My name is Florence Fowler, and I am a Quality Improvement Lead at Phoenix Futures. I have worked in the Recovery Field for around 25 years however, on reflection, my desire to care for and assist disadvantaged others began at an early age and has matured with me. The majority of my career has been working and managing our Phoenix Futures Substance Misuse Service provisions in prisons, specialising in the treatment model ‘Therapeutic Community’. My experience of Prisons is that they have the potential to be great places for reform, rehabilitation, and ideal for treatment, to some extent, as there is a captive audience. Yet despite being a captive audience, and a high percentage of crime associated with substance misuse access to residential treatment depended on the availability of treatment beds, funding, and individuals meeting the assessment criteria. The success of residential treatment in custody often prohibited further residential treatment post-prison, despite the stark differences in environment.
Towards the end of 2021, I was asked by our Chief Executive Karen Biggs to provide a report on the interventions we delivered to women as an organisation. This was in support of a women’s working group our Chief Executive is involved in.
I must admit when initially tasked to provide a report, I panicked thinking where do I begin, only to discover when compiling the report, how little I did know.
I knew that Phoenix Futures had worked with nearly 4,000 women across our Community, Housing, and Rehab services last year, and that despite a CQC rating of outstanding our gender-specific residential rehab Grace House London closed due to funding constraints. So, what was on offer for women in our services?
The report explored a cross-section of services including: Supported Housing, Residential Services, Sheffield Residential Family service, Community Services, Prison Services, Prison Family Services, and RtN (Recovery Through Nature)
Despite the fundamental differences of each service, geographical, design, criteria, etc it very quickly became apparent that each service had a generic core approach and set of values that they applied when working with women.
All Services were knowledgeable of the disadvantages that often affect women, such as mental health, domestic violence, poverty, caring responsibilities, prejudice associated with women who use substances and in particular those with children. Staff spoke with empathy reflecting the impact on health, access to treatment, and personal growth that these disadvantages can have on women, and expressed a strong desire to ensure that the inequality of women is not perpetuated in any way.
Services acknowledged their own limitations and expertise in their ability to support women, and all services had established a network of local and specialist providers to bridge any gaps in service provision.
Specialist roles in pregnancy care, women at risk, domestic abuse, and a specialist women’s treatment coordinator established in Derby City enabled pathways for women to be created, whilst our residentials created a safe space for women to feel at ease with themselves and others. Generically, whether it was practical support of providing toiletries, accompanying women to activities to raise their self-esteem, or offering handheld support in meetings that determined a women’s ability to remain mum, Phoenix staff were there. The “can do” attitude found in all areas of service spoke loud and clear that their optimistic view of success for women did not depend on funds, but more on a willingness to find a way.
By the end of my report, I was left not wondering where to begin, but where to end as it was evident that interventions for women were on everyone’s agenda together with every effort to cater for the complexities of need. It was at this point that I reflected on my own time with Phoenix and how over the years the organisation had, due to its history and values, built a trauma-informed culture and a foundational premise for change for many.An organisation whose services today provided safety, trust, transparency, collaboration, choice, empowerment, and a voice to the voiceless. Where mutual and self-help provided a bedrock of support. Whose interventions were evidenced-based and delivered by staff who were knowledgeable, aware, sensitive, caring, responsive and adequately equipped and resilient for their roles. Confident about Recovery, the factual premise that underpinned all interventions for women was the organisations Leadership vision and passion which has shaped our services today.
For women to feel and be supported, the organisation’s culture, values, and beliefs have to reflect equality, diversity, instilled value for others, and a determination to bring about change and hope.
I questioned whether interventions were enough, including gender-specific interventions, or was it much more personal than interventions, that promote women, and sustain change?
And perhaps the most fundamental question I have is “should we not be assessing the services suitability to treat women, and not the suitability of women”?
As we owe it to the mothers, wives, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends.
We owe it to women.