“I escaped death” – supporting victims of domestic abuse In 2010 more than one-in-three of the families that Home-Start Shepway were working with involved domestic abuse. So they developed a bespoke programme to make sure women received the support they needed. “We were looking at what our area had to offer and we thought ‘why is there no overall individual support for women?’” explains Amanda, the co-ordinator of Home-Start Shepway’s New Beginnings domestic violence project. Since 2010 Home-Start Shepway have established an entire programme of activities to help women break free of abusive relationships. This includes one-to-one support, special peer-to-peer groups and courses designed to rebuild esteem and self-confidence. Once a week Home-Start Shepway also bring together all the local organisations working in domestic abuse to provide a one-stop-shop for women seeking support and advice. Every agency comes under one roof, so women can quickly and easily get the help they need without the impossible job of visiting so many separate people, retelling their story each time. The programme has transformed the lives of countless women. Women like Claire*, who was first told about the programme by her NHS counsellor who knew that Claire needed longer term support than she could provide. Claire was on anti-depressants for the second time in her life, and found herself in her third abusive relationship. Since the age of 12 she had experienced physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse. “I escaped death by pure luck on more occasions than I care to remember,” she says. “One of my ex-partners would strangle me until I passed out. I was regularly raped. I spent the whole of one pregnancy sleeping on a wooden floor; I was not allowed in the bed because I was too fidgety. On the one occasion I did complain – when about six months pregnant – I was dragged through the house by my feet at speed and thrown across the bedroom. I apologise if this is too graphic – but it is important for me (and hopefully you) to understand how far I have come.” At first Claire was sceptical about how a voluntary service like Home-Start could help with such serious problems. “It seemed like we were placing a sticking plaster over a broken arm”, she says. “I could not have been more wrong”. “Those first few sessions of the course were a challenge, but I quickly discovered that the facilitators were not going to judge me. Their use of empathy, as opposed to sympathy, served to improve my confidence, my self-esteem and taught me to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour.” As well as the individual, one-to-one support and specialist courses, Home-Start runs a peer-to-peer support group. “It is about giving women time out to do crafts and learn new things for themselves. A lot of the time the women are told they are useless, so they do some wonderful projects with us and learn skills they can take back to their families.” These support groups had a huge impact on Claire. “I quickly discovered there were some amazing women in the room with me," she says. "By week two we were already supporting each other, trusting each other and absorbing every bit of information we could glean from the wonderful facilitators” Domestic abuse takes over every aspect of a person’s life. It can also have a devastating impact on their children. In a previous relationship Claire and her daughter had to move eight times in just two years to try and stay safe. But now, four years after she first came into contact with Home-Start, Claire’s life has been transformed. “The New Beginnings team had unshakable faith in my abilities. Sometime this exceeded my own faith in myself, but as it turned out they were always right.” “I am in my own home, which I own out-right,” she adds. “My two daughters are happy and thriving in school, and they know they can do anything they put their minds to.” Claire now uses her experiences to help others. She works full time for a domestic abuse service, after deciding she wanted to give something back, she signed up to be a volunteer for Home-Start Shepway’s domestic abuse programme. Last year the scheme and domestic abuse team supported 146 women through its project, supported by Home-Start Shepway. This amazing project is just one example of a local Home-Start using their experience of supporting families to develop a service that meets a local need in their community. “The need is there,” explains Amanda. “Times are changing and that is why having specialised projects that are needed in that area are so important.” To find out more about Home-Start Shepway, click here. *Claire is not her real name. We've changed Claire's name to protect her anonymity.