Belfast and Lisburn Women's Aid (BLWA) has been awarded £900,000 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Improving Futures programme which provides support for young children growing up in very difficult family circumstances and helps to transform their life chances.
BLWA is one of 17 innovative projects across the UK and the only one from Northern Ireland awarded grants totalling £15.2 million from the programme which will provide up to £26 million for more joined-up and earlier support to families with multiple and complex problems.
Working alongside the Belfast and South Eastern Health Trusts and North Down & Ards Women’s Aid, BLWA will create a specialist team, which includes a Health Visitor, with a strong focus on early intervention and prevention for children and their mothers living with domestic violence when they are first referred to Social Services.
The innovative team, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, will work with social workers across the two health trust areas to offer a range of services for children and their mothers that will reduce the threat of violence, stabilise the family and help protect the well-being of the child to reduce their risk of being harmed and minimise the need for contact with social services in the future.
“Domestic violence has a significant effect on the health and well-being of children and their mothers, resulting in serious physical injury and emotional harm and death. It is a significant feature in social work caseload and in referrals made to the Trusts Gateway teams,” said management coordinator Patricia Lyness.
“The most recent PSNI statistics, from April 2010 to March 2011, show there were over 23,000 incidents and over 9000 recorded crimes with a domestic motivation, while it is estimated that there are over 32,000 children living with domestic violence here.”
She continued: “It is a crime that remains largely unreported and difficult to talk about and get help because it is shrouded in fear shame and blame. Women’s Aid and Social Services have a strong history of working together, and this innovative approach with social workers and a health visitor means that children and their mothers can access our services much quicker.
“Early intervention can reduce repeat incidents of violence and referrals to social workers, show women and their children they are not to blame, and support them to prevent family breakdown that can result in children being removed from the home.
“But now we will have an immediate support team available for women and children who are referred, particularly those who are currently deemed as low risk. The team will offer them immediate access to safety and support and provide a whole range of services such as one-to-one counselling, domestic violence courses, and children’s programmes and activities.
“It will give women the confidence to realise they don’t have to suffer violence and abuse and that they can make good changes and improve the lives of the children,” she said. “Our team will work with Social Workers in seven Gateway teams in the Belfast and South Eastern Health Trust areas covering almost a third of the population, taking in Castlereagh, Lisburn City and surrounding areas, North Down and Ards, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and south to Newcastle," she said.