The Community Advocacy Project is a community-based advocacy intervention for women leaving domestic violence shelter programs. Its main goals are to improve access to community resources and increase social support available to women starting a new life after leaving abusive partners. By improving availability and access of support services, the women’s quality of life would increase and could potentially help keep women from future abuse. Community resources include items such as employment, legal and financial assistance, housing, and child care.
This intervention comes from a strength-based model in which the assumption is that people are talented, knowledgeable, and capable of helping themselves through hard times as well as quick to recover from hardship.
Stemming from the strengths-based model, the Community Advocacy Project concentrates on enhancing a woman’s strengths and talents while getting the community involved in providing resources and opportunities for success. Advocates are required to follow strict guidelines that concentrate on a woman’s strengths rather than her weaknesses, on issues that are important to her rather than to the professional, and on making the community responsive to her needs by working with each woman in her environment and teaching her skills to increase the chance for success.
A key aspect of the Community Advocacy Project is that trained and supervised paraprofessionals are just as capable as licensed professionals when they provide women with these types of services.
There are five phases of the 10-week project participation: assessment, implementation, monitoring, secondary implementation, and termination. Advocates meet weekly with the women for 4 to 6 hours. Although defined for clarification, these phases are not separate from one another but are ongoing and they sometimes overlap throughout the intervention period.
During the assessment phase, advocates get to know the woman and her friends (including romantic partners) and family members. Advocates also collect information on her specific needs and goals. The implementation phase begins the process of connecting the woman to the appropriate community resources available to her to meet previously established needs. Referrals and personal contacts to various community resources are made during this process. After community referrals are made, the monitoring phase serves to supervise the progress and quality of the resources in serving the woman’s needs. If any adjustments are needed, the secondary implementation phase is initiated to reanalyze what services are needed for success. Finally, the termination phase begins around the seventh week of the project. During the final phase, the advocate reemphasizes the newfound knowledge and skills the woman has learned so she can continue accessing resources on her own.
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Structural social support. Tan and colleagues (1995) found that at all 3 time periods the most common source of support mentioned was family and friends. There were no differences between the treatment and control groups. At the initial interview, women identified 7.39 individuals across the different areas of social support. That number decreased to 7.27 at postintervention and increased to 7.73 at 6-month follow-up, although the change was not significant. Women mentioned 1.36 individuals who provided various kinds of support at shelter exit, 1.42 at postintervention, and 1.82 at 6-month follow-up. But there were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups. Upon exiting the shelter, women reported having an average of 2.69 close friends, which significantly increased for the treatment group to 3.22, compared with 2.34 for the control group. There were no significant differences between groups at the 6-month follow-up.
Functional social support. At the shelter exit interview, the mean social support quantity and quality satisfaction scale score was a 4.74 (where 1=terrible and 7=extremely pleased). By postintervention, mean satisfactions increased to 5.10 and remained at 5.12 at 6-month follow-up. At shelter exit, there was no significant difference for social support satisfaction between treatment and control groups, but at postintervention the treatment group women were significantly more satisfied with their perceived social support while the control group stayed relatively the same. By the 6-month follow-up, however, treatment group satisfaction decreased slightly while the control group increased slightly.
Relationship With Assailant
Before entering the shelter, 84 percent of the women were involved with their assailant, compared with 35 percent at shelter exit. At postintervention, 40 percent of the women continued involvement with their assailant, decreasing to 34 percent at 6-month follow-up. There were no significant differences between treatment and control. Women were more likely to continue involvement with their assailants if they had mentioned the men as a source of support.
At postintervention follow-up, 49 percent of the women had experienced further psychological abuse, while 46 percent had experienced further physical abuse. By the 6-month follow-up, 56 percent reported continued psychological abuse and 44 percent reported further physical abuse. There were no significant differences between treatment and control groups. Women in the control group who experienced further abuse postintervention were significantly less satisfied with their social support, but by the 6-month follow-up the differences were no longer significant.
Women who were satisfied with their social support were more likely to be pleased with their lives and to be less depressed.
