Karina needed help but couldn’t ask for it

Abbie was working as a Better Start Worker at a Lambeth children’s centre. She noticed something wasn’t quite right for one local family.

[Names have been changed to protect the people involved]

Karina, a parent with 2 children under 4, seemed to be having relationship difficulties. Karina hadn’t reported an incident of domestic abuse, but Abbie was concerned by what she was seeing. She’d heard about LEAP’s domestic abuse service, and realised it might be able to support Karina.

LEAP funds Refuge to run the service from the Gaia Centre. It’s for Lambeth residents who are survivors of gender-based violence. LEAP Caseworkers support adults experiencing or at risk of abuse at a particularly critical time – when they have a baby on the way or a young child. Abbie knew they would try to intervene as early as possible. She got in touch with the team.

Building trust

The LEAP team advised Abbie on the best ways to approach the parent about domestic-abuse casework. Just a week later, Karina gave Abbie consent to refer her to the service.

English was still very new to Karina; she was using Google translate to communicate with Abbie.

The LEAP team didn't want to put Karina in danger. They met discreetly with Karina as she dropped off her children at nursery. They also arranged to call Karina with an interpreter when her husband was at work.

Controlling husband

Her husband controlled all the finances. Karina had no money of her own. Even the child benefit went directly into his bank account. 

He verbally abused her when she brought up relationship issues. And he deliberately punished her by withholding money for essentials such as food. 

This drove Karina and her children into food poverty. She became dependant on charity food parcels from the local children’s centre. When she tried to ask him for money for food or clothes, he'd start insulting her and her family. Her children witnessed this abuse.

Made to feel like she had no options

Karina didn’t have any friends or family to turn to in the UK. Her husband took advantage of this, making her feel powerless. 

But she did have options – she just needed the right support to find them.

The LEAP team discovered that Karina might be entitled to benefits and housing assistance. They identified that she had pre-settled status in the UK. After discussing options with Karina, they raised a safeguarding alert for her children. 

They helped her to undergo an assessment by Children's Social Care (CSC) without alerting her husband. However, CSC closed the case because it didn’t meet their threshold for intervention.

In danger of getting lost in the system

Through LEAP’s one-to-one service, Karina was able to access support for as long as she needed it. While Karina worked with Gaia, the team could monitor the impact of domestic abuse on her children even though CSC had closed her case.

Karina’s caseworker referred her to several institutions and continued to work closely, with Better Start Worker, Abbie. Voluntary organisations supported Karina to obtain settled status in the UK and set up a bank account. 

She started attending ESOL classes to improve her English. She also signed up to other groups at the children’s centre – including LEAP services supporting healthy eating and children’s communication and language development.

Coordinating a united response

With Karina’s consent, LEAP Enhanced Caseworkers brought together multiple professionals to advocate for her: children’s centre staff, health visitors, and speech and language professionals.

The team made a second safeguarding referral to CSC. They highlighted new concerns about the children’s welfare, which other professionals verified. This time CSC confirmed they would fund a refuge space for mum and children. 

But Karina wasn't ready to enter a refuge. It’s a big step that can seem daunting, especially when you’ve been made to feel so powerless for so long.  Despite advocating for CSC to remain involved, they closed the case again. 

When things turned violent, she knew what to do

The LEAP team continued to support Karina, reminding her of her options and building up her confidence. This included a safety plan giving Karina and her children safe spaces to go in an emergency, such as the nursery or children’s centre. 

On one particular occasion, that plan proved vital.

Following an argument, Karina’s husband became physically violent for the first time. She attended the children’s centre as soon as she could. LEAP Caseworkers have regular arrangements to work within local children’s centres, which helps them to reach families and connect with other practitioners. Fortunately, the team had just been at the centre, so were able to provide immediate support. Karina was now sure and ready to flee. 

In a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) meeting, local agencies share information on the highest-risk, domestic-abuse cases and coordinate actions to increase victims’ safety. These are cases in which victims are at risk of being seriously harmed or killed. Using their professional judgement, the LEAP team made an immediate MARAC referral for Karina. 

Children’s Social Care responded instantly, providing her with accommodation and upkeep at a Bed and Breakfast. In the meantime, the LEAP team looked to secure a refuge space.

Finally safe

During her time at the B&B, the LEAP team visited Karina offering her emotional support and assistance from partners, including a food box from Healthy Living Platform. They also coordinated a joint response from relevant agencies – bringing vouchers, toys and clothes for the children. 

Karina and the children are now safe and have started a new chapter in their life at a refuge. The LEAP team has remained in touch and handed over all her needs to the refuge workers.

“Thank you for all your help, I will never forget you. The small things like bringing me food, plates, cutlery, toys for the children when I had nothing … It would have been very hard if it wasn’t for you.” 

Karina is looking forward to a brighter future: “The children really suffered before, now they are free. I can see they are more happy.”

Earlier intervention and a multi-agency response

Karina had multiple overlapping needs. Her immigration status made it more difficult for her to seek support or leave the abusive relationship. 

LEAP’s Enhanced Casework team supported Karina flexibly, over a 6-month period. They removed barriers and increased her confidence over time. 

The Gaia Centre’s main service wouldn’t have found Karina. She relied upon a referral route which the LEAP team at Gaia had established through early intervention, outreach work in the community. She required long-term, specialist, holistic support without caveats. 

Karina’s case demonstrates the need for services to support families earlier. For example, the LEAP team sent 3 Multi-Agency Referral Forms (MARFs) for the children before Karina’s abuse escalated to physical violence. They also coordinated a joined-up response from services and professionals without statutory support. 

Refuge staff leading on Karina’s case have accepted an invitation from senior management at CSC to discuss the case and promote the importance of earlier intervention and strong multi-agency working.

Have you been affected by this story — or know someone who needs help? 

Contact our Enhanced Caseworkers. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. 

Phone: 0207 7338724

Email: lambethvawg@refuge.org.uk

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