Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Domestic Violence, Housing and Employment: Workers' Perspectives on Employment Assistance in Supported Accommodation

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Domestic Violence, Housing and Employment: Workers' Perspectives on Employment Assistance in Supported Accommodation

Article excerpt


The relationship between women's experiences of domestic violence and homelessness is well established (Chung et al. 2000; Chamberlain & MacKenzie 2003; 2008; Zufferey 2008). For women accessing supported accommodation, domestic violence is most often cited by them as the primary reason for doing so (AIHW 2008; FaHCSIA 2008; Australian Social Inclusion Board 2012). In addition to this, the intergenerational nature of domestic violence has been noted in the literature, with researchers (Pollak 2004; Bowlus & Seitz 2006) identifying that childhood exposure to violence increases the likelihood of perpetrating domestic violence in adulthood. How best to support women to leave violent relationships, so they may end the immediate risks, increase their own life opportunities and also break the intergenerational cycle of abuse, is complex.

The majority of women who access supported accommodation in Australia have no income and their confidence is often diminished due to the tactics of abusers that are specifically aimed at lowering women's self-worth and forcing them into submission (Chung et al. 2000). In response, domestic violence services have tended to prioritise interventions towards women's emotional needs; drawing upon feminist foundations to help the women make sense of patriarchal power (Zannettino & McLaren 2012). Interventions are generally crisis-oriented in the short term, consisting of emergency counselling aimed at restoring psycho-social equilibrium and providing space to settle into the new environment. In the short-term, practical assistance is given to obtain welfare benefits and women are supported to attend to other matters, such as children's school enrolments (Chung et al. 2000). In the short- to mid-term there is a continued focus on women's psycho-social needs, including interventions aimed at strengthening the mother-child bond. Programs are introduced, which aim to enhance parenting skills and domestic management (Chung et al. 2000; Zannettino & McLaren 2012). In the mid- to longer-term, women are usually helped to secure independent housing of their own (Chung et al. 2000), but this is a difficult task due to the limited housing options available to them.

National strategies seeking to address homelessness, including for women escaping domestic violence, emphasise the essential need to support safety and wellbeing in balance with building individuals' capacity for social inclusion; they suggest that this may be achieved through economic and social participation 'as appropriate to age, capacity and aspiration' of the individual (FaHCSIA 2008: 19).

Employment or economic participation as a means for women to maintain a level of economic security, and therefore greater housing and social choices, has not historically been a concern for domestic violence intervention (Crawford et al. 2010); and this is despite provision of employment assistance being a regular feature of supported accommodation funding arrangements. As a result, many women are known to stay in supported accommodation for longer periods because of personal and structural factors that limit their ability to secure suitable housing. Barriers include extreme public housing shortage in some geographical locations (Wood et al. 2009), private rental markets that are thought to be discriminatory (Douglas & Walsh 2010; Thrussell & Hennah 2012) and the unaffordability of home ownership. It is proposed that helping the women in supported accommodation who are leaving domestic violence and who ask for employment assistance may be a worthwhile consideration.

This paper draws on the results of a small-scale pilot study that explored generalist and domestic violence homelessness service workers' responses to women who asked for employment-related support. With few studies in Australia focussed on supporting women at homelessness services with employment-related interventions, this small study makes an original contribution to the social policy debates on responding to women who have experienced domestic violence, homelessness and socio-economic disadvantage. …

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