Effectiveness of Obtaining Resources
At postintervention, satisfaction with social support had a significant positive effect on women’s perceived effectiveness in obtaining needed resources. Treatment women reported being significantly more effective in obtaining resources than control women did. All the women in the treatment group who wanted to work on social support reported being able to do so, while only 67 percent of the control group reported this. This difference between groups was significant.
Bybee and Sullivan (2002) reported that at postintervention advocacy women reported satisfaction with their social support as a 5.44 (with 1=terrible and 7=extremely pleased). This decreased slightly at the 12-month follow-up but returned to 5.44 at the 24-month follow-up. Women in the control group who received no services first reported a 4.77, and their satisfaction rate increased through the 24-month follow-up. Advocacy women rated the quality of their social support at postintervention 5.52, which decreased to 5.47 by the 24-month follow-up. Control women reported a satisfaction of 4.88, which increased to 5.33 by the 24-month follow-up.
Overall satisfaction with social support postintervention was 5.34 for advocacy women compared with 4.70 for the women who received no services. At the 12-month follow-up, the advocacy women decreased to 5.26, while the control women increased to 5.09. At the final 24-month follow-up, the satisfaction rating for advocacy women increased to a 5.45 satisfaction rate, while control women slightly increased to 5.10.
At postintervention, advocacy women reported the effectiveness of obtaining resources a 3.25 (on a scale of 1=very ineffective and 4=very effective). Control women, by contrast, reported an effectiveness rate of 2.69. At the 12-month follow-up, both advocacy and control women reported difficulty obtaining resources as 2.24. By 24 months it had decreased to 2.01 and 2.18, respectively. On the satisfaction with resources, advocacy women at the 12-month follow-up reported a 2.51, while the control women reported a 2.56. These increased at 24-months to 2.72 for advocacy women and 2.58 for control women.
Advocacy women reported having been more effective in obtaining resources at postintervention and reported greater access to resources at 24 months, but there were no significant effects of advocacy on resources at 12 months.
Quality of Life
The intervention made a significant impact on reported quality of life at the 12-month follow-up but was not significant at any other time period. Improved quality of life continued over time and helped explain the intervention’s positive effects on social support at 12 months and access to resources and reabuse at 24 months.
Based on the Conflict Tactics Scale, women reported incidents of violence at postintervention as 1.21, which increased slightly to 1.22 before dropping to 1.18. Control women reported incidents of violence, respectively, as 1.25, 1.29, and 1.18. On the Frequency/Severity Scale of Violence (where 0=no violence and 3=high frequency severe abuse), advocacy women reported at postintervention a score of 0.80, while control women reported a 1.08. At 12 months, advocacy women reported a slight increase to 0.88, while the control women reported a decrease in severity to 0.98. Finally, at the 24-month follow-up, advocacy women reported 0.61 and control women 0.86. When researchers looked at frequency (with 1=never and 6=more than 4 times a week), advocacy women reported 1.71 at postintervention, increasing to 1.80 at 12 months and decreasing to 1.55 at 24 months. Control women reported 1.87 at postintervention, which increased to 1.99 at 12 months before dropping to 1.76 at 24 months.
There was a significant effect on reabuse at postintervention but no significant direct effect on reabuse at the 12-month follow-up.
Types of Resources
Women reported to Allen, Bybee, and Sullivan (2004) that they wanted mostly to work on material goods and services (86 percent), health-related issues (77 percent), increasing the level of social support (77 percent), and school-related issues (72 percent) such as obtaining a GED or attending college or trade school. Women also wanted to address financial needs (68 percent), transportation needs (66 percent), obtaining employment (60 percent), and legal issues (59 percent).
Activity Levels in Obtaining Resources
Overall, advocacy women engaged in a greater number of activities to address education needs, legal issues, and acquiring material goods and services. Control women in the high-activity cluster engaged in significantly greater activities to address child care and issues related to their children than women did who had received advocacy services.
Effectiveness in Obtaining Resources
Women who received advocacy services were more effective in accessing community resources than were the control women, with the mean level of effectiveness for advocacy women 3.26 and for control 2.71. Mean level of effectiveness was significantly greater for advocacy women in all clusters exept for the high-activity cluster. Women who received advocacy services did not differ from control women in the high-activity cluster.