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VAW Home Visitor Training

By: Marija Robinson and Yusra Qadir

As part of its Violence Against Women (VAW) project, the Mothers Matter Centre (MMC) set out to train HIPPY Home Visitors (HVs) in identifying, preventing, and directing cases of gender-based violence (GBV). HIPPY HVs play a critical role in connecting vulnerable, isolated and often low-income mothers to essential services, building community and supporting them to prepare their children for success at school and in life.

HVs have a unique opportunity afforded to them by nature of their role. They receive access to their clients’ homes and gain firsthand experiences of a household’s dynamics. As a result, it is much easier for HVs to recognize the signs of abuse, if any, and because of this, we chose to conduct six 2-hour training sessions to build the HVs’ awareness of GBV. During these 12 hours, participants received an overview of VAW, its forms, and its impact on women and families. The modules used a variety of activities to enhance participants’ awareness of their role as HVs in identifying and preventing VAW.

Training HVs on GBV required careful consideration to ensure the women remain clear on their roles and boundaries as they learn to identify, prevent and support suspected cases of GBV. Therefore, the training modules were developed with reminders about the role of a HIPPY HV, boundaries, self-care, and the Do No Harm approach.

Image from the final training session where participants were able to share their feedback.

The training set out to accomplish several learning outcomes. It included explaining what GBV is, the role HVs play in responding to possible cases of GBV, and the relevant laws, risk factors, and best practices related to their responsibilities. The participants also learned how to practice self-care and boundaries, ensuring that they have the skills and tools to prioritize their own emotional and physical well-being when they eventually deal with these cases. As one HV remarked, “it’s an honour to be in the homes of these families, but you don’t want to make a mistake and put yourself at risk.” These sessions, conducted with participants from across Canada, enabled HVs to enhance their networks and “collaborate and share” personal experiences with their colleagues.  One of the biggest takeaways from the collaborative, interactive training sessions was that HVs received clarification on their role, thereby “learning the limitations” and responsibilities of their position. Before the sessions, the women were unclear about whether they were allowed to advise mothers experiencing GBV and, as one participant stated, they “didn’t know where to go,” as they had minimal knowledge of the resources available in their community. There were also concerns amongst the HVs surrounding “how to keep the trust of their clients” if they did witness and respond to potential cases of GBV. 

However, following the training, the HVs felt they had a “clearer vision of what to look for.” They learned their role is to be a source of support, someone who can “provide resources.” They are not lawyers or social workers, and thus it is not their responsibility to give recommendations to mothers experiencing abuse. Participants found, in particular, the ‘Blue Sky’ method to be beneficial when understanding this concept. It stands for Believe her, Listen to her, Understand her immigration status, Ease isolation, Support her choices, Know about resources, and Your voice matters. It reinforced that as an HV, the best thing they can do for a mother is to stand beside her regardless of her decision. It also enabled the women to integrate cultural awareness in their understanding of abuse, learning how women within certain cultures may view VAW differently. One HV stated that the training gave her “confidence in approaching the situation. Because you can easily freeze.” Another HV explained how the sessions gave everyone a “chance to practice and reaffirm the steps” necessary if they witness or suspect VAW, ultimately providing them with the knowledge they will likely “need in the future.” 

Overall, the HVs took a lot away from their VAW training. Following these six sessions that built our HVs’ capacity, participants felt more confident and prepared to direct cases of VAW in their community. They are now better informed about what to look for in their clients’ homes. As one woman stated those participating “know there is help outside and what their role actually involves as an HV.” The result is that HVs can adequately identify, prevent, and act on any suspected or witnessed VAW cases. The six sessions conducted were a trial run. The feedback received will inform the curriculum development of another four modules, creating a total of ten training sessions for future HVs. This informed development ensures the content remains responsive and reflects the experiences of these first participants.

This training is funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE).

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