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Redbridge's lack of counselling services leaves families shattered

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The lack of solutions for women involved in domestic violence has triggered an Ilford based charity to initiate a free counselling service.

When a local Pakistani Christian woman from Ilford sought assistance from local police after alcohol induced violence became a regular pattern in her family home, she learned that her efforts to create a safe and stable environment for their children began a unfortunate domino effect that resulted in more anguish for their fragile family.   

After experiencing escalated violence, which was not present during the early first years of their marriage, the woman felt she had no choice but to legally separate from her husband. As a result her stepdaughter was taken out of the home by family services and separated from her four other siblings. As if losing an additional family member under such trying circumstances was not enough, the housing department then sought to evict the family from their subsidized unit that now had one room too many. The elevated stress and emergency meetings consequentially made it impossible for the mother of five to continue her new job in the medical field.

The odds ostensibly seem stacked against this family and it is regrettable that adequate counselling and family intervention services were not available in the community to assist them at an earlier juncture. It seems even possible help such as assistance with relocation, that could be offered by the Bourough, only serve to divide the family further.  

BPCA is taking measures to intervene to stop this snowballing series of lamentable actions happening to this family, and hopes to provide much needed counselling services at their community centre that will prevent them from happening to other vulnerable families in Redbridge. 

On Sunday November 5th 2017 the years of abuse and violence finally had their toll and Mrs X [Real name protected] says she was forced to call the police after she was severely choked after intervening in a public argument that her husband was having with, two drivers who had crashed outside their home.

When police arrived at her home Mrs X decided she had enough and pressed for charges to be laid against her husband for criminal damage and domestic violence. 

Mrs X told BPCA that this was not the first time that her husband had attacked or verbally abused her, nor was it the first time that she had had to call the police. However it was the first time she had been brave enough to press charges because previously for the benefit of the children and because she still loved her husband she had at the very last moment backed out of it.

But after fives years of a worsening situation that was fuelled by alcohol she felt that she could no longer take the abuse. Mrs X has complained that during her time with her husband she has been spat at several times, suffers daily swearing, undergoes regular taunting and ridicule some of it quite racist because she is in an interracial marriage and she has been grabbed around the neck violently many times before. All of the above has led her to becoming very depressed and she feels she now needs some time out to recover and feels her children need it too.

"Many times my husband would hurt me by grabbing me by my face and then forcing me to listen to his intimidating words. and would then say, sorry as he didn't mean to hurt me.

" My son has believed for a long time that that all our arguments are because of him - which is not true.

"Things got to a stage that I could no longer cope with, it all had to stop. {My husband] is angry with the world and he directs his anger into belittling us all the time as if we are nothing. So I have been forced to apply for separation as I felt there was no love left between us."

The separation had heartbreaking consequences and an eight year old daughter was wrenched from the family unit by social services as she was officially in the custody of her father. The daughter is his child through a previous marriage just as Mrs X's eldest son is her child through a previous marriage. During her initial meeting with BPCA Mrs X said:

"My husband has shattered our family. Brothers have lost a sister and a sister has lost the family home in which she grew up with her 4 brothers. She has lost a mother again because of choices made by adults."

That was not her only tragedy, the removal of the daughter now invalidated her council supported home. Mrs X was officially homeless. Her housing status was compounded by the fact that her tenancy agreement and the housing support being received was in the name of her husband.

Worse still the recent employment Mrs X had started three weeks earlier became impossible to continue. Mrs X could not arrange or afford childcare and had to lose her part-time employment as a medical nurse at a GP, losing a valuable £28 per hour contract and most importantly a job that she loved and valued, that totally justified her years of training to become a professional nurse.

Mrs X informed the housing department of her dire circumstances immediately by telephone but no response was received till a week later, after BPCA sent an email to all the senior officers in the housing department.

Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA, accompanied Mrs X to her first meeting with a Housing officer at Redbridge. The officer noted all the details of her personal circumstances and created a file for record purposes. He also arranged a date for her to return to the offices to apply for a new housing claim with Mrs X as the lead beneficiary. He confirmed that they could not help with counselling services despite Mrs X's exhibited panic levels.

Sadly for Mrs X someone in the housing department sent an email to her landlord and informed them that she was no longer entitled to housing support. The landlord reacted unlawfully and threatened to evict her with only 24 hours notice and even went as far as stating he would change the locks on the house after the imminent deadline.

In a fit of panic Mrs X asked BPCA for help and Mr Chowdhry advised her to re-contact Housing and ask them to rectify the issue. Full of tears and uncertain of her future Mrs X asked for a 'stay of execution' and prayed desperately that her landlord would not evict her over the weekend as he had indicated, while she asked him to stretch his deadline till after she met with an housing officer on the Monday. The whole situation exacerbated her already immense anxiety.

