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Mapping the Maze: Services for women experiencing multiple disadvantage in England and Wales

Women’s and men’s experiences of multiple disadvantage are significantly different. Women facing homelessness, substance misuse and contact with the criminal justice system are more likely to have experiences of abuse, violence and trauma and particularly poor mental health. Whilst research directly with women experiencing various difficulties in their lives is somewhat thin on the ground, the messages that expound are consistent: women who have used both generic and specialist women’s services routinely express a preference for women-only spaces. Equally, specialist women’s services have been found to engage more easily with women that are excluded from other services and to achieve more positive outcomes than generic service providers. However, there is currently no clear national picture of what provision is available for women or how this varies in different localities.

The aim of Mapping the Maze was firstly to map what and where specialist support is available for women affected by substance use, mental ill-health, homelessness and offending and to identify gaps in provision. In addition to providing an analysis of the findings, the services identified have been entered onto an interactive map on the Mapping the Maze website ( This resource will be of use to voluntary organisations, commissioners, professionals and other individuals (including service users) to understand what provision is available in their area and to make the case for increased and better quality services.Additionally, the project aimed to identify a model of good practice for working with women affected by substance use, mental ill-health, homelessness and offending. This was achieved through a literature review, consultation with women who have accessed services for the aforementioned difficulties and professionals who deliver, or campaign for, specialist interventions for women.

This report is split into two distinct sections reflecting the two main research strands: the mapping project and the development of a model of good practice for supporting women affected by multiple disadvantage.

PART 1. Mapping the Maze: a picture of service provision for women experiencing multiple disadvantage includes a detailed description of the data collection and analysis methodology followed by the findings, broken down by support domains: substance use, mental health, homelessness, offending and ‘other complex needs’.

PART 2. Developing a model of good practice for supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage comprises an outline of the methodology, a summary of the literature review findings (the full version has already been published as a separate publication), the findings from consultation with women and key stakeholders, and finally the framework for positively supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage.

Recommendations from the project are set out in the final section.