Mapping the Maze

20 March 2018

Katherine Sacks-JonesKatharine Sacks-Jones 

Mapping the Maze enables us to support vulnerable women’s voices and their accounts of the challenges they face with a geographical and numerical picture of the reality on the ground.

Working in the women’s sector, we know services for the most marginalised and vulnerable women are scarce and increasingly under pressure. 

We know this from talking to frontline workers and managers who are struggling to maintain services with smaller and smaller budgets. 

We know this from women themselves, whose lives are difficult enough, who jump hurdles to access basic support or are left sitting on waiting lists for months. 

We know that too often when help finally arrives, it can fail to meet women’s specific needs. 

Until now there has not been the evidence base to back this up. We have not had a picture of what services are available and where the gaps are. That is why with Against Violence and Abuse (AVA), commissioned Mapping the Maze

It is a project that aims to map service provision across the country for women who have complex needs. Mapping the Maze enables us to support women’s voices and their accounts of the challenges they face with a geographical and numerical picture of the reality on the ground. 

What we found from the Mapping the Maze work is that support, specifically for women, is not good enough. There are not enough services and provision is patchy across the country. A woman’s ability to access a service depends very much on where she lives. In some areas there are a range of women’s services, in others there appear to be none at all.

Out of the 173 areas in England and Wales there are only 19 where women can access services that address major issues. These include, substance misuse, mental health, homelessness, offending for women and complex needs.

When women cannot access specialist women’s services they may instead end up in generic, mixed services and this can be problematic. For example, homeless hostels and substance misuse services tend to be made up of approximately three quarters men, which can be an intimidating and sometimes unsafe place for women.

Women can also experience multiple disadvantage in particular ways because they are women. For example, they face particular risks like sexual exploitation. They are likely to have histories of extensive abuse and violence and be highly traumatised. They may also be mothers, whether they have their children are with them or not.

The support they get needs to take all these things into account. Women need to feel safe in order to begin rebuilding their lives and this is one reason why women-only spaces are so important.

Women need holistic support that deals with the range of issues they face, a challenge highlighted by Mapping the Maze. Where there is support, some services only address single issues like substance misuse or mental health.

If a woman does not fit the parameters to get into a service, she can be passed around a complicated maze of services, none of them quite meeting her needs, leaving her unable to address the issues she faces. 

That is not to say good services do not exist, they do. There are many organisations across the country doing fantastic work under challenging circumstances. 

For Mapping the Maze, we spoke to professionals working with women. They told us that more needs to be done to take into account the incremental, smaller gains that put women on a long-term path to rebuilding their lives. We also consulted with women themselves, who told us what they wanted from service. They valued feeling safe in caring women-only environments where they are heard and understood, receive support that does not feel rushed and is accessible on a flexible basis. Sadly the kind of support women say works best for them is all too rare.

Government, commissioners and service providers need to better respond to the voice of women and to improve commissioning and services to reflect women’s needs. Mapping the Maze provides the evidence to back up the reports of professionals and women that we need significant improvements and investment in support. And that we need a focus on gender and trauma-informed care. 

We hope this work will inform the approach of Government and commissioners and be a useful resource to those working in the sector. We hope it will also make the case for services for women so they can access support they need to build a better future.


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About the author

Katharine Sacks-Jones became the inaugural Director of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, in May 2015. She brings 15 years’ experience working across policy, campaigns, public affairs and parliament. She is an expert in social policy and has a track record of influencing the policy, political and media agendas and bringing about policy change for marginalised groups including securing new primary legislation to protect private tenants whose landlords are repossessed; funding for homelessness services and programmes; and the prevention of specific benefit cuts. Katharine has sat on a number of Government advisory groups including currently the Advisory Board for Female Offenders and she co-chairs the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce at the Department of Health. Before joining Agenda, Katharine led the Policy & Campaign team at Crisis.

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