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Women’s Refuge

Women and Children’s Stories

Over the years Stroud Women’s Refuge has provided safety, support and the chance for a new life to thousands of women and children in the UK. Here are some of their stories:

Deborah had been married for two years but when she became pregnant with Rory, the relationship changed in that her husband became verbally and emotionally abusive.

In the months before she came to refuge, his behaviour had become increasingly violent and Rory had often been witness to the abuse. He was watchful of his mother and did not want to be too far from her side. This made him nervous about new things and so although he was intrigued by the cookery sessions in the refuge kitchen, Rory hung back, too shy to join in.

We wanted Deborah and Rory to have time to relax together enough to ‘play’ with cooking. Rory finally agreed to take part – if his beloved teddy, Boots, could take part too.

Deborah gently encouraged her son to bring Boots to the kitchen table while Rory watched from a safe distance. Seeing after a while that both mum and Boots were safe and having a good time, Rory gradually drew near and started to have a go at mixing ingredients – flour, banana, sugar and butter to make the banana cake cupcakes.

At first, he didn’t feel confident enough to look at the other children, but by the end of the session, he was curious enough to compare his cup cakes with theirs and to share toys. Rory was very proud of the cupcakes he’d made, especially when he and mum ate theirs together later in the afternoon.

When Katrina arrived at the refuge with her two children, it was her third attempt to move away from the abuse she had experienced during the time she had been with her partner, Michael. He had become increasingly violent and controlling towards her, and the children, Callum (8) and Megan (2), regularly heard banging and shouting and were living in fear.

The last violent incident had involved Michael grabbing Katrina’s hair and banging her head against the wall in front of the children.

Neighbours had called the police and Katrina realised that she needed to leave Michael for her own safety and for the safety of her children.

Katrina did not know how she was going to cope when she arrived at the refuge. She felt she had no-one to turn to and few resources. She had lost touch with most of her friends as they did not like Michael, and she had a difficult relationship with her family. She was in debt, she could not sleep, and she felt anxious and depressed, as though her life was not worth living.

Her children were quiet and withdrawn, though well-behaved, but Katrina felt guilty about moving them away from their home and friends. Her previous attempts to move away had failed because Callum had missed his friends and because Michael had always promised to change his behaviour.

In the first few days, the refuge staff supported Katrina to deal with the practical things. They looked at risk and safety planning, supported Katrina to apply for financial assistance, supported her with her housing and assisted the family to access services of immediate need, including a doctor and a health visitor, and they helped get Callum into a new school.

Though Katrina found it difficult, even at this early stage, staff encouraged her to make her own phone calls, fill in her own forms and attend appointments on her own. Her support worker helped her plan what to do and what to say but left her to complete tasks she felt able to cope with. By doing this, from the moment Katrina moved in with us, she started to build skills and confidence and to make the first moves towards independent living.

Whilst nervous at first about living in a refuge, she got on well with the other women. Conversations made her realise that it was not just happening to her and that others had experienced similar problems. The support she got from the residents proved invaluable.

After living with us for four months, Katrina was offered a new home and she worked with a re-settlement worker to ensure her relocation went as smoothly as possible. She got support with furnishing her new accommodation, setting up her utilities, budgeting and finance, and was given information about her new area and the social and community resources available to her and her children. Our re-settlement service gradually withdrew as Katrina’s confidence grew.

We occasionally hear from her and last saw her and her children at the Stroud Beresford Group Christmas party when she appeared happy and chatty. She told us she had enrolled for a college course and is planning to return to work when Megan starts school.

Ravi, aged 5, arrived at the refuge with his mum, Alisha. He was very fussy with his eating, restricting his diet and his mum felt unsure how to help.

Ravi had also stopped listening to his mum and was refusing to do things he was asked to do.

As Ravi had witnessed a lot of abuse, Alisha didn’t know how to help him. She often found herself telling him off and then feeling very guilty as she didn’t want to cause him any more harm. We worked with Ravi’s mum to set clear, gentle routines and boundaries. By providing a routine, Ravi would feel more comfortable and in control of his life.

By putting in place gentle boundaries, Ravi would begin to feel support and security from the parent child relationship. To encourage Ravi, he was given a sticker chart system and fun activities to help Ravi’s mum to reward and motivate him and help him to build more confidence.

We encouraged Alisha and Ravi to join cookery workshops at the refuge. Cooking together also helped Ravi to enjoy some positive time with his mum. It also helped Alisha to feel more confident by providing a safe environment for her to practice giving gentle guidance and providing lots of praise.

This helped Ravi to feel a bit more confident and also encouraged him to try new foods. While he remained a fussy eater, he was far more adventurous with things he had cooked himself.

Joe, aged 2, did not speak when he first arrived at the refuge with his mum and siblings.

The whole family was distressed after enduring an unpredictable and often explosive environment where the family had lived in fear. Joe was the youngest and appeared to have developmental and behavioural difficulties. He was silent most of the time, but his mum reported that he had regular ‘tantrums’ which were difficult for her to manage.

Whenever he was upset he would scream, throw things and lash out. Joe’s mum was struggling to cope.

