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Standards and regulations

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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In order to ensure the effective and timely implementation of national or sub-national legislation and policies on shelters, relevant state ministers and departments should develop, in full collaboration with shelter workers and advocates, realistic guidelines, instructions and directives. Protocols and guidelines are important to outline the key service components provided by shelters and methods of service delivery, in order to promote women and girls’ access to quality care and support.

Regulations for women’s shelters can help to ensure that services to address the needs of women and their children are available, properly-resourced and appropriately aligned with core guiding principles.

Guidelines for shelter provision should be developed in collaboration with shelter staff as well as survivors, and may involve:

  • The creation of a strategic plan for the shelter, which may answer the following questions: How will decisions be made? How will policies be developed? What is the state of the shelter and in what state should it be in the next three to five years? What is the process for achieving goals? (see developing a programme framework)
  • A service delivery policy to include information such as the:
    • shelter’s mandate, principles;
    • services offered to both women, and where relevant, children (including accommodation/ provision of basic personal and household items, crisis intervention, risk assessment and safety planning, and counseling supports, referral and accompaniment to legal, health, security and social assistance, economic and employment activities);
    • staffing and structure
    • collection and storage of women’s personal information (including rights related to access and confidentiality); and
    • residents’ rights and responsibilities.

For example, the Ixora shelter for abused women and their children, established in 1999 by Help & Shelter in Guyana, has developed a comprehensive Governance, Policies & Procedures Manual that is reviewed every 18 months. The manual covers guidelines related to the governance and operational aspects of the shelter as follows:

  • Help & Shelter Governance Structure (including accountability measures, membership, meetings, role and responsibilities of the Board, roles of coordinator and volunteers)
  • Finance (including  budget Process and Responsibilities,  audit Arrangements,  delegated  of Authority,  accounting Policies and Procedures, among other areas)
  • Human Resources (including employment Policy, Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures,  Contracts for Services, voluntewer stipends)
  • Operations Procedures (related to child protection, guidelines for personnel/volunteers, ethics and responsibilities, procedures for counseling, hotline support, sexual abuse cases. Monitoring and evaluation, physical and information security)

See: Help and Shelter. 2012. Governance, Policies & Procedures Manual. Help and Shelter. Georgetown.

  • The identification of minimum standards for what services will be available, how they will be distributed geographically and who will provide these services. These should include:
    • Confidentiality
    • Safety, security and respect for residents and staff
    • Accessibility (including child care services)
    • Availability
    • Free of charge and provision for residents to stay as long as required, regardless of their financial situation
    • Work within a gender analysis with the principles of empowerment and self-determination
    • Expertise recognized and developed through training
    • Qualified staff
    • Holistic services
    • Interagency coordination

Illustrative Example: The Council of Europe’s Combating Violence Against Women: Minimum Standards for Support Services includes the following set of minimum and aspirational standards for shelters.

Minimum standards

Aspirational standards

Services in shelters should be provided by female staff.


The security of residents should be addressed through confidential addresses and/or through appropriate security measures and monitoring.

There should be a written policy on visitors (where they are permitted). This should include ensuring that visitors understand confidentiality.

If there are insufficient places, or services are withdrawn – the shelter should assist in finding a suitable safe alternative accommodation.

Any alternative accommodation should be evaluated for compliance with the shelter’s safety and confidentiality policies.

Refusal to provide or re-admit to services should ONLY be undertaken where serious breaches of rules have taken place, or for safety of women and children.


Shelter support should be available for as long as the service user needs them.


Staffing levels should be sufficient to meet the needs of current service users and children.


Crisis support and safety planning for each service user.

• Should provide information on the service user’s rights and responsibilities (including confidentiality policies) within 24 hours of admission.

• Rules should be presented in empowering language.

A written needs assessment should be completed within 3 to 7 days of admission. This should encompass:

  • health/medical needs;
  • children;
  • housing;
  • legal options;
  • financial assistance and options;
  • job training, employment, and education.

Specialist shelter provision should be made for women who are substance abusers.

Should be able to provide (or make referral to) legal advice, advocacy, accompaniment and other support services.


Should provide assistance to ensure that service users have independent economic means when they leave the shelter.


Should have at least one qualified child care worker on the staff.


  • One child care worker per 10 children;
  • Safe play areas;
  • Outings and activities for children
  • Child protection policy

Shelters should model and promote respect and non-violence in all interactions including those between adults and children.


Where a place is unavailable due to the age of an accompanying male child. The shelter should assist in providing or finding an alternative safe place for the family.

Any alternative accommodation should be evaluated for compliance with the shelter’s safety and confidentiality policies.

Should assist in maintaining the child’s education.

  • Have protocol with local schools to address child residents’ needs.
  • Have space and facilities for adolescents to do homework.

Training for shelter volunteers and staff should be a minimum of 30 hours and cover:

  • A gendered analysis of violence against women;
  • Communication and intervention techniques;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Child protection;
  • Accessing translation and disability services;
  • How to make appropriate referrals;
  • Information on trauma, coping and survival;
  • Assessing risk;
  • Non-discrimination and diversity;
  • Empowerment.
  • There should be staff trained/ able to communicate in sign language.
  • Information and counseling should be available in several languages reflecting the communities the shelter provides services to.
  • Staff should receive some basic training on immigration status/law.

