There is a great deal of effort going into involving people in shaping their services these days. And rightly so. The Christie report (among others) makes a strong case for how this will improve outcomes for everyone and make sure money is spent more wisely, especially while there is less of it to go round.
It isn’t always easy in practice and in my experience even the best of intentions can lead to plenty of engagement but not always meaningful involvement in decision-making and service shaping. It’s a journey and one worth sticking at.
So surely we should be grateful when a community, understanding their own needs, helps to slowly and organically grow and shape a service to develop in response to these needs?
One such example is Saheliya, a specialist mental health and well-being support organisation for black, minority ethnic, asylum seeker and refugee women and girls (12+) in the Edinburgh and Glasgow areas.
Saheliya was established in 1992 by and for BME women in response to research carried out by Craigentinny Health Centre which showed that BME women were not accessing health services, especially mental health services. Since then Saheliya has grown and evolved to meet the needs of marginalised BME women unable to access mainstream services, almost 100% of whom are affected by some kind of gender-based abuse. Saheliya is excellent at identifying problems ranging from trafficking to forced marriage to racist attacks among women who didn’t know that such abuses are a crime and that help exists to support them and keep them safe. Because of their position in the community they have often been the first to bring serious issues to light (such as trafficking) long before they were on the public radar.
Saheliya’s wrap-around services keep women and their children safe and enable them to rebuild their lives. One of the reasons for the breadth of service is the emphasis on language and awareness of the effects of trauma. Saheliya’s staff collectively speak 34 languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Hakka, Hindi, Mandarin, Punjabi and Urdu. Language is one of the key barriers for women from minority ethnic communities in accessing (and benefiting from) mainstream services – interpreting is much more expensive, often inappropriate, inadequate, or just plain absent. Over 400 vulnerable women supported to rebuild their lives in Edinburgh each year shows that the Saheliya approach works.
Yet somehow this broad approach, which many see as Saheliya’s strength is also proving to be an impediment. The organisation now finds themselves in a difficult position in Edinburgh, having lost a portion of funding through a process of service redesign where among other things their approach was found not to sufficiently fit the domestic abuse model. Now another large portion of funding is under review – with concerns about where the service fits because it is so broad it crosses the boundaries between domestic abuse and mental health and wellbeing – different statutory funding streams.
I should be clear – so far the Council seem to be taking this risk seriously and are undertaking a comprehensive review of the service, the outcomes it offers and where it fits. But there is something seriously wrong with a system if an organisation specifically established to meet the needs of those struggling to access mainstream services are themselves struggling to access mainstream funding. Services like Saheliya can end up swimming against the tide in so many ways and you can’t help feeling that women and children at risk will end up losing out.
We need services which first and foremost meet the needs of communities and individuals, not provide services dictated by the rigidity of statutory funding streams. The main role of the various funding streams is to facilitate the best outcomes for people and so we need to work together to make sure they help, and not hinder, the process. We all say we want to know how to support ‘hard to reach’ people but perhaps we need to learn how to value it when it happens.
This blog has been written with Saheliya’s full knowledge so that we can use this case study to raise a far broader equalities issue. EVOC is interested to hear from other organisations if you have experienced anything similar. You can do so by contacting Maria: email@example.com