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Outreach during transition from shelter

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Outreach advocates both, work to identify women who have experienced abuse or at risk and also work with women after they leave the shelter.  Advocates who meet with women after their shelter stay, normally visit the woman or girl in the community on a regular basis for a period of time, intervening to assist them to address needs that enhance safety and quality of life factors, including access to needed services.

They are focused on activities that reduce women’s isolation and facilitate helpful responses by community services for women leaving shelters. Access to community resources is essential (next to support from family and friends) in facilitating women’s ability to leave their abuser or reintegrate into a community after experiencing violence (Bowker, 1984; Donato & Bowker, 1984).

The length of service and frequency of contact between advocates and women may vary. In one example of an outreach intervention, advocates meet with women for 4 to 6 hours per week, over a period of 10 weeks following the time the woman leaves the shelter. Similarly, based on her identified needs, outreach staff may refer to various services to assist women, such as:

  • Education
  • Legal assistance
  • Employment
  • Services for their children
  • Housing
  • Child care
  • Transportation
  • Financial assistance
  • Health care
  • Social support

The process of providing outreach intervention involves:

  • Assessment:
    • Getting to know the woman and significant family members and friends in her life.
    • Gathering information regarding her needs and goals.
    • Developing understanding of what she would like to accomplish through the outreach process.
  • An initial meeting may take approximately 2 hours, which will allow time to begin to develop a working relationship and to complete the following activities (where relevant):
    • Ask her about her situation
    • Conduct an initial needs assessment
    • Assess the family’s level of risk
    • Explain the services being offered to her
    • Develop a preliminary service plan
    • Complete a safety plan
    • Fill out relevant forms for screening and intake (Dozois, 2007)
  • Implementation – which includes working with the woman to seek out and mobilise community resources that are able to address each of the unmet needs identified during the assessment phase. This is done by:
    • Brainstorming regarding the possible resources;
    • Identifying individuals to contact who can mobilise those resources; and
    • Developing strategies for access to resources. A range of strategies may be employed to mobilise access such as making phone calls, obtaining written documentation or forms, and making face to face contact.
  • Monitoring – which includes working with women to assess whether the resource was successfully obtained; and met the identified need.
  • Secondary implementation – If it is assessed that all needed resources were not obtained or did not meet the need, other strategies are identified and implemented.
  • Termination – during which the advocate begins to remove herself increasingly from the process; and focuses on transferring skills and knowledge in identifying and mobilizing resources to the woman, so that she is able to continue the process on her own.

These stages often overlap in timing, for example:

  • Assessment is a part of the process that should be done continuously, as emerging areas of unmet need become evident.
  • Interventions also may occur at all phases of the process – so that the advocate and the woman may be monitoring the implementation of one strategy while implementing another.

Where a woman has not been supported by the shelter or its services, the initial assessment may involve gathering some or all of the following information. It is unlikely that all of the information will be gathered during the first visit. When determining the specific areas of information to gather, workers should consider the woman’s level of openness and comfort with sharing information, and which questions might be most important within the context of her situation.

  • Contact information
  • Woman’s name and date of birth
  • Children’s name(s) and date of birth
  • Address, telephone number (clarify whether the number is safe to call and whether it is safe to leave a message)
  • Alternative and/or emergency contact number
  • Employment status
  • Marital status
  • Ethnic background
  • Preferred language (clarify whether translation services are required)
  • Name and description of the abuser
  • Referral source
  • Presenting situation/issues
  • What made her seek out this service?
  • Did she or her children sustain any physical injuries as a result of the abuse?
  • Has there been recent police intervention? If yes, have charges been laid? Is there a restraining order or a peace bond?
  • What is the current status of the relationship? (i.e. separated, living together)
  • Does she feel safe? Why or why not? What would she need in order to feel safe?
  • Does she have children? If yes, what have they witnessed or experienced? Are they safe?
  • Has there ever been destruction of pets or property?


  • What kinds of abuse has she experienced (physical, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual) in this relationship? In past relationships?
  • When did the abuse begin?
  • How frequent is the abuse?
  • Were weapons involved?
  • Were charges laid?
  • Has the abuser threatened to kill the client or anyone else?


  • Who currently offers support? How do they help?
  • Are there other friends or family who could offer her support? What type(s) of support c could they offer? How can she let them know she needs this kind of help?
  • Has she sought out help from any other agencies or professionals?
  • What kind of information would be helpful? (Legal, financial, safety, community resources, family violence dynamics and impact)
  • What kind of support would be helpful? (Basic needs, legal referral, shelter, health, mental health, parenting, coping)
  • What options does she feel she has to protect her own safety?
  • What strengths does she have to help you get through the difficult times? (coping strategies)

Advocates should record the woman’s responses to these questions in the case file, along with any observations made, any goals established and any actions taken or to be taken.

(Based on Sullivan and Bybee, 1999)



Family Violence Outreach Counsellor Manual (Dozois, 2007). This resource provides guidance on outreach services, based on the context in Canada. It includes sections on the core functions and competencies of outreach counselors, how to work with women living in the community, and maintaining files and records. Materials for supporting women to understand family violence and its effects, sample tools and forms are also provided. Available in English.