The importance of a gender informed approach to multiple needs

Amanda Greenwood, CEO of Lancashire Women’s Centres and her colleagues share their insights on the importance of a gender informed approach to multiple needs.

At Lancashire Women’s Centres we work in partnership with other agencies in Blackburn to better coordinate services for people experiencing multiple needs through the MEAM Approach. The partnership recognised early on that there was a need for a different offer for women experiencing multiple needs in the area. It was important to take a trauma informed approach to working with the most complex and vulnerable clients; many of whom have been the victims of sexual and violent abuse and with a history of trauma from childhood.

Our experience has taught us that not enough attention is given to the specific needs of women in the design and delivery of services. This is evident when women who are considered ‘complex’ are turned away from female only accommodation due to being considered too high risk and when women are placed in a House of Multiple Occupation of mixed sex, mainly occupied by men, leaving them in extremely vulnerable situations.

It is often the case that the women we see have been, and still are, victims of exploitation and violence at the hands of male perpetrators and have very little control over their own life choices. When women present with multiple issues, stemming from complex and traumatic backgrounds and experiences, many find it difficult to open up. They often have done so previously and then been let down when they have not received the support they needed.

It is therefore crucial to our work that we focus on the individual and build a rapport with the women in a non- judgemental and compassionate way that helps to build trust from an early stage. At the heart of everything we do is the relationship we have with the women we work with.

The work can be difficult and supporting women with mental health issues can be particularly difficult when presented with high risk taking and chaotic behaviours – women in high levels of distress whose self-confidence and self-esteem is virtually non-existent exposing their vulnerability to exploitation. We have witnessed first-hand women being coerced into street begging whilst being secretly watched by their partner.  Women who have been victims of coercion by males are less likely to engage with a male worker, and will be concerned about entering a service where they could be seen by a perpetrator of their abuse.

However, when you successfully help women and they see their own journey on reflection, they feel a sense of fulfilment in life and a personal gain. They experience a huge sense of pride when they accomplish something, for example, attending an appointment, reducing substance use and engaging with family members again – all things that may not feel that significant but are massive to them.  We can help them to make real lifestyle changes so they understand their triggers and risks. For most women in our work this could be the first time they have become self-regulating and therefore the first time they have felt as if they are in control.

For us, this just spurs us on to keep working with them. The opportunity to support and empower women to find their own path and to lead fulfilling lives of their choosing can never be underestimated.

We therefore believe that it is imperative that partnerships using the MEAM Approach consider gender in the design and delivery of their local activity. By considering gender in greater detail, partners will be better able to understand how the risks faced by women may present – and how these may differ from male participants.

Through our own model of working (both as a delivery partner in Blackburn and local stakeholder in Blackpool Fulfilling Lives), we believe that effective partnership work with specialist providers to be a really effective way of ensuring this. This will become evident through better engagement, improved relationship building between staff and women, longer term support, increased safety and ultimately improved wellbeing for women.

This article was written for Multiple Needs In Focus, a regular newsletter for both MEAM and Fulfilling Lives partnerships to share their news, events and thoughts. Sign up for the email.

A coordinated response to multiple needs

Today, the Making Every Adult Matter coalition is launching a new programme of work that will bring together 25 local areas across England to develop coordinated, effective support for people experiencing multiple needs, supported by Big Lottery Fund.

In these places, local authorities, statutory agencies and the voluntary sector are working together to transform the lives of people experiencing a combination of homelessness, substance misuse, contact with the criminal justice system and mental ill health. The local areas use a framework called the MEAM Approach to help shape their work and receive support and advice from MEAM coalition staff based across the country.

Some of the partnerships have already spent several years developing this work with the support of MEAM. Others are new areas starting a journey towards better coordinated services. The partnerships all share an ambition to work alongside people with lived experience of multiple needs to change systems for the better. We are appointing research consultancy Cordis Bright as our evaluation partner, who will help us to understand and measure our progress.

Over the next five years, we will work with the 25 MEAM Approach areas (rising to 40 by the end of the programme) and the twelve local areas that are part of Big Lottery Fund’s Fulfilling Lives: programme. By combining our evidence, knowledge and expertise, together we can ensure that everyone experiencing multiple needs across England reaches their full potential and contributes to their communities.

