Homeless women lack access to social workers despite multiple and complex needs

Housing support workers taking on roles that previously would have been carried out by social workers, finds study

Homeless women lack access to social workers despite having multiple and complex needs including childhood abuse, domestic violence, mental ill-health and substance misuse problems.

Housing support workers appear to be taking on roles previously carried out by social workers in relation to this group, such as co-ordinating services for them.

Those were among the findings from a Bristol University study, published yesterday and commissioned by the School for Social Care Research at the government-funded National Institute for Health Research.

Researchers spoke to 38 women using homelessness services over the course of 18 months, tracking progress through an initial interview, a further one six months later and a third at the end. They also spoke to 15 practitioners, generally and in relation to 11 of the clients.

Half of the women reported having at least six of the following issues: substance misuse; mental health problems; domestic violence; past experience of domestic violence; sexual violence in their past; current experience of sexual violence; childhood abuse; criminal justice involvement; or sex work.

Despite this, none reported having a social worker as an adult and associated social services with their own childhoods or with involvement with their own children. They did mention involvement with other staff including mental health teams, housing and voluntary sector support staff.

“This finding suggests that other workers, often housing support workers, are fulfilling functions that in the past social workers would have carried out, for example by providing and co-ordinating services,” found the study.

The researchers also found:

  • That women found having to re-tell their services several times humiliating and something that added to their trauma, but were willing to tell their stories if they felt valued and listened to;
  • Service users preferred practitioners who took time to build relationships with them and genuinely listened to them, but practitioners felt that their services lacked the resources to enable them to do this;
  • Stable and emotionally and physically safe environments are essential in addressing the needs of homeless women given their often traumatic histories;
  • Workers should give women multiple opportunities to disclose information of what has happened to them and about their needs;
  • Many women felt vulnerable to relapse meaning that ongoing low-level support would be useful.

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