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What is I Choose Freedom?

We are a small independent charity dedicated to changing the lives of women and children fleeing abuse. Founded in 1984, we have provided thousands of women and children with safety and freedom.

What is a refuge?

Most people have heard of a refuge; a place where women and children go when they’re fleeing severe domestic abuse. However, because they’re secret places (we have to keep these families safe from the people that wish to harm them) you may not realise that there is one in your area.

The families that use the service will be the most high-risk cases of domestic abuse and they are assessed as being at risk of murder if they were to remain in their homes.

What we believe:

Our vision, values and objectives

Our goal is to end domestic abuse by increasing public awareness, providing education to professional services and external providers, both locally and nationally, and to continue to provide excellent services and support to survivors. Starting with a safe and supportive place for women and children to re-start a life free of abuse. Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between men and women. It is a form of gender-based violence, violence "directed against a woman because she is a women or that affects women disproportionately." (CEDAW, 1992).

Our values are: Respect, Inclusion, Trust, Empowerment.

Our service user charter states that women using services should:

- Have the greatest control over their own lives and have the opportunity to make informed choices;

- Have the opportunity to be involved in decisions about every aspect of the service they receive from individual treatment to local and national policy;

- Be treated with respect and dignity;

- Have their diversity respected and have equal rights and opportunities.

In addition, we are conscious of the many social, educational and faith needs of our service users both women and children. We believe that we must offer a holistic service and give assistance in meeting these needs, either from I Choose Freedom or from other sources within the area.

As part of our objective in supporting women in the refuge, each resident has a key worker who draws up a support plan with the woman, identifying and meeting her individual needs. The format of these support plans has been revised in consultation with clients, as we are committed to involving them on all possible levels.

We liaise with a range of other agencies Health, Education, Social Services and Housing Departments as well as other voluntary organisations in order to provide the best support for women and their children.

A monthly professionals meeting is held at the refuge where agency updates are shared, and the progress of each family is discussed and the need for particular agency involvement.

How is I Choose Freedom different?

What's different about us is that we are not telling people what to do, we are enabling women to rebuild their own lives using their own strengths and skills. We have passionate and dedicated specialist staff. The whole team work tirelessly in the community and nationally raising awareness about domestic abuse.

When some people think of a refuge, they imagine a hostel with grim surroundings and a depressing environment. What’s different about us, and what people always say, is that we provide a happy, nurturing home.

We pride ourselves on making survivors feel welcome, included and safe – we embrace everyone’s differences.

I Choose Freedom works tirelessly with the women and children over their six month stay. Providing therapy, support, advocacy, practical help and understanding and anything they need to recover and rebuild their lives.

We treat children as primary victims, not just witnesses and their support needs are as important as their mum’s.

I Choose Freedom have three communal refuges where thirty women and their children live. The children range in age from birth to eighteen years old and we have up to sixty children living at the refuges at any one time.

We also run a project called 'Refuge for All'. We have individual units, accommodation separate from our communal refuges, that are there to house any survivor of domestic abuse.

Through your support we can change lives

How we support survivors

We provide so much more than a roof over their heads for the six months they live with us:
At first point of contact the woman and her children are supported to get to the refuge. Most service users travel long distances from across England to get to the refuge. They need to be far away from their homes for safety reasons. The downside of this long move is that they will be separated from families, support networks, services, education and employment. They have to permanently leave their lives behind and often arrive with the clothes they are wearing and nothing else. The refuge staff support the family to settle into the shared accommodation then start the process of rehabilitation and a new life free from abuse.

Our support is best broken down into three parts –
support for the women, support for the children and support for the family as a whole.

Support for women:

There are full time Domestic Abuse Refuge Advocates onsite at our refuges, dedicated to working with the women.

Women arrive traumatised and bewildered so intensive emotional support is key. This continues throughout her stay and she is paired with a key worker who meets with her on a regular basis; daily at first and at a minimum weekly. Refuge staff are based onsite and are always accessible throughout the day, we also operate an out of hours on call service.

Women are offered counselling once they arrive and we have a counsellor who visits the refuges weekly. This enables women to be seen very quickly rather than waiting for an appointment through the NHS which can take six months to arrange.

