Lisa Morris, Manager of Amber Kilkenny Women's Refuge
Amber Kilkenny Women’s Refuge CLG. originally started as a support and information service in Loughboy, Kilkenny. It soon became evident that there was a need for a women’s refuge service in Kilkenny. This was set up soon after, and was eventually housed in a purpose built facility in November 2001 in Kilkenny. Amber Kilkenny Women’s Refuge CLG. caters for women and children from Carlow and Kilkenny. In 2016 the refuge developed their outreach and court accompaniment service to reach those in rural areas seeking support and information.
At Amber Kilkenny Women’s Refuge CLG, it’s their mission to empower women and children, of all cultures and backgrounds, to achieve their rights to live abuse-free lives. Amber do this by providing a safe, secure, and supportive environment.
Lisa Morris is working in the domestic violence sector namely at Amber, Kilkenny Women’s Refuge CLG for over 14 years in various roles. She worked up to rank of Manager and in this role for 5 years now. Lisa has been working with and on behalf of women and children who are or have been victims/survivors of domestic violence. She has a BA (Hons) Degree in Applied Social Studies in Social Care from Cork Institute of Technology.
Here is a glimpse into Lisa’s life working in Amber…
Lisa, describe your typical day in running Amber…
Morning – A typical day at Amber is never the same. I work from 10.30am to 6.30pm. I start with a hand over with my assistant manager Jean Murphy. I manage 21 staff; some full time, part time, relief and CE Scheme. My role is Manager so the book stops with me. I am governed by a Board of Management of voluntary Directors who work tirelessly for Amber.
Lunch – Generally meetings, supervision of staff and policy updates - we are currently writing our Strategic Plan for the next three years. This is where all our direction regarding our service provision and managing it will come from. This will create the voice for Amber and where we want to get to as a service. It is a very exciting time for us as we are hoping to further develop our current services in meeting the demand in Kilkenny and Carlow.
Dinner – Leave work at 6.30pm. Home at 7.30pm as I live in Tipperary. I have a small amount of time with the kids before I put them to bed.
What happens when a woman comes knocking on the door of Amber for help?
We will invite the woman in to have a chat and assess her needs. Some women will call looking for a listening ear, others for support and information in relation to their abusive situation and others who are in crisis situations and looking for refuge accommodation.
What is the maximum stay for a family in crisis in Amber?
The maximum stay is three months. We are crisis refuge accommodation for both Kilkenny and Carlow so in order to be able to fulfil that service we have to have rooms available for other women who are in crisis.
What are the criteria for people who are housed in the units?
Our refuge provides short term crisis accommodation for women and children who are victims of Domestic Abuse. Domestic abuse is the presenting issue.
What happens if you are full?
If we are full we will look to our neighbouring refuges in Clonmel, Waterford and Wexford. We have a great system going where if any of us are full at the time a woman presents we will look to the other refuges for help and agree to take the woman/woman with children back once we have a room again if the woman is from the Kilkenny or Carlow area. This can extend to refuges regionally as well. It’s a common practice of working together.
Is there a particular time of year when you are extremely busy?
Of late we are very busy and seem to be full all the time. Generally women may not leave the family home at times like back to school, family occasions coming up, Christmas etc and may leave after this...but those times can be very busy at Amber also. It is very different for everyone.
What services do they avail of when they are in Amber?
When women are admitted to Amber we have a team of trained Project Workers who will sit with the women and devise an individualised Careplan where the needs of the women and children are looked at. We take a holistic approach and are led by what the woman wants for herself and her children. We also have a Childcare service, Play Therapy, Counselling, Court Accompaniment service that women can avail of while staying at Amber. Women can also access those services if accessing Amber through our Helpline, support and information service or through our Outreach Service. We also have a women’s support group called the Freedom Programme.
Do the women support each other during the stay in the refuge?
Oh yes, women are very supportive to each other. Especially in the group which is run by our Outreach Worker. Women can relate to each other’s experiences and learn from each other and support each other. But individually every woman is going through their own trauma and experiences the abuse differently.
What is the Freedom Programme?
The Freedom Programme is a 12 week Programme that looks at the abusive tactics and behaviours of a perpetrator. It has been a very successful group so far for the women and has been running since the last quarter of 2018.
What are the statistics of women who are victimised in Ireland?
Stats say 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse. Sadly, that is a massive number.
What are the statistics here in Kilkenny and for the Amber Refugee?
If we just look at the first 5 months of the year...the statistics from Jan-May 2019 are:
81 Counselling sessions
104 Support and Information sessions
31 Women admitted to Refuge
37 Children admitted to Refuge
171 Referrals to the service
24 Court Accompaniment
86 Outreach contacts
Who funds Amber Women’s Refuge?
The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) are our core funders. We also receive some funding towards our Court Accompaniment service frown the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime (CSVC).
You are fundraising at the moment with the Family Park Run on September 29th. What are you hoping to spend the funds on?
Yes we are. Unfortunately our funding does not always provide adequate funds to run the service so we have to fundraiser to try and raise money to put towards service provision and any future developments we are hoping to make. We are really excited about the Family Fun Run and I would encourage everyone to come out and support us on the day, while getting some much needed fresh air and exercise with your family!
