Domestic Abuse, Housing and Homelessness in Scotland: An Evidence Review

There has been little research on the relationship between domestic abuse, housing and homelessness, especially in the Scottish context. This review provides some secondary analysis of relevant homelessness and housing statistics to provide a more in-depth overview of the scale of domestic abuse as a contributory factor to homelessness in Scotland.


Provision of Housing Support

The provision of the types of support given to women under the homelessness legislation is collected in the homelessness statistics. Analysis of the 2008-2009 homelessness data shows that 27% of priority need cases stated that they were fleeing domestic abuse, and also identified a support need. Of the 27%, 47% were from single women and 28% from women with children. The most common support need was a mental health problem, for both groups of women, followed by basic housing management/living skills. This includes those who need to learn about the management of household finances or other aspects of living independently. It is likely to apply to many people who have not had a home of their own before, or for a number of years, as well as to others who have found it difficult to maintain a tenancy. Single women fleeing domestic abuse/violence were also more likely to identify drug or alcohol dependency (147 cases) compared to women with children (55 cases).

In Scotland, two influential studies on domestic abuse were conducted on housing and homelessness and the housing support needs of these households. These were the quality of Refuge provision 40 and the ability of women to sustain tenancies on being re-housed following domestic abuse. No research has been undertaken since then.

Refuge Provision

On refuges, Scottish Women's Aid ( SWA) report 41 that there are 505 household places (household defined as a space for a woman\woman and her children) in Scotland. Of these, 223 are shared and 286 are self-contained. This is a reduction from 520 household spaces provided as refuge accommodation from Scottish Women's Aid's survey due to the closure of accommodation provided as refuges to women's aid in Aberdeen and Falkirk.

Scottish HL2 Homelessness Statistics at 31 December 2009 showed there were 123 households in Scotland in Women's Refuge accommodation, 78 of which were households with pregnant women or dependent children, and the total number of dependent children in these households was 128.

According to figures reported by SWA42, 23% of refuge requests in Scotland were accommodated by women's aid groups and, the extent to which Local Authority areas were able to meet refuge requests for women and their children varied across Scotland; most groups accommodated fewer than 1 out of 3 women and their children who requested refuge during the year 2006-07. Scottish Women's Aid reported that lack of refuge space (68%) was the primary reason why women and children were not admitted to refuge and this lack of refuge space meant that women's aid groups were unable to accommodate half of the children and young people for whom refuge was requested. However, when women left the refuge between April 2006 to March 2007 more than 1 in 3 were re-housed in either council, housing association or privately owned properties. Only 16% returned to their partners.

A Scotland-wide study on refuge provision provided by the Women's Aid Network found that standards within refuge provision varied by type of accommodation, including traditional shared refuges, cluster refuges and dispersed flats. 43 The most preferred form of refuge amongst women, children and workers was that of cluster refuges, with a minority preferring dispersed flats. Most women interviewed were positive about the practical and emotional support received and expressed a preference for on-site support and access to 24-hour emergency support. Provision for children was also largely positively commented on, although it was found that there was scope for more contact with support workers. However, only one third of the Women's Aid groups felt they had sufficient resources to provide needed support for refuge residents.

Fitzgerald et al also found that Women's Aid groups in Scotland reported greatest difficulties in accommodating women with drug and alcohol problems, women with male children over the age of 16, women with serious mental health problems and asylum-seekers, suggesting that specialist provision may be needed.

United Kingdom-wide research 44 has found that accessing refuge accommodation in a preferred location can prove problematic, due to the overall shortage of provision. Further, their research showed that women leaving home due to domestic abuse often faced problems in accessing appropriate support, highlighting the importance of timely and pro-active early intervention.

Tenancy Sustainment

Edgar et al's research on ' Sustaining Tenancies Following Domestic Abuse'45 highlighted the housing problems and needs of women trying to leave violent men. Most women in this situation spend some time in temporary or refuge accommodation before finding alternative housing. Despite this, most who are re-housed as a result of domestic abuse managed to sustain tenancies. This was despite almost all of them being offered tenancies in difficult to let areas, sometimes close to the former home and accessible to their partner. 46 Those with no choice but to accept often demonstrated great resilience in sustaining them. Where tenancies failed, the research found that it tended to be because of harassment and/or re-engagement with the perpetrator of abuse. 47 They highlighted that the most important factor in the success of a tenancy was the quality of the dwelling and especially the characteristics of the neighbourhood. The researchers argued that to be able to leave a violent partner and achieve sustainable housing, women in this situation were likely to require support on four different levels: housing support; social support; personal support and information and advice. 48

Children and Young People's Support Needs

Specific research examining the support needs of children and young people leaving home as a result of domestic abuse is underdeveloped and limited.