I Choose Freedom facilitate The Freedom Programme at all refuges. All women attend the programme as part of the holistic package that we offer. The aim of the Freedom Programme is to give the women an understanding of domestic abuse and to make sense of what has happened to them. The programme looks at the effects and impact that domestic abuse has had on them and their children, with an emphasis on removing guilt from the women who have suffered and placing it solely on the perpetrator. This programme is instrumental in supporting women to move on to new healthy relationships after refuge. It is delivered sensitively by two trained members of staff at all refuges.

Practical assistance and advocacy are key elements of support offered by advocates.
This covers a wide range of areas including:

  • Assistance to secure permanent accommodation after refuge.
  • Maintaining tenancy whilst at refuge.
  • Liaison and referrals to statutory agencies including Children’s Services, education, health and housing.
  • Assistance with benefits, education, employment and volunteering.
  • Liaison with police and courts in both family and criminal cases.
  • Attending any meeting with a woman when she requires an experienced advocate; from court appearances, housing meetings to a mental health appointment.

The aim for all the practical support is to minimise the overwhelming nature of all of the contact with agencies. Empowerment is always the long-term aim but we recognise that women have often been controlled to the extent that they are initially unable to manage the hugely traumatic changes that starting a new life for them and their children brings.

Support for children:

There are three children’s advocates based onsite at the refuges. Two of the children’s advocates are qualified play therapists.

There are dedicated playrooms at the refuges.

The children’s advocates support the children while their mother is in support meetings with her key worker. This is critical to avoid children being exposed to their mother’s trauma. They have often witnessed abuse and have often heard and seen devastating things that can affect them. This is the start of recovery and giving children back their childhood.

Play therapy is often a key part of a child’s stay at refuge. This therapeutic intervention enables a child to express their trauma through the medium of play. One on one sessions are held and are measured through pre and post therapy questionnaires.

Group children’s therapy sessions on individual topics including self - esteem, confidence, coping with loss and reducing feelings of isolation. These sessions benefit the children in terms of education about the topics but also enable them to form relationships with other children at the refuges. There are so many difficulties for children who have lost everything that is familiar to them. They are also unable to disclose their location to anyone which is contrary to everything children are taught about keeping secrets. They may make friends at their new schools but will be unable to invite them to their home or even disclose its location. So, the group sessions enable children to manage the difficulties of communal living with other children but also help to improve their bonds in a safe environment.

At the refuges we have a project that offers all school age children the chance to go on 1:1 outings with the play therapist. The children choose a dream outing and the play therapist accompanies them on a Saturday to their destination of choice. This can often be a simple activity like bowling or cinema with a meal out but we have also taken children to London theatres and included rickshaw journeys and a trip to the hairdresser and nail bar first! It is absolutely the child’s choice and the benefits are multiple.

Group outings are a regular event at the refuges and these can be as simple as a trip to the local soft play area or a day out at Chessington. Group activities such as arts and crafts and cooking are also regularly held. The refuges also has a gardening club where the children plant and harvest their own fruit and vegetables. This activity has the added benefit of teaching the children about the value of nurture and the great results that can be achieved through caring for their plants.

Support for the family:

Supporting the family through means of care and understanding:

  • We offer family bonding sessions
  • Support mums to put behaviour strategies in place
  • Help with routines and boundaries
  • Advising mums how to safely talk about domestic abuse and the loss of dad
  • Support families to access local facilities
  • Basic care needs such as help to access local food banks
  • Securing places at local schools/nurseries/childminders
  • Securing equipment such as buggies or high chairs from our charity partner Stripey Stork
  • Sourcing clothes and shoes for both mum and the children

When the family arrives at refuge we have a project that provides the following items (all new):

  • Bedding (duvets, pillows, sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases) and cot bedding
  • Towels
  • Crockery and kitchen ware
  • Toys for the children
  • Food and toiletry bundles
  • Food and school uniform vouchers

The purpose of all the support we offer is to enable the survivors to start a new life after their stay at refuge, free from domestic abuse and empowered to make good decisions about their futures.
We are a small charity and are always really grateful for financial donations.

'Refuge for all':

We have self-contained, fully supported properties, suitable for any survivor fleeing domestic abuse. Residents staying in our individual units receive the same vital support as the women at the communal refuges.

Their support includes:

·       Safe, secure accommodation

·       Safety planning

·       Counselling

·       IDVA service

·       Advocacy

·       Access to health and peer support

·       Benefit and housing support

·       Domestic Abuse recovery toolkit

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