The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

We help women to re-learn their worth and support them to move forward - Fondazzjoni Sebh

Giulia Magri Monday, 17 February 2020, 08:05 Last update: about 3 months ago

Dar Qalb ta Gesu is not simply a domestic violence shelter. It is also a safe space for women who have experienced domestic violence to help them overcome their challenges and to recover from abuse and trauma experienced and move towards independent living. Dar Qalb ta Gesu is a second-stage domestic violence shelter which is a service offered by Fondazzjoni Sebh.

Yvonne Mallia, the director of the foundation, and Josette Stensen, home manager of Dar Qalb ta Gesu, spoke about the services which Fondazzjoni Sebh provides and the importance of taking the protection of victims and survivors of domestic abuse more seriously.

Fondazzjoni Sebh is a Maltese Church NGO which offers services to children, young people and survivors of domestic violence and families in the community. “Fondazzjoni Sebh was set up in 2018 and, whilst we are still a new organisation, the services and work we provide to the community and these women are extremely important, and the church has been providing such services under a different setup for many years,” said Yvonne.

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She explained that Fondazzjoni Sebh has three main services; children in care services, domestic violence services and family & community services. Currently, Fondazzjoni Sebh is taking care of 37 children, all of who live in residential care offering them a safe, loving and nurturing environment to meet their needs.

“We currently have four children’s homes; San Nikola, Dar Fra Diego, Sagra Familja and St Theresa, which is managed by nuns, but also employs other professionals,” said Yvonne. The homes are mixed and siblings are kept together whenever possible. “We ensure that we always keep the best interest of the child and their families.”

The Family & Community Service, which are found in Hamrun and Marsa, is another service provided by Fondazzjoni Sebh. Trained social workers work hand in hand with families in the community, and help to build positive partnerships and build a stronger community.

 

Women come to the shelters carrying a lot of trauma

Dar Qalb ta Gesu is currently supporting nine families, where the professionals involved offer a number of services to the women and their children who have experienced domestic violence.

“Women and their children are offered a small flat in the shelter for a period of 18 months,” explained Yvonne. “Of course, the services provided and how long the family stays all depend on their individual case.”

This is followed by the possibility of another 6 to 12 month accommodation in one of the three flats offered by FS within the community. This is particularly important since, following the 18 month stay at the shelter, some women are not yet able to afford their own accommodation. This support prevents them from being admitted to a shelter for homeless persons.

Dar Qalb ta Gesu provides a holistic service for the women, and the team is made up of social workers, social support workers, and care workers together with the services of a counselling psychologist.

“We offer these women the support they need to be able to move towards a more independent lifestyle and a stable life free from abuse,” explained Josette.

She explains how the women helped at the shelter carry a lot of trauma yet, with time, dedication and support, they are able to come through.

“It is not easy for these women who have left everything they knew behind them. Our social workers provide each woman with a care plan and help them to slowly adjust to their new life. We want to offer safety, hope and help these women to work for a better future.”

The women are taught about money management (which is required in situations of economic abuse), legal support (as at the time they would have moved into a domestic shelter court proceedings would have generally started) and emotional support. The social workers also provide therapeutic help and parenting skills, because domestic violence impacts the relationship between the mother and her children.

The perpetrators might abuse their victims by disrupting the bond between the mother and children, therefore new skills are needed in order for this bond to be repaired. “It is also important that we provide support not just to the mother, but also her children who have their own traumatic experiences of seeing their family going through such an ordeal. Childcare is a necessity and we must reintegrate the family safely into society,” explained Josette.

Josette and Yvonne explained that, an important part of helping the women who come to the shelter get back on their feet is to teach them to be financially independent. Most women who use their services would have been solely dependent on their partners, and some might not have worked before.

Victims of domestic violence are not a homogenous group. However, financial dependency and isolation are common aspects encountered in a number of cases; the foundation helps these women understand that they are capable of taking care of themselves and supports them.

The environment these women find themselves is also extremely important and it is essential that the shelters provide a tranquil and safe space for women to grow. “We are currently in the process of refurbishing and upgrading alternative premises which will host our domestic violence shelter,  so as to provide a better place for them,” explained Yvonne.

The upgrade involves a therapy room, a spirituality room, play areas and outdoor areas, apart from independent family units to help the women to heal.

Although it is a difficult process, there are women who walked out of the shelter with a new purpose, new goals and knowing that they are worthy and capable. “These women went through trauma and at the beginning believed that they would never be able to cope on their own. But we know many who, with time and determination, are working, have moved on and have partners who respect and support them,” explained Yvonne.

“It is not a change that happens overnight but one which comes with a lot of work by NGOs and other service providers, awareness campaigns, and changes in the laws.”

Yvonne spoke positively of the changes in legislation, the adding of resources and the introduction of risk assessment that have taken place over the past years.

She said, however, that a lot more needs to be done, in particular the setting up of a specialised police squad and specialised domestic violence court.

Collaboration between all stakeholders is essential to provide victims of domestic violence with the immediate protection they require and the long-term support to help them and their children overcome the trauma that they experienced. 

If you or anyone you know may need support or guidance please contact 22470900 or [email protected], or message through Fondazzjoni Sebh facebook page.

Photo Alenka Falzon

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