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A rural shelter in Ontario adapting to address the changing needs of women who have experienced intimate partner violence: a qualitative case study

Tara Mantler, Barat Wolfe
Rural and Remote Health 2017, 17 (1): 3987
28298129

INTRODUCTION: Intimate partner violence is a significant public health problem, with shelters offering the predominant community-based solution. Shelters in Canada are mandated to provide a safe place, protection planning, advocacy and counseling among other services. Recently it has been noted the role of the shelter was shifting from an inpatient to outpatient model with a focus on increased integration of health and social services. This changing role of the shelter is amplified within the rural context where resources and cultural norms may be limited or incompatible with help-seeking behaviors. Women's shelters located in rural settings provide services within a specific cultural context that can be at odds with the needs of women who have experienced abuse, because cultural values such as rural pride, lack of anonymity, and lack of services may inhibit access to health and social services.

METHODS: The purpose of this in-depth qualitative case study was to examine and explore how one rural Canadian women's shelter role was changing and how the shelter was adapting to achieve the changing role. The theoretical framework utilized was a feminist intersectional lens. Qualitative interviews (averaging 60 minutes) were conducted with shelter service providers (<i>n</i>=6) and women staying in the shelter or utilizing shelter services (<i>n</i>=4). Throughout semi-structured interviews, data-trustworthy steps were taken including member-checking and paraphrasing to ensure data were an accurate representation of participants' experiences. Inductive content analysis of all interviews and field notes was conducted independently by two researchers.

RESULTS: Analysis revealed the shelter's role was changing to include filling gaps, case management, and system navigation. To achieve the changing role, relationship building, community mobilization (both education and empowerment), and redesigning delivery were implemented as adaptation strategies. Together both the changing role of the shelter and the adaptation strategies being implemented were found to be working toward a larger goal of transformation of cultural and structural norms related to violence against women.

CONCLUSIONS: This study uniquely identified the specific changes to the role of one rural Canadian shelter and the adaptations strategies utilized to adapt to the changing needs of women. The changing role of the shelter and the adaptation strategies being utilized have significant implications for the health of women given the increased use of healthcare services for women who have experienced violence. Specifically, the changing role of the shelter has the potential to decrease healthcare service use while increasing the potential fit of services. Further research is required to assess the impact of the changing role of the shelter on the healthcare needs and outcomes for women who have experienced intimate partner violence.

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