a rigid timetable of ‘set’ sessions.

Staff members are also highly trained in specialist areas of work, such as supporting women to attend court and pursue legal remedies, access services for mental health needs or secure guidance on immigration issues.  This means that women are supported to achieve a wide range of outcomes from support workers with a variety of expertise.   

What evidence do you have that this resulted in improved outcomes for individuals using services?

  • Refuge uses a bespoke casework management system called REMIT which monitors the progress of every interaction a staff member has with a client.  REMIT shows that in 2013/14, women in the East Sussex services achieved an average of 96% of their requested outcomes, across the areas of health, safety, social wellbeing and financial wellbeing.
  • Feedback from women using Refuge’s services also indicates high levels of satisfaction with the quality of the service.  Women report that their relationship with staff is “not just about paperwork but really about me and what I want”.  Through individually tailored keywork sessions and activities they are empowered to achieve their goals.
  • Women are genuinely astounded by “how much I have done and changed” when they review their progress prior to moving on from the refuge in ‘celebration of achievement’ meetings. 
  • Women report that having a variety of staff expertise means that they are better able to achieve different outcomes: “Every staff member has something to bring to the table and it is perfectly laid.”

How this resulted in improved outcomes for the service itself?

  • There is virtually 100% engagement with support services, with very few women leaving the service without having achieved their outcomes.
  • By identifying their own areas of interests, women are supported in developing natural circles of support with each other.
  • Staff are able to quickly develop an effective trusting relationship with women and children, by empowering them to lead and shape the support process.  Staff never ‘tell’ women what to do: they open up a dialogue which encourages women to take back control of their lives – control which has so often been taken away by their perpetrators

What challenges did the organisation face? How were these resolved?

  • Women may feel concerned if they perceive that that other service users may be receiving more support than themselves. Staff are careful to explain to women that support is provided on a flexible basis, tailored to each individual’s needs and requirements, and that these needs may change over time.  
  • Many women arrive at a refuge after having suffered extremely traumatic experiences of violence and abuse, including sexual violence and life-threatening assaults.  Given the sensitivity of these issues, workers may agree with women that certain sessions take place in the woman’s room or in private counselling spaces where they are given the time and space they need to disclose their experiences.