Resettlement and follow-up services should be available to ex-residents and their children.


Excerpt: Council of Europe. 2008 Combating Violence Against Women: Minimum Standards for Support Services. CoE. Vienna.


Illustrative example: Establishing Service Standards in Scotland

From 2009-2011, Scottish Women’s Aid, a network of 38 shelters, developed domestic violence service standards in response to the need for benchmarks and a framework for measuring the value of shelter specialist services. Using a collaborative assessment process, the standards aim to assist shelters to document their practices to create evidence and demonstrate their contributions to women. The Standards focus on 5 themes: staff skills; accessible services for children and young people; safety and security; effective partnerships; and representation of women’s voices to other agencies. An assessment of 28 shelters in 2012 and an evaluation of the standards informed their finalization for use by members of the network.


The assessment process began in 2009, with a draft set of standards shared with advocates at an annual shelter conference. This was followed by:

  • The establishment of a working group with respresentatives from 11 shelters responsible for shaping the standards and developing criteria for each (completed in March 2011).
  • Two trainings with shelter staff to: increase their skills and confidence as peer assessors; outline the assessment process and approach, including asking questions and collating evidence; review challenges/fears and benefits of peer assessment; gather staff opinions on characteristics of an ideal assessor and willingness to receive assessors at their shelter.
  • Piloting the Standards in 3 shelters and revision based on the assessment experience.
  • Outreach by Scottish Women’s Aid, through shelter newsletters with updates on the process; follow-up with individual facilities; and a formal event to launch the standards, involving the Working Group and related organizations. Communication messages promoted shelter buy-in for the standards, by reinforcing their purpose to: protect domestic violence services and increase state support; create evidence around shelter services and quality; and promote a comprehensive approach to ensure good practice across services.

Assessment process

The Standards are promoted through a peer-led and confidential assessment conducted over a 3-month period. The assessment can help shelters identify: innovative and promising practices; areas for improvement; and supports needed from Scottish Women’s Aid. The process involves:

  • A shelter self-assessment based on evidence/ documentation available (2-3 weeks);
  • Email submission of the form to the assessor (shelter staff with past assessment experience);
  • Joint review of findings with the assessor, an explicitly supportive rather than advisory role; and
  • Agreement of promising practices on the Scottish Women’s Aid website.

Recommendations for replication

  • Allow sufficient time for the process to ensure shelters are fully engaged, before expanding partnerships with other sectors and institutions (e.g. government bodies who may develop their own related criteria), considering staff turnover and other unexpected delays.
  • Employ and sustain participatory and inclusive processes for the development of standards, as demonstrated in the multi-pronged approach used by Scottish Women’s Aid.
  • Standards should integrate/ complement existing criteria (e.g. the Scottish government’s  National Care Standards)


Summary of Standards

Standards and Assessment Criteria

Guidance for shelters being assessed

Guidance for Assessors

Source: Ash Kuloo. 2012. Presentation at Second World Conference of Women’s Shelters. Washington, D.C.

In addition to specific service requirements, directives may guide the development of effective partnerships between shelters and other service providers, as shelters in most jurisdictions are run at the local level. Partnerships between shelter advocates and workers and officials at different levels of state, as well as other community stakeholders, including police and child welfare agencies, are necessary.


For example, the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative in Kenya, designed for women and girls fleeing female genital mutilation and forced marriages, demonstrates effective collaboration among partners. The shelter receives referrals from the local Department of Education, which also involves an intake process to clarify the details of each case. When girls access the shelter, the Child Welfare Department is notified to help with family reconciliation if the girl’s parents agree to not have their daughter undergo the practice. The shelter also assists with court processes for protection orders. The establishment of local networks and carefully fostered partnerships were key to implementing the national and sub-national laws and policies successfully. Read more about the Initiative.


Guidelines should also outline the training and capacity development needs for public officials responsible for funding and liaising with shelters and their workers, since they may not be familiar with issues of violence against women.

Examples of shelter protocols and guidelines to help standardize service provision mandated by legislation and supported by policy include:

  • Canada: "I Built My House of Hope": Best Practices to Safely House Abused and Homeless Women (Human Resources and Social Development Canada, 2009) which offers shelter workers information about how to safely house women and their children who have experienced violence, the different options for housing women (i.e. women staying in their homes, emergency shelters, longer-term options, etc.) and how to increase women’s overall security.
  • Serbia and Montenegro: Code of Conduct for Establishing a Confidential Shelter (OSCE/ODIHR, 2001)
  • South Africa: Minimum Standards on Shelters for Abused Women (Task Team on Shelters, Department of Social Development, 2001) set out principles in the provision of services; provide a framework for services from prevention efforts, ongoing support for survivors to identifying integrated and second stage housing; and establish guidelines for the operation, security and management of shelters, safe spaces, crisis centres in South Africa.

Illustrative Resources:

Service Delivery Standards for Member Programs (Iowa Coalition against Domestic Violence, USA, 2012). This resource provides detailed guidance on residential and non-residential services for women, children and perpetrators. Available in English.

National Service Standards for Domestic and Sexual Violence Core Standards (Women’s Aid, UK, 2009).  Available in English

Policies and Procedures: Guidelines for Shelters (National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, Canada).  Part I available in English and French; Part II available in English and French.