The UK Femicide Census shows that Polish women are the second largest group of women killed by men after British women (Femicide Census 10-year report, 2018). What we also know from the Census is that the vast majority of women are killed by their partners/ex-partners. Domestic abuse in Polish families living in the UK is a growing concern among the Polish community and professionals. It remains a hidden problem that can lead to fatal consequences if it is not addressed at the right time.
Vesta SFS CIC have been supporting Polish victims of domestic abuse since 2014. We set up the first Polish Domestic Violence Helpline in the UK and operated it until 2018. We work with families experiencing complex issues: domestic abuse, problems with mental health, parenting difficulties, or addictions. We address these problems by offering specialist services to agencies supporting Polish clients including domestic abuse awareness and recovery programme for women, course for perpetrators of domestic abuse, parenting course, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, courses for British professionals about effective working with Polish families and free resources in Polish and English.
Polish people experiencing domestic abuse face a lot of barriers in accessing help, including language barriers, financial difficulties, childcare issues, or isolation. The strongest barrier, however, is the growing fear from Social Services. This stems from the very negative press Children Services have on Polish internet sites and various media. We see not only stories from parents about children being removed from their care “for no reason at all”, but there is a number of documentaries on this topic available online and on Polish television. The majority of our clients do not understand how the social care system works in the UK and we spend a considerable amount of time explaining the role of social workers to them to alleviate their fears of losing their children. We also asked our clients about their opinion about working with Children Services – 68% of them were satisfied with the help they received. It seems that although the initial fears and mistrust are strong, the quality of support offered to victims helps to lessen the initial barriers. Engagement from Polish clients becomes difficult when they don’t receive the information or support they need. Victims feel immense pressure from services to meet certain expectations but they can’t access mainstream support options because of the language barrier.
How can Social Services work more effectively with Polish clients:
- publish information about your service in Polish on your website
- ensure that you have an interpreter present in your meetings if the client struggles to communicate in English (never use children, relatives or friends to assist you with language needs)
- assume that the client doesn’t know anything about your service and clearly explain your role, what you will be doing and how you can help; leave your card with the client
- translate to Polish documents explaining your procedures, e.g. Single Assessment or Child Protection procedure, Section 20 agreement
- send letters to clients translated to Polish following important meetings, e.g. core group meeting – even if the client speaks English it’s likely that they don’t remember what was discussed as it was such a highly stressful situation for them that they struggled to focus
- employ Polish-speaking workers
- find out what specialist support is available in the client’s native language