Why women with multiple needs don’t engage with services

Colette Cronshaw is one of the founding members of Women’s Voices in Inspiring Change Manchester. Women’s Voices is a group of dynamic women with lived experience who want to speak out about their experiences and work to change women’s lives for the better. They come together to get stuff done in a way that supports and respect each other. They’ve had different experiences, come from different backgrounds and are at different stages of their journey but want other women to join them, support them, or partner with them, to make women’s voices heard and change services. 

They have a three tier structure…

  1. Chillin Out. This is for women in need of support. The group hosts events, like pamper parties, theatre trips etc. This builds trust and confidence in the women.
  2. Movin On. Members that have previously come to Chilin Out, get involved in setting up the events and begin to get training to attend professional meetings to have their voices heard. Also going to other organisations to promote women’s voices, to women in spaces they already trust.
  3. Gettin Ahead. Women at this point in their journey will usually feel confident in themselves and their recovery to apply to be a peer mentor/ GROW trainee role within the wider Inspiring Change Manchester programme.

The group are currently in the process of creating communication materials and branding The Women’s Voices Movement, event posters, business cards and a zine for women currently experiencing MCN. They’ve also included a directory of women’s support services in the city and a page of safety advice. The 2D artist Andrea Joseph has a beautiful style and she is doing the visual work for the zine. Making it eye-catching and homespun, hopefully grabbing the women’s attention and sending the message that time has been taken to speak to her.

In February, Collette, alongside other female members from the NECG, presented to Katherine Sacks-Jones, Director of Agenda to highlight their experiences of why women do not engage with frontline services. The video clip below is an excerpt from the play they put on.

Following the event, Collette kindly provided her views as to why women were disengaged with services, here are her thoughts….

“When I was asked to write a blog on barriers faced by women accessing services I thought it would be pretty straightforward. Except when I started to think about just how different every woman and her journey is, I realised it was a bigger job than I had previously thought.

“One size does not fit all, each journey is different and the way a woman wants to be supported is unique to her.It takes a lot longer to build a trusting relationship with a woman facing multiple disadvantage, past trauma will dictate where and with who she feels safe. This is where women only spaces are invaluable, without the physical gendered space and women supporters a woman will more than likely engage only superficially, if at all.

“Mixed spaces are generally male dominated making it hard for a woman to voice even basic needs. Mostly though women tend to avoid these spaces as they can be intimidating, especially if there is the possibility of a violent ex-partner attending the same session.

“If a woman still has her children in her custody she will have fear that social services will get involved, leading to their removal into care. Shame and stigma are also emotional barriers for women, being labelled as a bad mother is something that causes a lot of distress and is avoided at all costs.

“When women do present at services they have more complex issues due to isolation, only coming out of the shadows when all other options have been exhausted.

“A woman is more likely to sofa surf or stay in an abusive relationship than lose the roof over her head. Some women having to resort to sex work to keep a place to stay, that’s when it turns into a whole new ball game. A large percentage of women that street sex work has experienced adverse childhood experiences, including childhood sexual exploitation, domestic violence and emotional abuse. Trauma from past experience will keep a woman out of sight and therefore easy to ignore.

“She may have mental and physical health problems that go unaddressed for long periods making it harder for her to engage with mainstream services, travelling to many different locations spread across a wide area is hard enough with your wits about you, doing it while tired, unwell and possibly under the influence of substances makes it near on impossible.

“If we then flip the coin and look at it from a systems perspective barriers look a lot different. Male support staff, out of their depth and overworked trying to support on a range of issues they know little about. Specialist workers only being available at certain times, leaving them powerless to help. Working with women means that a lower case load is needed to equip staff with enough time to really listen and respond to what the woman needs at that time.

“The judicial system believes that giving a woman a short prison sentence is a support pathway, expecting a woman to engage out of desperation rather than choice. This will work in the short term however all too often there is no follow on support offer and she is left to fend for herself until she next comes to the notice of magistrates again, so repeating the cycle.

“This one really puzzles me! Women generally commit low level, petty crimes, yes? Yet to be diverted away from the judicial system into mental health pathway is calculated in monetary terms. How is this supposed to work for women caught in a cycle of petty offending and incarceration.”


If you are a woman who has, or is experiencing, multiple needs and live in Manchester, feel free to contact Colette about the Women’s Voices group: Colette_Cronshaw@shelter.org.uk.