A young mum who suffered years of violence and abuse at the hands of her ex-partner has bravely spoken out after family support workers saved her from taking her own life.
Debra, who is in her twenties and whose identity is being protected, had lost so much confidence and self-esteem she was too frightened to go into her own garden and had considered suicide.
She said she owed her life to support workers from Home Start’s Rapid Response Project in Wrexham who work with families that have experienced abuse or other trauma to help to reduce isolation, increase self-esteem and improve parenting confidence and resilience.
Three years after she turned to them for help, Debra is now in full-time education and applying for a university place to become a support worker for women who have been through similar experiences to herself.
The project has recently received a grant worth £8,843 from North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones to assist with its work.
Tackling domestic abuse is one of the key priorities in the Commissioner’s North Wales Police and Crime Plan and the grant will help provide online or face-to-face support for at least seven families affected by domestic abuse at any one time at a time when calls to domestic abuse services have soared during the pandemic.
Debra, who has two young children, said the abuse intensified after the birth of her first child when she gave up work to provide full-time childcare and lost contact with her social circle.
“I didn’t really realise it was negative, I thought it was what a relationship was because it was what I’d grown up with. My dad was violent towards my mum as he was an alcoholic,” she said.
“I didn’t realise until I’d left the relationship that I’d been abused by him mentally, physically and sexually. Anything could set my ex-partner off. He could lose his car keys and my house would be turned upside down, I’d have to replace all the furniture as he’d smash it up.
“He used to put me up against the wall with his hand around my throat and scream in my face to intimidate me.
“I got to the point where I knew I had to get out. I knew I had to protect my son and I couldn’t do that while still there.
“I’m emotionally scarred from my own up-bringing – I didn’t want to do that to my son. My son has seen some awful things and I’m hoping he will never remember because he was so young.”
Debra continued to suffer with acute anxiety after leaving the relationship and parenting became a challenge.
She was put in touch with Home Start Wrexham by her health visitor and started receiving regular visits from Jo Mercer, who works as a scheme organiser for its Rapid Response Project.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t do anything with my son. My four walls became my safety net but it was killing me inside,” she said.
“I’d lost all confidence in everything, even myself. Going into the garden was a push for me.
“Jo came every couple of weeks for a chat and I’d make her a coffee. She got to know me and my son and I built up a friendship with her.
“Then I became more confident going out. We’d go for a walk and take my son out.
“At that time, my anxiety had got so bad I was drowning in debt. We did it bit by bit but she rang all the companies and spoke on my behalf to set up a repayment scheme and now I’m out of debt.”
Debra said her life-changing moment came when Jo persuaded her to attend a parenting course. Not only did she learn how to cope as a parent in challenging situations she also met other women in her position and created a new social network for herself.
Three years later, Debra is now in full-time education and applying for a university place to become a support worker for women who have been through similar experiences to herself.
“I would’ve killed myself, and my son would be motherless, if it wasn’t for them. I would’ve ended it all,” she said.
“I owe everything to Women’s Aid and Home Start. I would recommend both organisations to anyone who truly wants to change.
“I can honestly say I am now happy to be alive every single day. I’m in a new relationship and I’m thankful for every single day.”
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “This project is a shining example of the value support workers play in the long-term recovery of survivors of domestic abuse. This will ultimately encourage more victims to come forward for help.
“As this tragic case shows, the emotional scars of abuse do not end once a partner leaves a violent relationship – the psychological damage can many take years to overcome.
“Making sure survivors have access to practical support to help them deal with some of the challenges life can bring is absolutely vital which is why I am determined to ensure organisations such as Home Start have the necessary resources to help more vulnerable victims in this situation.
“Home Start’s intervention really is saving lives and equipping victims and survivors with the tools and feelings of self-worth they need to prevent these experiences recurring in the future.”
Jo Mercer, scheme organiser, said the project is not a specialist domestic abuse service but many of its workers have previous experience and skills working with victims of abuse. Through their work, the team can signpost families to the specialist intervention services required for their recovery.
“Debra really turned her life around. She took every opportunity she was given by the organisation and wanted to make life better for her and her children. Not everybody is in the right place to do that,” she said.
“It’s incredibly rewarding when you see these kinds of results; someone who comes to you shy and who wouldn’t speak to anybody, someone who didn’t recognise the things they were experiencing were not what they deserved. When you’re able to encourage somebody to communicate and be more honest so you can get them the right support and help keep them and their children safe it’s everything.
“What we’ve found with younger women is almost a belief that this is what men do. If we can break the cycle so young women do not expect to be treated in this way or the way parents were then this is really, really important. It’s vital we have funding to continue that work.
“The thing with domestic abuse is that it doesn’t matter if it’s psychological, sexual or physical, it will leave a scar and just because you have left that partner it doesn’t mean it’s all over. Many mums say to us ‘he’s still in my head’. We are trying to be that other voice and giving them balance, reason and motivation to know they are making progress.”
Scheme manager Pam Hoyle added: “We are acutely aware in the current pandemic that families will be experiencing additional challenges around domestic abuse issues.
“It might not be impacting their safety if they no longer live with an abusive partner but they might be suffering through isolation or having difficulties in their child’s contact with an ex-partner.
“Support networks have reduced and not just services but also friendships. Families are much more isolated at the moment. We need to make sure we have availability in our scheme to respond to those families.
“We know that if we can support parents to be emotionally available to respond to their children’s needs, the outcomes for these children will be much better than if they have long periods in isolation and are really struggling with their parenting role.”
For more information about Home Start and the services they offer go to the Home Start website.