Having attended the Launch of the findings of the National commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage in London this week, three members of Cohort 4 discussed the report ‘Breaking Down the Barriers.’ One of the strongest key themes presented to the commission was the high value placed on having practitioners in the field with lived experience, both in the design of services and in the actual delivery. This was vital in terms of engagement and trust it seems.
Women attending the launch had lived experience of abuse and had experience of multiple disadvantages in their lives. They talked about this subject area.
“I don’t care what you say, and I really mean this. You can’t know what it’s like from a book, from getting some certificate. It means so much more if you know she really gets me, really understands what I’ve gone through. It won’t be the same experience, we’re all different, but I don’t want some professional who hasn’t been a mum, hasn’t been abused, doesn’t understand my life. She might be kind, but she won’t get me!”
We’re a peer support organisation and the women with lived experience make decisions on their needs and wishes, not what others think might be helpful. For them it is likely to be the first time that they have experienced this approach. Most of our women have been processed through the differing social work, mental health, addictions, criminal justice processes – but haven’t felt listened to. They haven’t been asked what they need, they haven’t felt understood nor been afforded the time they need to make changes in their lives. Without attending to their time, the process time of the agency has taken priority and the support has not been as effective as it might have been.
All paid staff at Cohort 4 have lived experience of abuse and other disadvantage. That’s important. Clear routes are identified where appropriately ready women (varies from woman to woman, naturally), can train to be peer mentors; or can work as sessional project workers. This might be as a cook in the kitchen, or as someone involved in the planning and administration of Cohort 4 projects. There is a clear structure of support for each woman employed by Cohort 4, good hourly pay and safe, supportive supervision and encouragement.
Valuing lived experience is arguably essential within women’s grass roots organisations. So too the skills and knowledge base of each woman. We don’t preclude our women from saying that she survives, if she feels it’s appropriate to share that with another woman in the group. She won’t necessarily speak about her experience, but just knowing that she’s been there, has walked in those shoes, is fundamentally important to the motivation and sense of hope to our group of women.
*** image from Breaking Down the Barriers report (page 14).