We supported Joe and his family by:

  • Helping them to settle in the refuge – accessing food, toys and things that made them feel at home.
  • Supporting them with urgent needs relating to safety, medical issues and finance
  • Helping them to access the right health professionals, including help to get Joe assessed to make sure there were no underlying illnesses or disabilities.
  • Help to begin to play together, cook together and have fun.
  • We helped Joe’s mum to understand how Joe and his siblings had been affected by witnessing and experiencing abuse. Understanding his behaviour in the context of trauma was critical.
  • We helped Joe’s mum to learn coping strategies and develop new parenting skills that would help her to gently encourage Joe and manage challenging behaviour.

Joe’s confidence and communication skills improved dramatically. As these improved, his behaviour improved too. Joe and his siblings moved on from the refuge after a four month stay and are now thriving in their new home.

Sue had experienced long term domestic abuse from her partner, most of which was controlling and manipulating behaviour, and she and her young daughter lived a life with rigid rules and regimented lifestyle.

Sue had met her partner aged 15 when he was 34, and had experienced abuse throughout their 9 year relationship. Her support networks had broken down, her friends had become distanced, and after several upsets her family no longer had anything to do with them.

When she arrived at the refuge, Sue felt guilty. It had taken her a long time to get help because she felt it was all her fault. She felt like a bad mother and admitted that she often took too many sleeping pills as she didn’t care if she woke up.

She decided to come to refuge only after realising how badly affected her 8-year-old daughter was – she was clearly frightened of her dad and had gradually resorted to staying in her bedroom almost all of the time. She had stopped eating properly resulting in regular stomach aches, and was also struggling at school.

We initially worked with Sue to help her to see that the situation was not her fault. She had been feeling overwhelmed and had lost a huge amount of confidence because of her partner’s abuse. We gently encouraged her to do things for herself that she didn’t believe she could do. At first making calls, then attending appointments, and soon she was developing confidence in her own ability.

After a few weeks of support, Sue began to feel much better about herself and her situation. She quickly began to realise that she was more capable than she had ever realised. She has now managed to find a new home and has moved on from the refuge.

She describes her daughter as ‘a completely different child’ – she is happy, has a healthy appetite and no longer experiences stomach upsets. Sue is feeling far more confident about the future. She has just started a women’s returner course at college.

Jane and her son Jake, aged 6, arrived at the refuge having fled their home because of abuse.

Jane’s financial situation was a key issue – her ex-partner had arranged for benefits and bank accounts to be registered in his name and on his phone and monies were paid directly to him. Jane therefore had no independent access to money or bank accounts and arrived at the refuge with few belongings, difficulties accessing finances and the knowledge that he had taken out loans in her name.

Jake appeared to be reasonably resilient, and Jane was pleased that he hadn’t been badly affected by domestic abuse. However, she admitted that their relationship was quite distant whereas they used to be very close.

We helped Jane to realise how domestic abuse had affected her and Jake. We also helped her to separate her finances from her ex-partner including setting up new accounts. We also supported her to get specialist support regarding her complicated financial situation and debts.

As well as the practical financial support, we helped Jane and Jake to rebuild their relationship with each other, planning affordable activities that were fun and would help them both build confidence and experience. Through our family cookery sessions, Jane and Jake discovered a love of cooking together. Jake enjoyed spending quality time with his Mum.

Jane began to see cookery as a way of achieving a few important goals. It provided an inexpensive activity for her and Jake to do together and, by batch cooking, she found it easier to manage on a budget. Now they have moved on from the refuge, cooking is still a big part of their lives.

Malai arrived at the refuge with Jasmine, her three-year-old daughter, who had witnessed much of the violence towards her mother at the hands of her abusive husband, Jasmine’s father.

When they first arrived, Malai was very concerned that Jasmine’s development had been affected. Malai, whilst trying to avoid abuse had tiptoed around her husband and Jasmine’s needs had taken second place. Malai felt overwhelming guilt that her actions or inactions had impacted her daughter – she felt like she had damaged Jasmine.

Through talking to Malai, we learned that Jasmine had lacked routines due to the abusive environment. Malai had spent so much time managing the abuse, that things that are usually important parts of routines had been lost. Jasmine’s eating times had been hit and miss and when meals were prepared, they were a source of stress. Jasmine would often not eat them, finding it impossible to settle and Malai would be frightened that this would cause her husband to react.

We supported Malai and Jasmine to rebuild their lives and helped Malai to reclaim her role as a mother. Malai was a naturally nurturing and loving parent but had lost confidence because of the domestic abuse. Her husband had been openly critical and abusive towards Malai in front of Jasmine which had often left Jasmine upset and confused.

Over time, we helped Malai to set regular routines for Jasmine including mealtimes, play and activities, bath time and sleeping. Malai is gaining confidence each day as she now has the freedom to express her nurturing side and is beginning to trust her own judgement a little more.

In a few short weeks, Jasmine had settled and became happier, healthier and more confident. She clearly enjoyed mealtimes with her Mum as these new calm routines and boundaries gave her the gentle structure she needed.

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