Scottish Women's Aid has however undertaken some recent research into children's experiences of having moved home as a result of domestic abuse which included interviews with 30 young people. Key themes identified in the research were bullying, problems making new friends, changing schools, leaving possessions behind, feeling sad and lonely. Older young people seemed to carry more concern about relationship issues in their families, for example, having to choose between parents. All mentioned the importance of being able to talk to someone outside the family.

Other research 49 found that the actual move from home to refuge could involve leaving family, friends, as well as changing school, sometimes on many occasions. This might mean leaving 'everything that gave their daily lives structure, meaning and consistency - in order to be safe'. The research revealed cases where children had moved without being able to take any or few possessions and highlighted that support often came from family members, primarily mothers and siblings but also extended family members. However, support from mothers and siblings were often general and reassuring because of the difficulties of being able to acknowledge the specifics of what was going on. Some of the children also found support in extended family who provided 'physical and emotional sanctuary' and a place where children could escape. 50

Previous research suggests that while refuge is a source of support, reactions to refuge life could be mixed. Mullender and Hague's research revealed that after family support, refuge was the most valued source of support. Fitzpatrick et al's research into refuge provision in Scotland reported children airing anxieties about going to refuge, though some had positive views. For example, some children said that the refuge was ' brilliant' and ' everyone's nice'; others had 'not experienced [refuges] as bad places' 51or 'not as horrible as they had feared', 52Young people did report feeling that they and their mother were safe in refuge. 53

More negatively, services and facilities were often dependent on the physical presence of the children's worker; for example, the playroom could be locked at evenings and weekends. Older children complained about lack of appropriate facilities for their age group. Fitzpatrick et al acknowledge this in their recommendations, urging increasing access to children's workers, and the provision of space for older children. Prior research 54 suggests that children also enjoyed the company of other children in refuge. However, others complained of loneliness and boredom in circumstances where there were no peers there. Some children and young people did have difficulties with other children, whilst others voiced their dislike of the overcrowding and having to share facilities, particularly bathrooms, with other families. Some mentioned other restrictions such as the difficulties in being able to see friends from outside refuge, not being able to bring friends back, and having to keep the location secret which could cause difficulty and embarrassment. 55Some children and young people were restricted in the extent to which they could go out for security reasons. Mullender and Hague 56 have provided a concise overview of the issues emerging from children who had recently left situations where there has been domestic abuse:

As well as distress and fear, children revealed their resilience and coping strategies, for example when moving home and school, with the consequent disruptions to their family and friendship networks. Talking about refuges, it seemed that these losses and the further restrictions (over-crowding, younger children being a nuisance, not being able to have friend back because of keeping the locations secret) were, for many, outweighed by finally being safe... Where children and young people appreciated life in refuge, children's workers were key to this need page numbers for quotes Also quote is too long.

The children's worker was absolutely vital, a key person that children and young people could talk to about domestic abuse and where they could openly express their feelings. They also often organised activities for children and needed to be present for the children to be able to use children's facilities in refuges. Consequently, children often wanted more access to children's workers (e.g. at the weekend) for both practical and emotional reasons. Fitzpatrick also found that children who had contact with statutory agencies were more ambivalent overall and more critical of how they had been dealt with by these services.

The Scottish Executive established the Children's Services Women's Aid Fund in 2005 in response to the identified need for specialist workers to offer direct support to children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. The Fund invested £6m between 2006/7 and 2007/8 and a further £11.9m was allocated for the period 2008-2011. The workers were intended to support children and young people in refuge and when moving on from refuge and also to offer an outreach service to children and young people who were not in refuge. An evaluation of the first two years of the fund found that progress had been made in increasing the number of dedicated hours children's workers spent with children and young people and that, in general, staff, children and mothers, local authority partners and other stakeholders seemed satisfied with the levels of support, although a minority of children reported wanting to spend more time with children's support workers. There was widespread agreement that services were flexibly delivered, child centred and tailored to meet the needs of children and young people. There was evidence of out of hours and weekend contact at the level children wanted, although, a sizeable minority of children would have liked support workers around at times other than they were.

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