No Refuge: Hundreds of Northants domestic abuse survivors turned away
People fleeing abuse are having to look for support outside the county
By Natalie Bloomer
Hundreds of people fleeing from domestic abuse are being turned away from refuges in the county due to lack of space.
The Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service (NDAS) told NN Journal that between 2020 - 2021 918 people requested refuge support from them but they were only able to accommodate 116.
“We know that the number of people coming to us for help is just the tip of the iceberg,” NDAS business manager Zoe Tatham says.
“We are always trying to grow our refuge capacity but even if we had 30 extra beds it still wouldn’t be close to being enough.”
Every day between March 2020 and April 2021 49 domestic incidents were reported to Northamptonshire Police, this equates to 18,250 cases over 12 months. However the number of people experiencing abuse is thought to be much higher as it can take a long time for somebody to seek help.
Northamptonshire currently has refuge space for 48 adults and 56 children - that’s 36 per cent below the recommended capacity for the area. Of the spaces available there are very few for people with a disability and none at all within the specialist refuge spaces. There are just two spaces for people with no recourse to public funds and none for families with more than four children.
When no space can be found locally, the person will be referred to ‘Refuges Online’ an online portal showing which refuges around the UK have spaces. This means families can be moved miles away from their homes, schools and support networks.
NN Journal has previously told the story of Amara*, who fled with her four children from her abusive husband. Part of her ordeal which wasn’t covered in that article was her search for refuge support. After finding herself homeless she contacted a number of refuges in Northamptonshire and the surrounding area but was told that due to her having no recourse to public funds and because of the size of her family there was nowhere that could take her. At a later meeting with support services she was told that the closest refuge that could offer her a place to stay was in the Shetland Islands.
Research commissioned by the former Northamptonshire County Council reveals the extent of domestic abuse in the county:
94 per cent of the people supported by the Sunflower Centre, which provides support to high risk victims, between 2020-21 were female.
Of almost 9,000 social care assessments made between 2020 - 2021 some 40 per cent were recorded as having domestic abuse as a factor.
The oldest person needing to access domestic abuse services in the county was 84 years-old.
Of those needing refuge in Northamptonshire between 2020 - 2021, 34 per cent reported having a disability.
The Youth Offending Service says 44 per cent of young people they work with had evidence of “family behavioural or situation concerns”, which can include domestic abuse.
32 per cent of cases recorded by Northamptonshire Police between 2019 - 2020 were marked as ‘Repeat Victims’.
40 per cent of cases heard at Northants MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) were repeat cases. This compares to a national average of 33 per cent.
Both unitary authorities have worked alongside local partners to create a new countywide domestic abuse strategy. The document identifies five priorities including better integrated working between sectors, an increased focus on early intervention and prevention, more responsive services, ensuring services are accessible and reducing the impact of domestic abuse and the likelihood of future incidents.
A foreword to the draft strategy says:
“Our ambition for North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire is that everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religion or belief or any other personal characteristic can live safely and experience healthy relationships without the threat of domestic abuse or sexual violence.
“Utilising external funding and maximising opportunities whilst working with our wider voluntary organisations will be essential. Using an informed approach to commissioning services and being intelligence-led will ensure that the needs of the local area are met. A key part of this will be data collection and analysis alongside evaluation to determine if this strategy is delivering its objectives.”
Although the document includes plenty of detail about the current situation and what should be done to improve it, there is very little on the cost and how it will be paid for. Speaking at the West Northamptonshire Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday Cllr Danielle Stone said:
“This is a real improvement on what went before and I’m really pleased to see it… but there is no indication of how this will be financed…Whenever people like me speak out about this issue there is some kick back with some saying ‘it’s not just women’, that’s true but it is predominantly women. This has a name, it’s misogyny and if we don’t make reference to that we are guilty of misogyny - it needs to be named.”
Lib Dem councillor Jonathan Harris also welcomed the strategy but asked for more detail on how the plans would improve refuge provision and reduce repeat cases. He also reminded the cabinet that the council voted against supporting the White Ribbon Campaign (a promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women).
Another issue highlighted in the council report accompanying the new draft strategy is the performance of MARACs (Multi Agency Referral Assessment Conferences) which people who are identified as being at high risk of serious harm or homicide are referred to.
These meetings are attended by a range of agencies including the police, health services, child protection, housing, domestic abuse advisers and others. However, the council report says that cases are currently taking up to three months to be referred compared to a benchmark of two weeks.
It also says that despite the Multi Agency Daily Risk Assessment (MADRA) process being in place to strengthen child safeguarding, pre-school aged children are less visible than school age children due to the closure of Children’s Centres.
Deputy Leader of the West Northants Labour Group, Cllr. Emma Roberts told NN Journal:
"Whilst we welcome that a national and local strategy for domestic abuse is being implemented, we don't believe that it is a strategy that is being backed up with the resources to effectively tackle the issue.
“Agencies and authorities across the county have worked hard to set up the partnership which will oversee and implement a strategy that seems severely limited in the work it can do. The Conservative government on the one hand rightly mandates that local authorities create plans to tackle domestic abuse but, on the other, doesn't want to stump up the adequate funding and resources to implement that very same plan.
“We appreciate this is the first version, but I hope the strategy is run and shaped by those on the frontline of service provision and that as the strategy is implemented gaps are acknowledged and the authority seeks better and longer-term funding solutions."
*Not her real name
You can read more about Amara’s story here: