There’s No Plan B

Private donations have made it possible for The Cridge Centre for the Family to lead the nation in providing housing and support services for women who have experienced a brain injury from intimate partner violence. We’re doing work that has never been done before. 

That’s a rare and wonderful thing. But there’s one downside to being this far ahead of the pack: There’s no Plan B. 

Cridge staff are acutely aware of that every day in their work with the 20 women we’re supporting who are survivors of brain injury caused by intimate partner violence (IPV-BI). The needs of the women we’re serving are profoundly complex, and we feel the weight of being the support of last resort for most of them. We simply have to be able to hold onto them, because their next stop is the streets. 

It seems unbelievable in this modern day that a woman who is beaten by her partner violently enough to incur a brain injury could easily end up poised on the edge of profound poverty, homelessness, child-protection involvement and social isolation as a result of the assault. Surely BC’s brain injury services would be available to support her, or she would move to the head of the line for housing and services that would kick in to keep her (and in many cases, her children) safe? 

Unfortunately, there are no designated services at any level – in BC or Canada – that are specifically for people experiencing IPV-BI. There is no overarching plan, no guidelines for assessment of injury, no targeted funding, no consensus as to what should be done. There isn’t even data being collected. 

And there are dozens of hurdles to get over even if all that work got going tomorrow. At the head of that long list is the alarming fact that an estimated 70-80 per cent of women being beaten by their partners don’t even report it to police, which means most victims of IPV-BI are completely invisible in our systems. 

The majority also don’t typically visit the doctor about that hit to the head they took, or when they passed out from being strangled. Most won’t even know to consider whether they just got a brain injury, even though research tells us that as many as 90 per cent of them did. 

And even when they do seek medical attention, there are no provincially funded services for them after that unless their concussion shows up on an MRI scan. Which is not often the case, because it’s an injury that doesn’t show up well on an MRI, and is much better diagnosed through its impact on a woman’s ability to function. 

But unless a woman can pay for that assessment of her function and any services she needs as a result of what’s discovered, she’s never going to get any of that support anyway. 

So you can see the dilemma we’re dealing with here at The Cridge Centre. We are so proud to be showing the way on how to bring together services for intimate partner violence with services for brain injury to provide better care for a population of truly underserved women. 

But failing is not an option. And that’s a bit scary. 

It’s challenging work that we’re doing. That’s not only because services must adapt to every person – brain injury’s impacts are highly individual – but because brain injuries caused by your intimate partner are likely to be multiple, incurred over a prolonged period, and complicated by the trauma and terror of the violence. That really deepens complexity. 

Women with IPV-BI have all the “regular” challenges of a life – making the rent, raising the kids, managing the bills, looking after their health. Life goes on, after all, even when you’re being beaten by your partner. 

 But all of it is complicated just so much more by the impact of a brain injury – and multiple brain injuries, in the majority of cases. 

There are glimmers of hope of a new day in BC, and an absolutely ferocious group of advocates and innovators around the province. What’s going on in BC around research, specialized nurse-practitioner practices, consensus-building, training and advocacy is unique in Canada. We all know each other and work collaboratively, and we cheered as a collective when IPV-BI got a few notable mentions in the provincial government’s action plan for gender-based violence released last fall, Safe and Supported

It’s awe-inspiring work. But the more we do, the more we see how little is actually in place to serve the very specific needs of women with IPV-BI. 

Meanwhile, intimate partner violence reported to police continues to rise across Canada, as this 2023 Statistics Canada report highlights. Rates of intimate partner violence have risen almost 20 per cent in the last 10 years, erasing five hard-won years of reduced incidence from 2009-14. 

We are honoured for the chance to lead the way on specialized housing for women who have experienced IPV-BI, and grateful to the donors who believe in us. We have 20 women in our dual-stream IPV-BI program, including three living in our new Carolyn Place housing facility. We could easily have 100? more based on our growing waitlist. 

But sometimes, the view from the edge of the cliff is terrifying. Such a need, and such a long way to fall. 

Written By Jody Paterson, lobbysit and advocate for intimate partner violence and brain injury on behalf of The Cridge Centre for the Family and the Board Voice Society of BC