With workshops, exhibitions, singing, dancing, football and films among the many council-run events to mark International Women's Day, it's a good time to take stock of progress in supporting the most vulnerable women in our communities.
Females are statistically more likely to experience domestic and sexual abuse than men and more likely to be the main carers for children. We also know that severely disadvantaged women and girls tend to be affected by multiple problems, so that domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, poverty, offending behaviour and mental and physical health issues impact upon each other, resulting all too often in a vicious downward cycle.
Researchers have found that a woman in crisis may have to navigate her way through up to fifteen different health, social care and voluntary services in order to access support however. This not only makes it harder for women to get the help they desperately need, but also wastes scarce public resources.
The good news is that there is growing recognition of the benefit 'one stop shops', offering multi-agency support that is tailored around vulnerable women's complex needs. What has come to be known as 'women centred working' has already helped tens of thousands of women at community based projects around the country to make positive long-term changes.
Evaluation shows that integrating domestic violence support, benefits advice, counselling, skills development and other services in a safe environment can bring substantial improvements in mental health among 80% of service users and reduce re-offending to less than 5%.
There is also evidence that this gendered approach can help local authorities and their partners meet demands placed upon them. At a time of shrinking resources, innovative women centred ways of working can help prevent duplication by cutting across service divisions, make timely interventions that stop problems spiralling out of control and also deliver multiple outcomes.
For example, research showed grant-holders estimated savings of £1.62m were made based on a reduced demand on health services, housing and re-offending as a result of preventative intervention and the New Economics Foundation found £14 worth of social value is generated for every £1 invested in support-focused alternatives to prison for low risk female offenders.
Having seen the results of this approach first hand as one of the team responsible for WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees, I am delighted to be heading up an initiative that aims to inspire better services for vulnerable women on a wider national basis. The Women Centred Working initiative, funded by Lankelly Chase Foundation, aims to share good practice and promote the design and delivery of more effective services for women facing multiple disadvantage.
The initiative offers advice and assistance for local authority managers, commissioners, service providers and professionals on how women centred ways of doing things can help respond to some of the challenges they face. The principles of women centred working can be readily aligned with local government partnership working, pooled budgets and resource efficiency agendas. Practical steps include aligning agencies' goals, integrating funding, co-locating staff and creating partnerships based around people's complex needs.
Doing things in a women-centred way requires leadership, it requires effort and it requires a fresh way of looking at things. But it can offer outstanding results in helping break negative cycles for women and improve the life chances of future generations.
For further information on Women Centred Working initiative and what it can offer your authority, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.womencentredworking.com