A transformative approach to support survivors of domestic abuse

Competitive tendering has not been kind to the local, specialist domestic abuse charities that make up the majority of the Women's Aid Federation.


Written by

Polly Neate, CEO, Women's Aid

Many of the reasons for this relate specifically to the historic underfunding of these organisations: in other words, as so often happens, a lack of investment has become a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

Thorough evaluation and business development functions have never been affordable. In large charities these were often funded from surpluses generated on local funding contracts, something only possible with economies of scale. In stark contrast, in over three years at Women's Aid, I have yet to see a local domestic abuse service whose funding covers its core costs. Most local CEOs work directly with women and write funding bids out of hours. The notion that many have time to become experts in social investment, is fanciful in the extreme.

Part of our role at Women's Aid is to enhance the sustainability of the members of our grassroots federation, to preserve the unique, specialist support they offer survivors. We support them to engage successfully in competitive tendering, and we have developed an electronic, integrated case management, outcome measurement system, On Track. We have launched National Quality Standards to help commissioners to identify what good looks like, and our members to evidence it. And with the support of the Lloyds Bank Foundation, and in partnership with Imkaan, we provide direct support to bid for contracts, support commissioning and form partnerships and consortia.

Most important of all, we have developed Change that Lasts, an evidence-based blueprint for transforming the multi-agency response to domestic abuse through a set of interventions which are now at pilot stage, with the support of major funders such as Big Lottery Fund, the Home Office, Comic Relief and Public Health England.

Despite this, we struggle to keep up with the pace of decimation of local domestic abuse services.

To take refuges as just one example, one in six has closed since 2010 and the situation continues to worsen with two thirds of referrals being turned away, according to our latest Annual Survey.

We are confident that Change that Lasts will achieve measurable social impact, and that there is a wealth of innovation and excellent practice in the federation at local level, which would demonstrate both impact and social return. It’s our job as the Federation’s national body to facilitate social investment as an opportunity for our members.

Many local services need support to progress the social investment opportunity. Funders increasingly ask for proof of sustainability, which social investment may provide. Many commissioners are looking at social investment, but without support to engage, local services may hold back and risk losing their place at the table. The reality is that this is the one area where currently supply of funding outstrips demand, yet there are few examples of social investment and no social impact bonds across our Federation. We are working on changing this.

Our potential SIB model is based on an intervention developed by My Sister's Place in Middlesbrough which provided needs-led and trauma-informed support - a key element of Change that Lasts - to women who had been labelled as so-called "intractable cases" because they kept returning to the system despite measures supposedly taken to support them. The work in Middlesbrough improved outcomes for the women and dramatically reduced demand on statutory services.  To the state, the short term costs of this system failure are in policing, A&E, re-housing and homelessness support, and multi-agency case work. Almost every child in these unresolved cases will be taken into care, at huge human and financial cost. 

Thanks to funding from City Bridge Trust and The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), Women’s Aid and BWB Advisory, Impact and Assessment are exploring the feasibility of a Social Impact Bond to sustainably fund better outcomes for survivors of domestic abuse, initially adapting the model for the London context.  This, we hope, could be the first of several proven "off the shelf" offers for local commissioners, all united by the governing principles and framework of Change that Lasts.

For more information on Change that Lasts, visit www.womensaid.org.uk/our-approach-change-that-lasts/. 

For more information on Women's Aid social investment work, contact Lucy Lord.