Foundational Approaches

 

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The Promising Practices Inventory is centred on foundational approaches to service provision identified from published literature and in consultation with stakeholder groups including community service providers, government, regional and provincial leaders, and women experiencing domestic violence. Research and practices suggests the manner in which services are provided has a significant impact on their effectiveness (UN Women, 2016). Situating service provision in a culture of women’s empowerment is crucial to appropriately responding to violence and maintaining the safety of women and girls. Essential services, regardless of the specific sector that may be responding to women and girls experiencing violence, should employ the following foundational approaches:

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Women Centred

Women centred approaches place women at the centre of service models, foregrounding their safety, dignity and unique circumstances. Women are experts on their own experiences and needs, and they should have a strong role in defining service expectations and outcomes. Gender-neutral services often fail to recognize and respond appropriately to women’s uniquely barriered experiences of violence and abuse. As such, these service providers are far less likely to successfully meet women’s needs and create effective safety nets to keep women and their children safe from abuse. Approaches that are women centred provide holistic services that empower women, treat them with dignity and recognize the intersecting societal barriers women face that impede their path to safety. 

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Gendered Lens

The majority of victims who face domestic violence are women and Alberta has the 3rd highest rate of reported incidences of domestic violence[1]. A gendered lens takes into account the intersectionality of policies, programs and initiatives and how this specifically affects women[2].  It is important to highlight that violence against women results from gendered inequalities that disempowers, creates psychological and physical harm and infringes on women’s basic rights and freedoms. Service that places women at the centre ensures that the often invisible barriers of gendered inequalities to successful outcomes of women facing violence are addressed.

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Indigenous Lens

Indigenous women, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence and violence against women in general - they are at higher risk of violence and the violence they experience is more severe than that experienced by other cultural groups.  A long-term history of colonization, racism, discrimination, residential schools and assimilation has had a profound effect on Indigenous people resulting in significant intergenerational historic trauma. Historic trauma causes deep breakdowns in social functioning and disruption of traditional parenting and kinship structures that may last for generations.  In addition to a disproportionate vulnerability to domestic violence, Indigenous women and their families face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, child welfare and criminal justice involvement, less access to safe and adequate housing and health care, and unequal access to primary, secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities.

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Trauma and Violence Informed

Trauma-informed approaches incorporate an understanding of the pervasiveness and impact of trauma and are designed to reduce re-traumatization, support healing and resiliency, and address the root causes of abuse and violence.  Experiencing domestic violence is traumatic to women and their children. As such, women and children fleeing domestic violence may experience prolonged feelings of anxiety or hyper-vigilance and other post-trauma responses. Children are likely to display trauma-related insecure attachment, linked to a host of social, emotional, mental and cognitive problems that may persist over their lifetime. Offering trauma-informed domestic violence services recognizes the pervasiveness of trauma and its impacts on a survivor’s ability to cope, to access services, and to feel safe in a new environment. 

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Inclusive Practices

Inclusive practices must take into account the diverse cultures of women and children accessing domestic violence services, as well as the complex needs presented when working with those from the LGBT community, women with disabilities, women with mental health issues, as well as seniors.  By 2030, 20% of the Canadian population will be foreign born.  Alberta alone will also receive 6000 Syrian refuges, most whom are women, children and families.  Services must take into account a cultural competency/awareness piece that promotes appropriate service delivery in an increasingly diverse community.

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Child Focused

Child’s safety and well-being are integrally linked with the safety of the mother. Children can be exposed to their mother’s abuse in many ways, including when they see their mother assaulted and demeaned, hear loud conflict and violence or see the aftermath (e.g., injuries). Children might also be used by an abusive partner to perpetuate the abuse. For example, the abuser may threaten violence against the children, speak inappropriately to the children about their mother’s behaviour, hold the children hostage, or abduct them. Two-thirds of women admitted to women’s shelters in Alberta are accompanied by children (estimated 5,000 per year) and almost half of these are pre-schoolers. Service providers who support women fleeing domestic abuse should also have the capacity to support children who have witnessed abuse or experienced abuse themselves.

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Safety Focused

Services provided to women and children fleeing abusers need to be accountable to their safety. Service providers should be aware of how practices might place women at risk, especially when domestic abusers are involved. Practices recommended for some clients may not be appropriate for women and children fleeing domestic violence. There is an overall lack of consistency, standards and accountability in systems’ responses to domestic violence. Consistent, safety-focused practices and tools are needed to ensure women and children are not placed at further risk of violence from perpetrators.

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Conclusion

By reflecting these approaches in practice and activities, health, social services, police, justice, and government sectors can ensure service delivery addresses the complexities experienced by women and children exposed to violence.  Programs listed in the inventory reflect some or all of these foundational approaches, ensuring that service delivery addresses the core elements of services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

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[1] Statistics Canada. (2014).

[2]  Hoffert, Goard, & Pirie. (2014). Working Together: Engaging Communities to End Violence Against Women & Girls. Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.