As we prepare to kick off a series of profiles on women who have found the support they need from the charity Changing Lives, its director of Women’s Services Laura Seebohm offers an overview of what they do.
Laura Seebohm is the director of Women’s Services at the charity Changing Lives, a north-east based, national charity which supports vulnerable people and families and helps them make positive and lasting changes towards a fulfilling life.
Every day their frontline staff deal with the homeless, addicts, the abused, sex workers and the unemployed who need help.
Changing Lives Women’s Services reach out to women and girls who come to us with a wide range of vulnerabilities. We have services across the north and Midlands, all located in areas of high deprivation and need: those places which are hardest hit by poverty but rarely a feature of the public eye.
Our 75 team members reach out to more than 7,000 women and girls every year. Most of the women we support experience what are described as ‘multiple and complex needs’. They are faced with homelessness, poor mental health, addiction, offending, abusive relationships, loss of children – those women who are so often perceived as ‘mad, sad or bad’…
So often these issues are approached by services as though they are separate problems to be resolved by separate agencies.
Women are caught in a life where they attend appointment after appointment – but nothing is ever resolved. They may jump through hoops but the reality of their lives is never understood. We know that these issues are all interrelated; they are all connected.
What we understand at Changing Lives is that life for these women has so often been predetermined from early childhood, as a result of abuse and trauma. Only once this is recognised and we ensure that every contact is safe, trusted and empathetic, do we know that we make a huge impact on the lives of all those we support.
“Our most innovative projects are those where we collaborate closely with the women we support to design their own services.”
A disproportionate number of the women we support were in local authority care as children; witnessed domestic abuse in the family home; experienced abuse as children. It is no coincidence that these experiences of childhood trauma make young women so vulnerable to sexual exploitation and addiction.
Too often this has devastating consequences – a life of imprisonment, loss of children, a series of controlling relationships – and so it goes on to the next generation of girls…
We are often asked why women and girls need distinct services. Without going into the wider societal inequalities and the increasing retrenchment of gender divisions which we see for girls in 2015, there is an underlying reality which makes life very different for young women and young men.
As children, we know that girls and boys may be subjected to trauma and abuse, often sexual and physical. However, once the teenage years are reached, the risk differs according to gender.
Young men are predominantly at risk from strangers: gangs, police, other young men. Young women are predominantly at risk from those whom they say they love, those with whom they form intimate relationships – and this continues into adulthood. The impact on sense of self, identity, esteem, and life opportunities cannot be underestimated and requires a gender-specific response.
Across our projects at Changing Lives we run holistic Women’s Centres – where women of any background, age, and any experiences can enter into a safe, women-only space and receive individually tailored support, from getting a shower, food and warmth to counselling, group work, volunteering and training, and becoming a mentor to others who share similar experiences.
Alongside this, we have specialist services to meet specific needs of women and girls – for young people exposed to sexual exploitation and women involved in sex work, trafficked women; children who witness domestic abuse at home and those who go on to abusive relationships as adults.
We work across a number of women’s prisons and provide community women-only hubs for women involved in the criminal justice system and after release from prison.
We have accommodation for women and their children where child protection concerns are raised; therapeutic recovery services for addictions, supported homeless accommodation and refuges for women and children fleeing violence.
Our most innovative projects are those where we collaborate closely with the women we support to design their own services. They are always best placed to identify what would have helped them make genuine sustained life changes in their past and what they need going forward.
We support women in whatever way they need at any particular time in their lives. Our assertive outreach teams work on the streets and in communities to reach out to those women who often avoid contact with professionals. We go into prisons; we work with police, A&E and social work teams to reach those who are most regularly at point of crisis.
Our aim is to support these women to a point where they feel trusting enough to come into our women centres, into therapeutic groups, and are able to consider their emotional, practical and social needs.
We validate their trauma so it does not define their lives; and support women to get to a point where they are taking control by managing intense emotions so they can start looking at themselves as unique individuals with individual needs and individual potential.
To make a donation visit www.changing-lives.org.uk and click on the DONATE button at the top right of the screen. Or text CLIV45 to 70070 to donate £5.2777 Views