Pan-Sussex Strategy for Domestic Abuse Accommodation and Support 2021-2024

Trauma-informed

Embedding trauma-informed practice in services and processes through training and specialist knowledge

The needs assessment and survivor and stakeholder engagement revealed that victims/survivors often described the process of seeking domestic abuse accommodation and support as re-traumatising. Victims/survivors highlighted that this was true for approaches to both housing authorities and support services, for the following reasons:

  • Insufficient training
  • Evidence requirements
  • Re-traumatisation through repetition

Feedback found that housing officers often lack sufficient domestic abuse awareness training. Many cases of good practice were highlighted during the needs assessment - but without an in-depth domestic abuse training package - housing officers feel unsure of how best to respond to victims/survivors and therefore do not offer the right or appropriate service.

Engagement highlighted a clear need for a more trauma-informed approach to housing application procedures and training. Research shows that high numbers of people accessing public services have experienced trauma in their lives.[1] Trauma can have a significant impact on how individuals engage with services and is defined as resulting from:

“… an event, series of events, or set or circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.”[2]

Understanding responses to trauma allows professionals and services to work more closely with the reality of that individual and form more trusting relationships. Trauma-informed practice is shown to be effective and beneficial for both survivors and staff and is shown to better reach those that are not accessing traditional services. Trauma-informed training packages should be developed and designed with input from those with lived experience. Such training should include adequate supervision processes to account for vicarious trauma.

 

  • Ensure that consistent domestic abuse and trauma-informed practice training packages are developed for frontline practitioners within housing authorities, housing associations and registered social landlords, with an aim to deliver the offer more widely.

Stakeholders told us that another re-traumatising element of the housing support application process is the requirement to provide evidence of domestic abuse. This obligation on housing authorities is explained below:

“21.21 Housing authorities should seek to obtain an account of the applicant’s experience to assess whether the behaviour they have experienced is abusive or whether they would be at risk of domestic abuse if they continued to occupy their accommodation.”[3]

Stakeholders suggested that evidential requirements can deter victims/survivors from seeking support. In some cases, evidence may not be produced as easily, for instance, in cases of coercive control. Victims/survivors of lower-risk abuse may not yet have accessed support services and so may not have this body of information to share with housing teams. This burden does not facilitate early intervention and prevention work. 

Stakeholder engagement also revealed that the kind of evidence required can also be an obstacle. While the code specifies that:

 “Where an applicant’s experience has been documented already by a domestic abuse service - where possible, housing authorities should utilise existing statements to avoid asking the victim to re-live their experience unnecessarily.”[4]

Local specialist domestic abuse services however suggested that this practice may not happen consistently within Sussex housing teams. Stakeholders shared that some housing authorities rely on police evidence rather than information from other services and victims/survivors themselves. This approach overlooks the reality of under-reporting to police and may deter many victims/survivors from seeking support, as they may not have accessed services or feel they have enough evidence. As discussed previously, housing IDVAs co-located within housing authorities would be able to complete DASH risk checklists with victims/survivors to meet evidence requirements and provide specialist support.[5]


“Referring on to multiple agencies (whilst I understand its need) could be dealt with in a more delicate fashion as this would prevent the victim of having to repeat her story over and over which is traumatising in itself” - public consultation respondent.


The above quotation highlights a common experience that was shared during engagement. The range of different services often used by victims/survivors, who may be dealing with other needs alongside domestic abuse, can be overwhelming. This feeling is likely to be increased when considering the impact of repeatedly sharing experiences of abuse and trauma. One refuge provider shared that staff develop documents with residents that can be shared with other services, to avoid the individual having to share their story more than once. This kind of approach can reduce the re-traumatisation often experienced by victims/survivors and should be adopted more widely. Similarly, adopting a single point of contact approach across the wider domestic abuse service network would reduce the burden on the victim/survivor. This Strategy acknowledges that victims/survivors have multiple journeys and entry points into services, so creating a single point of contact may be difficult. However, as much as possible, Sussex will adopt a holistic model of support in which victims/survivors do not need to repeat their stories.

One current initiative is a Victim Hub model for domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Sussex. Four hubs are in operation: Eastbourne, Hastings, Horsham and Brighton and includes police, statutory agencies and commissioned specialist services. This model aims to streamline the victim/survivor’s journey through different services, reduce duplication of work and ensure more co-ordinated working across the local authority areas.

  • Each local authority area will explore the potential of a single point of contact approach or introduction of a directory for victims/survivors accessing different services.

Stakeholders reported that the housing system process can be difficult to navigate and time consuming. Refuge staff reported feeling overwhelmed with the administrative burden of completing housing applications for residents and that it was often to the detriment of being able to provide key support and therapeutic services. Co-locating dedicated support within or for safe accommodation or commissioning floating housing specialists would reduce the pressure on refuge staff and make expert housing advice more accessible for victims/survivors.

  • Sussex local authorities will consider providing dedicated or floating housing specialists to provide support within domestic abuse safe accommodation services.

 

Footnotes

[1] Grandison, G. and Homes, A. (2021). Trauma-Informed Practice: A Toolkit for Scotland. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government. Available at: Trauma-informed practice: toolkit - gov.scot (www.gov.scot).

[2] Grandison and Homes, p.8.

[3] Chapter 21: Domestic abuse - Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities - Guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

[4] Chapter 21: Domestic abuse - Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities - Guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

[5] Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and 'Honour'-based violence Risk Indicator Checklist (DASH RIC)