How do policy landscapes hamper anti-violence efforts ?

In another section ‘Violence and immigration’ it is discussed how the 2012 imposition of Conditional Permanent Residence has facilitated the abuse of immigrant spouses. In addition to such policy-based facilitation of abuse, the service landscape has been progressively shorn of resources, forced into a neoliberal mode of management without regard to the complexity of the cases of violence.

When a woman without stable immigration status seeks help, and the abuser has cut off sponsorship, a supporting agency must take on the steep challenge of getting her an exception from the rules of conditional permanent residence. While legal changes allow exceptions in cases of abuse, the process is lengthy and onerous. While the emergency shelter stay is usually around three weeks, it may take far longer to properly help those women who flee without stable immigration status.

There is enormous difficulty in obtaining help and creating options for sponsored wives (and less often husbands) suffering abuse in Canada. When a person lacks stable immigrant status, access to all services is disrupted. When a newcomer woman without stable status flees violence she immediately encounters a lack of access to services. There is enduring trauma and violence for women seeking help or trying to leave their situation (with multiple perpetrators and sufferers across international borders). Service agencies may or may not have the staff and resources for the intense advocacy and effort to help an immigrant sufferer to negotiate the bureaucratic hurdles of trying to rebuild her life in Canada.

Service agencies are constantly battling resource constraints, budget cuts, and layoffs in an increasingly challenging funding climate. Service models are as constricted as the organizational resources. For instance, limits on the number of sessions available for counselling are a serious limitation for a survivor centred approach. Lack of funding, personnel, and short-term service models prevent reconnection and long-term follow-up.  Short-term funding impacts continuity of effort, communication and trained personnel and hinders wider community-agency connections to prevent violence – e.g., through linked programs of home visitation and ethnocultural community engagement.

Note that projects are very different from programs. The increasingly short-term funding models in anti-violence efforts are geared to truncated project time frames. Funding in the project model is short term and unstable. It means attrition and turnover, repeated losses of knowhow, and added burdens of training new staff, as and when the next batch of short-term funding becomes available. Short termism means a corporate loss of memory – the repeated loss of knowledge and experience from past projects for violence prevention. Short term services pose challenges for sustained connections, accurate referrals within that brief time frame, and follow-up on client progress.

Persistent and endemic staff shortages enhance caseloads, prolong wait times, and thereby increase the risk faced by frustrated help-seekers who return to the situation of violence. Lack of staff continuity means clients may be shunted amongst case workers. This in turn has implications for the relational aspects of the client-service provider contact, in particular building trust and rapport. Turnover means the erosion of client-agency connection and trust (not to mention the effort and expense to train up new staff).

Overall, a service landscape ruled by neoliberal policy considerations creates conditions of violence by either not being able to handle survivors at all or by creating a situation wherein survivors are forced back into situations of violence. Women return to situations of risk because of policy shortcomings and related service gaps.

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