Women’s Aid struggles to cope with demand

An image by photographer and storyteller Laura Dodsworth. It was part of the 'one thousand words' project by Zero Tolerance and Scottish Women's Aid last year.

SHETLAND Women’s Aid has been forced close off its waiting lists due to increasing demand as it looks to restructure its service and apply for more funding.

A statement released by its board of directors on Wednesday said that the workload has created “concerns for the health and wellbeing of existing service users and staff”.

The organisation, which helps victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence, is also scaling down the level of support for clients who are not in crisis or high risk situations.

The decision will be reviewed in 12 weeks.

In the last week of October the local Women’s Aid branch had a total of 67 people on its waiting lists – nearly three times the amount in 2016/17.

During 1 April and 30 November this year there were a total of 284 service users – both adults and children – with 164 new referrals.

The rise in demand comes against a backdrop of reduced funding.

“Shetland Women’s Aid can no longer sustain the demands on our core services for victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence,” its board said.

“Our waiting lists, for both adult and children’s services, continue to grow, however funding to our service has been reduced. This is despite our efforts to increase capacity, through reshaping of services, fundraising and applying for funding to increase staffing levels.”

While its services are scaled back, the organisation will “sign post referrals to appropriate agencies and provide information on other generic support services”.

“During these twelve weeks we will be attempting to source further funding and look at service restructure to meet the demands and needs of this important service and complex needs of current service users,” its board added.

“There is unacceptable stress and pressure placed on our dedicated staff who work tirelessly and beyond the call of duty to support the women and children who access the service,” it added.

“We need additional funding for our specialist and highly skilled support services to have the capacity to offer early and effective support and advocacy to the women and children who access the service and meet the expectations of partner agencies.”

Recent figures showed that over 120 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by police in Shetland in 2017/18 – the second highest number of the last ten years.

Thirty six per cent of the incidents reported in 2017/18 included a crime of an offence.

The figures come as the Lerwick Town Hall clock face has been coloured orange to mark the UN’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, which calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

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