The way I work: Linda Charnock

In the latest in our popular series the young persons domestic violence advice worker reveals how she helps people escape abusive relationships and ensures they’re safe afterwards

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I get real pleasure in helping women damaged by domestic abuse to improve their lives. It can be a complex, frustrating, lengthy task.

During relationships in my early adult life I suffered domestic abuse. I don’t tell the young people I work with about these experiences but I believe they give me an understanding of what they may be going through.

It was after being a trained volunteer and working as a women’s safety officer at the Manchester Domestic Abuse helpline that I started working in 2014 at the Paws for Kids Endeavour Project in my hometown of Bolton. Finding funds for services is difficult – one manager is constantly searching – but generally Endeavour, which recently celebrated its 21st anniversary, employs around 15 women.

Endeavour was begun by women who knew that domestic abuse victims wouldn’t leave violent partners because they’d need to leave behind a pet they loved if they entered a refuge, because refuges don’t allow pets. Volunteers started collecting and housing the pets. Women were then prepared to escape their situations. The pet service still operates and I do occasionally arrange for a pet to be collected.

I’m lucky. We recently got three years finance for my post and my part time colleague on the Young Persons Domestic Violence Advice Service. Last year we had 87 referrals from various agencies, including the police, social and mental health services, housing and solicitors.

I try to help young people escape abusive relationships and then empower them to continuing living free from domestic abuse. To succeed I need to get to know the young person well but I have to tell them that I must legally share information with other agencies, such as the police and child protection, who I meet at multi-agency risk assessment conferences, where decisions on risk management, safety planning and referrals to other agencies are taken jointly.

A young woman or man – 5 per cent of our clients are male, generally from same sex relationships – may be reluctant to exit an abusive relationship. They may be unwilling to help prosecute their partners or former partners. Some will return on a number of occasions to unsuitable relationships. I mustn’t be judgemental as people can make poor decisions and it can take time for the penny to drop. I can’t force a young woman to do something they don’t want to do and it wouldn’t result in a positive long-term outcome anyway.

The safety package for each young person varies. We have access to the national refuge network that provides emergency temporary accommodation for women and children fleeing abuse in an intimate relationship. I can assist a woman who decides to enter a refuge. Unlike in the past, women can travel outside their home area to find accommodation and I would enable them to travel safely to their chosen destination. If they later return to Bolton I will support them.

Locally I can help find emergency or short-term accommodation at Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme, followed by finding the young person more secure living space and a support package. She or he may have been having their income controlled. I might need to contact the benefits office or social services so the young person can retake control of their finances. A doctor may need finding, one that does not know the abusive perpetrator. It’s a similar process when seeking a solicitor. This might take time as some perpetrators can have a lengthy list of court involvement, requiring them to find various solicitors.

I liaise between the young woman and the police. When a prosecution takes place we jointly visit the court beforehand so that she knows what to expect. I attend the court during a trial. If it’s safer for evidence to be given by video link then I attend and give support to the victim.

It is not always a case of removing a victim from their home. I may encourage them to report an abusive relationship to the police and get the perpetrator charged with an offence where the bail conditions mean a civil court will issue an occupancy order that removes them from the accommodation.

The police can also issue a domestic violence protection order against anyone aged over 18. The police must believe that she or he has been violent or threatened violence. The order can be made quickly at court and requires the ordered person to leave and not return near to the premises, initially for a minimum of two weeks.

Where I work with a young person requiring a translator – we have many spoken languages in Bolton – then I can access translation services. For safety, Endeavour would not employ anyone from among the local community the young person is leaving.

After I am able to ensure the safety of clients I can help them improve their skills and tackle personal problems such as mental health or drug or alcohol abuse. As a qualified teacher I run a series of eight-week programmes around building confidence, self-esteem, identifying healthy relationships and empowering victims to become survivors and move on with their lives.

I also help train two final year social work university students. This includes ensuring the students communicate clearly and don’t get embarrassed when required to ask intimate questions, sometimes of a sexual nature. We need more social workers – too many drop out after qualifying.

I also take photographs of a victim with physical injuries. My information can be used in prosecutions so I try extremely hard to ensure it’s accurate.

I am increasingly giving advice about mobile phone use. I want to ensure that nothing posted online from any phone can help identify the owner or their location. Some former partners are installing tracking and spyware devices in gifts given to children and I warn domestic abuse victims to be vigilant.

My job is full of challenges, which are being made very difficult by cuts in the number of police officers – many of whom do a great job – local magistrates courts and other public services. But I am lucky in working with other people at Endeavour who share my passion to prevent domestic abuse. Also the feedback I get is generally very positive. Seventy-six young people were referred in 2016-17 and most of them said the benefits included feeling more motivated, managing money better and feeling safer. I am always delighted when I meet former clients and they appear pleased to see me.

Two or three women are killed every week by their partners or ex-partners. Smaller numbers of men are killed. I have been a big supporter of the annual local Ellen Strange Commemoration event on Holcombe Moor, where Ellen was murdered by her husband in 1761.

I feel that Endeavour and other similar organisations help many domestic abuse victims to rebuild their lives and prevent many more people from being abused and killed.

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