Intimate Partner Violence

Principal Investigator: Laurie Schnirer
Research Team: Laura Murphy, Community Initiatives Against Family Violence
Funder: Edmonton Community Foundation
Duration: 2015 - 2016

To address the gaps in knowledge at the intersection between family violence and economic class, this research was initially conceptualized in partnership and collaboration with the Community Initiatives on Family Violence (CIAFV) as an exploratory project examining the experiences of low-income families in the Families First Edmonton (FFE) study impacted by family violence in Edmonton. Specifically, we were interested in any emerging patterns of family violence amongst FFE families, whether families faced unique barriers in accessing services and resources, what supports may have worked for families, and what some of the potential gaps were in service provision. The aim of this exploratory project was to generate key insights into the quality of life of low-income families dealing with family violence, the impact and outcomes of family violence or low-income supports, and the overlap or gaps in programming. CIAFV's participants were the primary target audience as their membership includes local agencies, government departments, and service providers that work directly with family violence and share a commitment in collaboratively coordinating, improving, and developing community responses to family violence and bullying.

This project began in May 2015, and the proposed project timeline was reflective of an exploratory project conceptualized using primarily quantitative data. However, as the analysis unfolded, it became clear that the quantitative data was highly limited when trying to address the project objectives. After a thorough preliminary analysis of the FFE data, it was determined that the qualitative data in caseworker notes could best address the primary research questions. Altogether, over 70 families had notes with stories of family violence embedded within them. The low income families who were selected represented a range of experiences, subjectivities, barriers, as well as successes as they grappled with family violence. Further, some of the case notes were quite detailed and provided an opportunity to understand some of the mechanisms at play for families who seemed to successfully cope and/or face additional obstacles and hardship from family violence. In consultation with our project partner organization, we decided to focus onto analyzing the qualitative notes even though it would require extending the project timeline. This shift allowed for an expanded scope of analyses that was more well-rounded and nuanced and provided more detailed data about what supports were most helpful for families struggling with family violence, and what gaps existed, over time. Furthermore, meaningful comparisons were drawn between Indigenous, Foreign-Born, and Canadian-Born non-Indigenous families. The method required for this level of analysis was more laborious and time consuming yet the findings produced stronger policy recommendations for family and criminal court systems, health and addictions services, childcare and child health, and supportive/affordable housing. We also gained insights into service provision (such as systems barriers, long term supports, gaps in safety, tensions with low-income stressors and barriers). Given the responsive nature to this project and the changes made with partner input, the project was completed in September 2016.

Achievement of desired outcomes: The ultimate project outcomes went far beyond the initial premise of exploratory research. The richness of the qualitative data provided a base knowledge and context of family violence beyond the borders of family violence. The key findings are highly intersectional, and included experiences of Indigenous, Foreign-Born, and Canadian-Born non-Indigenous households with varying levels of education, social supports, employment, differing experiences of mental and physical health, and a range of experience when accessing formal supports. The findings directly inform specific family violence programs and policies, draw out the unique challenges of dealing with family violence and low income simultaneously, and identify gaps among programs and services. We were also able to provide insight into how overarching programs and policies could be more culturally sensitive for specific groups. Since the project captured varied experiences of family violence from those actively dealing with violence in their homes to those who were now free of violence and able to reflect back on lived experiences, we were able to identify the most immediate supports needed when families were in crisis and what supports were needed to help families cope with the longer term impacts of trauma and changes in family structures. From this, some of the mechanisms regarding family successes as well as increasing hardships emerged and provided insights into how to best support the diversity of families going through and recovering from violence. While the data is not exhaustive, it provided a level of knowledge not commonly represented within the broader literature on family violence, with insights that can be directly understood and applied within our local and provincial contexts.

Follow-Up Activities:
The final project report will be widely disseminated within CIAFV's membership via email and potentially a presentation during one of CIAFV's monthly member meetings. As well, the report will be posted on the Community-University Partnership's website to broaden accessibility. The final report will also be shared with the Families First Edmonton community partners, and interested government officials currently engaged in evaluating the effectiveness of our current justice in dealing with domestic violence.

Description of Benefits:
CUP's mission is to nurture environments where evidence contributes to effective practices, programs, and policies. By extending the application of Families First Edmonton's goals and aims through expanded data analysis helps contribute to our mission. We were able to honour the needs of our community research partners as well as broadened the reach of the lived experiences of participating FFE families who shared their stories in the hopes that the information generated would improve outcomes for other families. As well, collaborating with CIAFV was important in generating and sharing knowledge through community partnerships. The wealth of not-for-profits, women's shelters, government departments, family counsellors, supporters, and allies that make up the community of CIAFV now have access to the broader experiences of low-income families coping with family violence in Edmonton. The provincial and municipal government partners gained critical evaluations of current policies related to family violence and low-income households. This is important as the province and city of Edmonton are currently exploring ways to better address gender based and family violence. We were also able to provide CIAFV members on the front-lines with feedback on best practices for direct assistance, resources, and supports and a better understanding of the current policies that mandates their organizations' work.

Families First Edmonton