The new cohort of MEAM Approach areas is formed of 19 confirmed partnerships and six areas that we expect to become full members in the coming months. The 19 confirmed areas are:

  • Adur and Worthing
  • Basingstoke and Deane
  • Blackburn with Darwen
  • Cambridgeshire
  • Coventry
  • Doncaster
  • Exeter
  • Hackney
  • Halton
  • Hull
  • Norwich
  • North Lincolnshire
  • Plymouth
  • Preston
  • Slough
  • Southend
  • Surrey
  • Reading
  • West Berkshire

Looking for learning: MEAM seeks an evaluation partner

The MEAM coalition is looking for an experienced and dedicated evaluation partner to work alongside us over the next five years.  Our director, Oliver Hilbery, explains more:

People with multiple needs face a combination of problems including homelessness, substance misuse, contact with the criminal justice system and mental ill health. They fall through the gaps between services and systems, making it harder for them to address their problems and lead fulfilling lives.

Over recent years, we have piloted and developed the MEAM Approach, a framework that 15 local areas are now using to design and deliver better coordinated services for people with multiple needs. Separately to this, we also support the twelve Big Lottery Fund’s Fulfilling Lives partnerships, which are working on similar issues on a larger scale.

Thanks to new funding from the Big Lottery Fund, we are now expanding the MEAM Approach network to 25 areas and creating exciting new opportunities for data and learning to be shared across the MEAM Approach and Fulfilling Lives networks.  Our findings will strengthen the legacy of both programmes and be used to improve outcomes for people with multiple needs across the country.

To help us meet these ambitions we are looking for an evaluation partner(s) to work closely alongside us, local areas and people with lived experience over the next five years.  The successful partner will be a key part of our team; have a clear vision of how to build on our previous evaluation activities; and embody our commitments to coproduction, collaborative working, and the practical use of data and insight to create change at a local and national level.

The invitation to tender outlines in more detail what we are looking for.  Please do help us spread the work to providers that may be interested in applying.


Photo: 45/366 by Roco Julie on flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Launch of the Lammy Review

David Lammy’s 35 recommendations set out a clear way forward, says MEAM’s director Ollie Hilbery. We now need leadership and resources to put them into place, so that this thoughtful review can have the impact it needs.

This morning I attended the launch of the Lammy Review, which was set up to explore the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals in the Criminal Justice System.

The need for the review is stark: Despite making up just 14% of the population, BAME men and women account for 25% of prisoners and 40% of young people in custody are from BAME backgrounds.  If incarceration rates were representative we would have 9,000 fewer people in prison, equivalent to twelve average-size prisons.

The review covers all parts of the Criminal Justice System, but David Lammy is clear that many of the causes of over-representation – poverty, education, family – lie outside the CJS, as do the solutions.

Within the Criminal Justice System the findings centre around changes to the courts, sentencing, prison and particularly the youth justice system. The report links the 35 recommendations to three main themes:

  1. Scrutiny and fair treatment: exploring how better data and increased transparency can help drive change in the millions of decisions that affect people in the CJS each year. For example, BAME defendants are currently more likely to receive a prison sentence for drug offences, even when other factors are taken into account. More transparent data and analysis is needed to prevent these disparities continuing.
  2. Trust: the review shows that BAME individuals expect the Criminal Justice System to discriminate against them and that there are often poor relationships with staff. BAME defendants are far more likely to plead not guilty in court, therefore missing opportunities for diversion, community sentences or shorter prison terms, something that the Director of Public Prosecutions has now pledged to address. The Review calls for more BAME judges and prison governors and better support and advice for people at all stages of the system.
  3. Responsibility: the review explores issues around parenting, communities, employers and keeping young people away from criminal gangs.

David Lammy spoke with passion and precision about the review today.  But he finished by making the point that “actions matter most”.  Like all reviews, this one needs continued leadership and resources if the recommendations are to be put in place. Our partner Clinks has set out some of the steps that now need to be taken to ensure that this thoughtful review can have the impact it needs.