Abstract: Successful Rules Reduction Implementation Process in Domestic Violence Shelters from Vision to Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Successful Rules Reduction Implementation Process in Domestic Violence Shelters from Vision to Practice

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Shanti Kulkarni, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
Amanda Stylianou, PhD, Associate Vice President, Quality and Program Development, Safe Horizon, New York, NY
Leila Wood, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: Domestic violence (DV) shelters provide safety for survivors to consider their options and heal from abuse. Unfortunately, survivors have reported negative experiences associated with shelter rule and policy enforcement. Philosophically, rule heavy environments run counter to trauma-informed service-delivery principles. Rules, such as curfew and conduct guidelines, decrease access to community social networks. Staff rule enforcement may also trigger survivors’ past experiences with abusive control and structural racism and deter safe, trusting relationships between staff and residents. Despite growing interest in low barrier, anti-oppressive, survivor-centered, trauma-informed DV services, there is a lack of research identifying best practices for implementing a rules reduction approach. This study sought to understand the process of successful implementation of rules reduction philosophies and practices within DV organizations.

Methods: Statewide DV coalitions have been innovation leaders in shelter rules reduction efforts over the past decade. Potential respondents were recruited through outreach and consultation with state DV coalition leaders identified among the small number of individuals leading rules-reduced shelter approaches nationally. Early adopters of rules reduction approaches were sought to elicit implementation experiences. Snowball sampling was used to reach participants who might not otherwise be known. Purposive sampling was also used to capture the experiences of various sized shelters (e.g. less than 20 beds to over 100 beds) within various community contexts (e.g. urban and rural). Seven DV shelter directors and coalition trainers were interviewed utilizing a semi-structured interview guide.  Telephone interviews lasted from 50 and 90 minutes and included questions about organizational context, challenges associated with reduced shelter rules implementation, and specific policies and procedure adoption. Interview data was then analyzed using modified constructivist grounded theory methods by team of three researchers. Relationships between themes were then explored and tested using constant comparison methods.

Results: A three-stage implementation process emerged from analysis. The initial stage, Creating an Organizational Vision, highlighted efforts to create an organizational vision rooted in shared values.  The second stage, Shifting Organizational Culture, focused on enhancing organizational capacity through staff development and team building.  The final stage of the implementation process, Transforming Staff Practice, involved staff practice transformation through organizational policies and procedures. Findings indicate organizations implementing trauma-informed models into service delivery need to be prepared to create a vision focused on anti-oppressive, trauma-informed, and survivor-centered values and communicate to staff how that vision links to the service delivery model. Hiring staff with critical thinking and relational competencies and building strong internal collaborations appears critical for the implementation of trauma-informed practices. 

Conclusions and Implications: Reducing rules represents an organizational approach for increasing trauma-informed practices in DV shelters, as well as a shift from an agency-centered to a survivor-centered service model. Organizations need to find ways to operationalize trauma-informed values into their specific program practices.  Future research should explore rules-reduction approaches in other organizational contexts and the impact that utilizing rules reduced shelter programming has on the organization, staff, and clients over time.