India: Psychosocial care for women in shelter homes - a dire need for trafficking survivors

Janaki*, a 25 year old woman was trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. She was rescued by an NGO and brought to a Government-run shelter home for women in Bangalore. After her traumatic experience of being trafficked and exploited, Janaki was extremely depressed when she arrived at the shelter home. She would often turn violent with the staff and other residents in the home. Once she slashed her own wrists with a knife she found in the kitchen and fell unconscious. Immense panic broke out among the staff and residents of the shelter home.

Women in difficult circumstances are often rendered homeless due to reasons such as family violence, social ostracism, human trafficking and alike. After being rescued from such stressful situations, the women are often transferred to institutions such as government-run shelter homes. Their transition into such institutions is not easy and they face numerous physical, psychological and social problems. Often, the staff is also not prepared to provide the required quality care because of the large number of residents and the lack of adequate human resources. They may not have the required capacity or the necessary inputs to fully understand and address the psycho-social needs of the women. This adds to the woes of the women in such vulnerable situations and affects their overall development. The psychosocial rehabilitation of women in institutions is key to help them rebuild a meaningful life after being institutionalized.

To improve the quality of care provided to women in shelter homes, UNODC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India and the National  Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), a renowned mental health institution in Bangalore, India had initiated a capacity building programme for caregivers in Government-run shelter homes for women. Implemented during 2010 in the South Indian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, a series of trainings were conducted which aimed to educate and sensitize caregivers about the importance of care and support for women residing in these homes. First, top level Government officials from the three states were sensitized, who in turn selected officials like superintendents and probation officers to be trained as trainers to further provide training to the personnel working in the shelter homes - like caregivers, counselors, medical officers, NGO staff and security guards.

Since the trainers had to engage with trainees from varied educational backgrounds, NIMHANS developed a model of training, which is based on sound scientific principles and formulated in such a way that it can be understood by everyone. The staff was sensitized to recognise the residents as people requiring help and not as 'problem cases'. They did not only learn about practical techniques such as active listening, counselling and psychosocial care interventions, including para-legal aid, livelihood and educational support, but also to identify and deal with mental health problems and medical emergencies. In addition, they were sensitized about stress management techniques to handle their own fatigue in an undoubtedly demanding job.

The trainings have resulted in a shift in the perceptions and mind-sets of the caregivers, who are now more sensitive, compassionate and supportive to the needs and concerns of women. They have learnt to respond proactively to problems and propose practical solutions - something they were not used to doing earlier. Above all, the trainings have enhanced the psychological well-being of the women residing in these homes. Under this initiative, over 700 personnel working in Government-run shelter homes for women in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been trained on minimum standards of care and protection and psycho-social support in shelter homes.

As an outcome of the trainings and through additional research, UNODC together with NIMHANS developed a manual titled, "Psychosocial Care for Women in Shelter Homes", to be used as resource material for capacity building of staff working in shelter homes for women in India. The recently published manual highlights the specific needs of women in institutions, enables the care givers to understand these needs and gives them an insight into the spectrum of psychosocial interventions. It gives the care givers an understanding of the various laws and policies that are available to safeguard the rights of women in India. It also focuses on the importance of care and stress management of the caregivers themselves.

This UNODC publication and the capacity-building programme was possible thanks to the support from USAID.

Click here to access the manual 'Psychosocial Care for women in Shelter Homes'

* - Name changed to protect identity