How many families can you house at Amber?
We have room for 7 families. 7 women and up to 23 children.
How is a safe house different from a refuge?
A safe house is a secure house located somewhere in the community that can accommodate women and children fleeing domestic abuse. It is still very secure but not the same as a refuge setting. We do not have any safe houses in the Kilkenny and Carlow area at present.
For most women who are victims of domestic violence, is Amber sometimes the last straw?
Yes it really is. Leaving is the most dangerous point in a woman’s journey away from abuse so it takes a lot of courage to make that move. It is not easy. Could you imagine having to leave your home, your family, your friends, your community, children leaving their homes, their schools, their friends. It is heart breaking for many, but it is possible and we are always here to help women make that move...when they are ready.
Would you get recurring people coming back?
Yes we would. As I said it is very hard to finally decide to leave. Statistics say that women may use refuge 8-10 times before leaving for good. Women will go back because they are hoping that situations will change and the abuse will stop, unfortunately that rarely happens.
Withholding maintenance is also a form of domestic abuse.
Yes that is another form of abuse (called financial abuse) where abuse still occurs post separation so the control is still there even when the woman has left. Many women will decide not to pursue maintenance because of this as from our experience of working with women there is very little repercussions for non-payment of maintenance in Court.
What are the chances of these women returning to their homes?
Some women will obtain Barring Orders in Court and will return to the family home but this can be a very daunting process. Unfortunately this is not happening enough in my experience and women and children are forced to leave their homes while leaving the perpetrator in the home. Thankfully we have seen an increase in women obtaining orders through the court since the commencement of our Court Accompaniment service at Amber.
Is it mainly the mothers that are victims? What about the children?
Women and children can be victims of domestic abuse. The children in some cases may not be directly affected but witnessing domestic abuse in your home/family is a Child Protection issue. We work very closely with Tusla when we have concerns about this. Women act as the protective parent and do their very best to protect their children in most cases. There should be more support for women in these situations and the onus should be put back on the perpetrator for his abusive behaviour.
People say ‘why did she go back to him’ should it not be ‘why doesn’t he change his behaviour’?
We see this regularly where that is the question but I strongly think that that question needs to stop and people need to start asking “why did he beat his wife or girlfriend? “Why does he feel it is ok to control his wife/girlfriend and tell her what she can/can’t do” “why does she have to leave?” This has to stop and people need to educate themselves on this. We need to educate the next generation that domestic abuse is not ok. In any relationship. Women and men equally. Nobody should feel they have the right to exert that power and control over anyone else. It is not ok.
You give talks to teens in schools. What is teen dating abuse?
Yes we do and we are so grateful that we get to get out to lots of the secondary schools in Kilkenny with KASA where we deliver a talk about healthy and unhealthy relationships. I don’t think we get to the children early enough though as we know children are already in abusive and controlling relationships as early as 13 years of age.
There’s a whole new generation coming up behind us. So things are not getting better in our society?
No, I don’t think so really. Yes there is definitely a greater awareness out there about the issue but still not enough and this is something we are hoping to work on as a service. I fear for the next generations. Domestic abuse is a global epidemic.
Why do men control women?
I think men control women because they get away with it and because they want the power and control in the relationship. It isn’t because “he had too much to drink” or “had a bad day”. Domestic abuse is a choice that someone makes to exert control and pain on someone else.
What is out there to help abusers to change their behaviour?
There is a programme called MEND that works with perpetrators to look at their abusive behaviours. The Men’s Development Network in Waterford provides services to perpetrators also. Perpetrators have to want to change.
When you finish work every day you must have the weight of the world on your shoulders? How do you not bring that home?
It is very hard not to bring some cases home with you emotionally but having worked at Amber for over 14 years I have learnt ways of dealing with this and look after my own mental health.
How do you mind your own mental health in this job?
I have an hour car journey to work in the mornings and evenings (Up Tipp!) so I use this time to debrief. Who better to talk to than yourself!! I also love exercising and spending quality time with my family. They keep me on my toes and keep me busy! It’s the little things in life...
What’s the key message you have for the people of Kilkenny?
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship please contact us in the utmost of confidence on 1850424244 or 0567771404 or visit our webpage on www.kilkennywomensrefuge.ie.
What can the public do to help Amber?
I suppose helping us financially is a big help and I am always available to take a call if someone had an idea for a fundraising initiative!
Vouchers are also very helpful for us to be able to give to women if they come to us in an emergency from places such as Dunne’s Stores, Penney’s, SuperValu etc. Also our Board of Directors are looking for skilled people to join their team and if you feel you have a skill to offer or bring please contact me on the above numbers.
Wear Amber to back Amber Women's Refuge for their inaugural 5K family fun run which takes place on Sunday, September 29th at the Castle Park 11am start. Entry for adults is €15 and €5 for children, dogs on leads are welcome. This is for all the family, please get everyone out for some exercise and fresh air in the beautiful Castle park. Registration online at Eventbrite or on the morning from 10am at the side gate by Bennetsbridge road to the Castle Park. Or visit www.kilkennywomensrefuge.ie.