‘Women-centred working’ shows how public services can deal with issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and poor mental health together, not separately
By Clare Jones
Real-life problems seldom fit into neat organisational boxes. And this is certainly the case for women struggling to cope with issues including domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance misuse, homelessness, poor mental health and offending behaviour, which tend to be closely entwined. Research has found that a woman in the midst of a potentially life-threatening crisis may have to visit up to 15 agencies in different locations before accessing the help she needs — often with children in tow.
There is, however, powerful evidence that ways of working which take the complexity of vulnerable women’s needs on board can have outstanding results and make better use of public resources. Successful grassroots projects in women’s centres around the UK show how one-stop-shop services can enable women in the most difficult circumstances to turn their lives around. What has come to be known as “women-centred working” has helped tens of thousands of women get to the root causes of seemingly intractable problems with substantial improvements in mental health among 80% of service users.
There is also evidence that the women-centred approach can help public managers meet demands and save public money as a result of timely interventions which avoid duplication, deliver multiple outcomes and prevent problems affecting future generations. The New Economics Foundation found, for example, that for every £1 invested in support-focused alternatives to prison for low-risk female offenders, £14 in social value is generated.