The housing benefit officer explained that they would correct the error and apologised for the undue pressure she had been put through. They completed an application for housing benefit for her and put Mr Chowdhry through to a senior officer who confirmed that due to the nature of her very complex case and the size of the family they would be registered as homeless, however he would ensure she was not moved to a bed and breakfast and would remain in their current five bed house until a four bed house became available. Once again they reiterated that they would not be help with any pathway to counselling services for Mrs X despite her by now obvious depression and anxiety.

At this point Mrs X was not willing to return to a relationship with her husband. She said:

"I know one thing. I am a million times better without my husband. I had one son before I met him and could have had a great life with just one son, after loving him and putting my trust in him, I find that I am homeless with 4 sons, I love all my sons but feel this life is so unfair for them.

Since then however, with the help of High Road Baptist Church and the BPCA she has been receiving regular support and some biblically based counselling. Pastor Andrew Wilis organised a meeting between the husband and Mrs X, hoping to see if their was any hope for salvaging the marriage of seven years.

It became very obvious that the husband was taking the action taken by Mrs X very seriously. Not only had he committed to attending anger management classes but was also subscribed to a rehabilitation programme to get him off his alcohol addiction.

However at this juncture Mrs X was not willing to listen to her husband as she had felt she had heard it all before. She continued to press charges and was hoping that her husband would be convicted in court on 12th November 2017.

However the husband was not convicted making it essential that Mrs X allow access to his children as no injunction had been granted. After a chance meeting with the Husband on the streets Mr Chowdhry asked if  Mrs X would allow him to speak her.  A meetings was agreed at her home and Mr Chowdhry his wife and another BPCA volunteer acted as chaperones. Mrs X, agreed with her husband that when he was not drinking he was a completely different person and still the man that she fell in love with many years ago. When he drank alcohol his personality would completely change. Mrs X told her husband that their was still a small slither of hope for their marriage - dependent on the husband being able to control or terminate his drinking. He explained that he has started attending both alcoholism rehabilitation and anger management sessions and was committed to regaining her trust,

The husband also informed Mrs X outright that he would not place any pressure on her, but would put in every effort to change his life around and prove he still loved her. Mrs X has made no solid committments at this stage but has agreed to allow him occasional access to the children and to end the period of separation if he sticks it out with his programmes and proves to her he had changed.

Nothing is set in stone and there is still some huge friction between the couple but the husband is now attending the sessions regularly and has been off alcohol for three weeks. Mrs X has even been on one session with him.

Mrs X, is not sure what the future holds for her, her husband is in the same situation, but they are in a better position now and are talking with one another which is a great start. Something that would have been far from possible had it not been for intervention by her church and the BPCA. At one point Mrs X was asking Redbridge Council to consider helping her move away far from London, that distance would have killed the relationship and created a real sense of betrayal in the mind of the husband, we have been told. His main fear would have been the loss of easy access to his children and the inability to communicate effectively with his wife. Mrs X was only days away from a move to Norfolk till that meeting with the husband in her home, potentially a game-changer.

Mrs X is totally disappointed with the lack of opportunity for professional counselling in the borough, she said:

"Life can be hard and I believe my husband's drinking has worsened because he has never received treatment for it. He drank casually when younger and then began to use it to cope with depression and boredom, resulting in an addiction.

"I called the police so many times when the drunkenness became violent but did not press charges, I wanted to preserve my marriage and wanted a strong family unit for my family. Despite all the reports I have never been offered counselling and even this time though Women's Refuge have said they will provide counselling - three weeks on I am still waiting.

"Most counselling services come at a cost but people in my situation have many mouths to feed and the cost is prohibitive. Something has to be done to make such services more accessible.


"If it was not for my church and the BPCA I would now be far from London and with little future left, I would not be able to work as I have to care for my young children. This would not be an ideal position.

"I still have not decided on my future but hope and pray my husband will change, I still love him and yearn for him to defeat alcoholism. The help and support I have received has made me realise that many marriages would stand a better chance if professional help was more readily available, I hope the London Borough of Redbridge takes notes of my concern as in the long run this would also save them lots of expense."

British Pakistani Christian Association, are hoping to initiate free counselling services at their community centre and will be applying for grants to support this. A volunteer has offered some hours counselling for Mrs X and BPCA are in the process of expanding their insurance to allow for this, after which the service will be provided free of charge.  If you would like to support the free counselling sessions at our community centre then please (click here) so we can continue to help local people cope with grief, anxiety, stress and violence.

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