New scheme to support abused women in the Dublin District Family Law Court

25 Jun 2012

  • Minister for Justice and the Chief Justice launch project evaluation report for the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service.
  • Six month pilot supported 107 women seeking legal protection from domestic violence.
  • Service is a partnership between Women's Aid, Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service, Inchicore Outreach Centre and the Courts Service.

The Minister for Justice, Mr Alan Shatter, T.D., and the Honourable Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, Chief Justice and Chairperson of the Courts Service Board, today (2pm, Monday 25th June 2012) launched the project evaluation report for the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service. The Support and Referral Service operates at Dolphin House as a partnership between Women's Aid, the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service and the Inchicore Outreach Centre with support from the Courts Service. The drop-in service is free and confidential and offers women emotional support, helps them prepare for court and refers them to other domestic violence services for on-going support. During the pilot period (March-August 2011) the service supported 107 women attending the Dublin District Family Law court at Dolphin House to seek legal protection from domestic violence. During 114 drop-in visits women disclosed 179 incidents of emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse. While the service is continuing at present, its future is not secure. Funding commitment is needed to ensure the service is maintained.

Launching the Report, Minister for Justice, Mr Alan Shatter, T.D., said, "The Dolphin House Support and Referral Service is an innovative project which demonstrates how the state sector can work in tandem with the voluntary sector in providing appropriate services to victims of domestic abuse in a cooperative and coordinated manner. The report outlines the invaluable work being done here in Dolphin House by both the State and voluntary sector in addressing domestic abuse."

Minister Shatter continued, "Domestic violence has long been a scourge to our society and our approach to tackling it is set out in the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence. The strategy is a five year plan covering 2010 to 2014 for 'whole of government' action for a more effective system to prevent these types of violence. The strategy encourages cooperation between services and a coordinated approach among all service providers and policy makers. The work being done at the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service is a shining example of such cooperation and coordination in working to assist victims of domestic abuse."

Minister Shatter added, "In quite a strong sense the Support and Referral Service which we are speaking of today is an extension of the more holistic approach taken in the Dolphin House project. Both recognise the value of a proactive approach and a sense that the State and its agencies can be creative in both providing and supporting initiatives that are sensitive to the particular needs of people in challenging circumstances. I am also convinced that such a response does generate considerable societal as well as individual benefits. I wish you continued success with your endeavours."

Also speaking at the launch, Margaret Martin, Director of Women's Aid said: "This service makes a real difference to women's lives. We know that for 107 women the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service made their journey through the legal system easier. Women like Annie* who was suffering horrific abuse at home. Annie made contact with the service when she was 8 months pregnant with her third child. Her pregnancy offered no protection from her husband's violence. He continued to beat her and burn her with cigarettes. She was very isolated and she had no friends to talk to. Her husband told her she was worthless and that she was a terrible mother. She had heard it so often that she began to believe him. Annie had tried over the years to get a protection order but each time she applied she didn't go through with it because her husband threatened to kill her if she did. One time he physically blocked her from leaving the house so she would miss her hearing."

The Dolphin House Support and Referral Service supports women like Annie to apply for Orders under the Domestic Violence Act and other ancillary orders such as custody, access, maintenance, guardianship, production of infants and HSE care hearings. The service also helps women link in with other domestic violence support services for further help. Ms Martin explained: "Annie kept in touch with the Dolphin House service in the months after her baby was born. Eventually, with the support of the service, she went through the court process and secured a barring order against her husband. She and her children are now protected and are building a safer, happier life, free from her husband's abuse and control. It is safe to say that without the help of the service, Annie and her children would still be living in an abusive home."

Ms Martin added, "Dolphin House is the busiest Family Law Court in the country issuing 33% of barring orders and 41% of safety orders nationwide. This makes the presence of the Support and Referral Service so important. A key finding of the evaluation was that 10% of women accessing the service were not eligible for domestic violence orders during the pilot period. However, we can see the correlation of the extension of the domestic violence legislation at the end of August and the demand for the service. There was a dramatic increase in the number of women who accessed the service in September, increasing from a monthly average of 19 during the pilot to a total of 35 women using the service in that month alone. The Courts Services own figures for 2011 show that domestic violence cases made up 26% of the total of applications for the first 8 months (January to August) but rose to 32% for the last 4 months of the year. It would appear that this increase was by persons who would not have qualified for protective orders prior to the August 2011 amendment.

Ms Martin said, "Women's Aid has been working for over a decade to secure this extension to the Domestic Violence Act and it is very affirming and encouraging to see such an immediate and positive effect of the changes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Justice and his Administration for this refinement of the legislation and we welcome his openness to comprehensively reviewing the current domestic violence legislation in order to maximise protection for all those who need it. We are pleased that the pilot was completed in time to support the court meet the challenge of increased demand for domestic violence orders."

Funding and support from the Commission for the Victims of Crime and Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence, allowed the service to be set-up and operated successfully since March 2011. Ms Martin concluded, "Finally, it is important to say that while the beginnings of this project look deceptively simple, they built on good working relationships developed over a number of years at a range of levels: from the National Steering Committee to Eastern Regional Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women and most importantly at the on-going day to day level of front line work in Dolphin House by the Court staff and the three domestic violence support service partners. The final figures for 2011 showed what a positive result can be achieved where there is good inter-agency work and a modest investment. In 2011, 187 women received immediate support on the day they arrived in Dolphin House, women like Annie, and a great many of them have been linked into on-going support, all of which is vital to achieving safer outcomes for them and their children."

Ends.

For further information contact: Christina Sherlock, Communications and Campaigns Officer, Women's Aid on 087-919 2457 or 01-678 8858.

Download the full evaluation report here

Download full case study here

Notes to editors:

  • *Annie's story is based on accounts as told to the Dolphin House Support and Referral Service. Details have been changed to protect identity and to preserve the confidential nature of the service. Full case study is available.
  • The Dolphin House Support and Referral Service is operated by Women's Aid, the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service and the Inchicore Outreach Service. It operates Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 1.30pm. It is a free, confidential, drop-in service located at Dolphin House Family Law Court, East Essex Street, Dublin 2.
  • Women's Aid is the national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence. It has been working in Ireland to stop domestic violence against women and children since 1974. It is the only free, national, domestic violence helpline with specialised trained staff, full membership of the Helplines Association and with a Telephone Interpretation Service covering 170 languages for callers needing interpreting services. Women's Aid also offers a Dublin-based One to One Support Service and Court Accompaniment Service and also refers to local refuges and support services around the country. The Women's Aid Helpline 1800 341 900 responded to 11,169 calls in 2011.
  • Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service is a community based organisation set up for the community by the community in 2001 to address the issue of domestic violence. The service includes a free, confidential, local telephone helpline, one to one support, court accompaniment, education and awareness training, domestic violence support groups and forums.
  • Inchicore Outreach Centre was set up by the Family Resource Centre, St. Michael's Estate, Inchicore in 1997 as a Community Response to the issue of violence against women. The centre offers support and information to women experiencing physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse. The Outreach centre has always provided court accompaniment and in 2010 produced 'Good Practice Guidelines on Court Accompaniment'.