Tackling the hidden health epidemic: a visit to My Cheshire Without Abuse

By Alexandra Galvin, Researcher

Tackling the hidden health epidemic: a visit to My Cheshire Without Abuse

4th May 2022

Alexandra GalvinDomestic abuse is surrounded by stigma. Conversations around it are dismissed, people turn a blind eye to evidence, and very little space for discussion or healing is given to its victims and survivors. It is therefore no surprise that only 17% of victims report abuse.

Saskia Lightburn-Ritchie, the CEO of My Cheshire Without Abuse (My CWA), wants to change that. She believes that professionals and survivors should be able to share their stories, rather than hide behind social stigma. There is a vast communication gap between healthcare professionals and their clients; as Lightburn-Ritchie put it “we need to open up conversations rather than shut them down.”

Despite limited reporting, one of the key issues My CWA encounters is not being able to reach the demand for programs and resources. Last year, the charity worked directly with 2,016 adults and children, but reached over 8,000 individuals with their online resources. My CWA works tirelessly to supply resources for children and young people, survivors, professionals, and those on the verge of harming.

Reset, one of My CWA’s latest youth programs in development, aims to educate young people on the insidious nature of abusive relationships. The 12-week program is run with groups of no more than 16 students. Attitudes and perceptions are measured at the beginning and end of the program, as well as in between sessions via a shorter questionnaire. Sessions include videos of an initially loving connection between teenagers and its gradual transition into a violent and abusive relationship. Students address the changes in the relationship between clips and reflect on the gradual descent into an abusive situation. The aim is to disrupt preconceived notions of abusive relationships and to help teens recognise the warning signs throughout their own romantic connections.

Although the program is still being workshopped, the young adults involved in the first two trials were instrumental in readjusting the program so that it appeals to an adolescent audience. Changes they encouraged include the name of the program, the visual content – from cartoons to live action characters – and the addition of the attitudes and perceptions questionnaire.

There is indeed a cry for domestic abuse education programs in schools from survivors. When joining an ongoing peer-support group consisting of four survivors, all four agreed that education on domestic abuse in relationships is necessary.

“I wish I could have known the signs. He started out charming and kind and the first time he does something, you’ll allow it, then another time, then it’s five times and where do you draw the line before it’s normal?”

Another survivor wished for her own daughter to learn about domestic abuse in school.

“She’s over there banging a triangle for an hour in music, why can’t she be learning about healthy relationships? They get one discussion a year on bullying and that’s it.”

Another transformative program developed by My CWA is the Monkey BobDo You Feel What I Feel Toolkit, which about 500 children a year participate in. Monkey Bob enables children under the age of seven to express their thoughts and feelings, talk about their parents, and develop behavioural and communication regulation strategies. Because the toolkit is largely visual, children who do not speak English are still able to successfully use it. Although this toolkit is intended for emotional and behavioural expression, children experiencing domestic abuse have been able to communicate their abusive at home experiences through Monkey Bob.

Knowing that victims of domestic abuse often first disclose to their GP, My CWA runs free support and consultation workshops for health professionals. The Lunch & Learn sessions aim to provide specialists with confidence in working with domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Sessions elaborate on safety planning, mental health, and conversation tools and resources.

Although the program has had enormous uptake with health visitors and social workers, GPs find the seven, 90-minute sessions too long and say they really only have five minutes to spare in a day. So, My CWA created a shorter, more condensed version of Lunch & Learn specifically for GPs. At the end of the session, GPs are given cards they can hand out to perpetrators and survivors they are in contact with so that they can continue with a referral if the patient wishes.

The perpetrator communication tools are especially pertinent as health professionals often report discomfort when working perpetrators who wish to stay within their relationship. Since rolling out the GP version of Lunch & Learn, however, there has been a massive increase in program uptake.

Overall, the research visit with My CWA illuminated several issues relevant to the Family Policy Unit’s upcoming report on domestic abuse through a health lens. Namely, there is a call for better education programs on domestic abuse in schools and health professionals need to be accountable for addressing mental and physical effects of domestic violence from both perpetrators and victims. Despite the limited conversations and reporting rates surrounding the topic, My CWA strives to build a community where adults and children can live free from the fear of domestic abuse.

My Cheshire Without Abuse is part of the CSJ’s Alliance of poverty-fighting charities. We are incredibly grateful for their support and the time taken to share their brilliant work, teams and clients with us.

If you’d like to join the Alliance, please get in-touch by following this link.

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