Researchers receive $3 million in federal funding for project addressing domestic violence

Photo Credit: Paul Mayne

Marilyn Ford-Gilboe

An international team of researchers has received $3,050,674 in funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada to deliver and study a community-based program with the potential to substantially improve the lives of women who have experienced domestic violence. This research will help fill a critical gap in knowledge about effective interventions for women leaving abuse.

The research team is led by Dr. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health at the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University, and includes four other Western researchers. The study will be co-led by partners at the University of British Columbia (Dr. Colleen Varcoe) and the University of New Brunswick (Dr. Kelly Scott-Storey), and includes researchers at McMaster University, University of Montreal, and Johns Hopkins University. The study will examine the impacts of an innovative, evidence-based intervention called iHEAL, specifically designed to meet the needs of women who have separated from an abusive partner.

“This investment is another step towards ensuring that serious inroads are made when it comes to combatting family violence. iHEAL – which is a project testing the effectiveness of a health promotion intervention for women who have experienced intimate partner violence – is a collaborative initiative that is critically needed,” said Peter Fragiskatos, Member of Parliament, London North Centre. “I would like to congratulate Marilyn Ford Gilboe the project lead from Western University, as well her co-investigators, on their success.”

iHEAL is delivered by community health nurses and a community partner (such as a domestic violence worker or Indigenous Elder) working in partnership with women over a 6-month period. Women take part in workshops that introduce them to aspects of the intervention in a group setting, along with one-on-one meetings with the nurse that focus more specifically on each woman’s concerns and priorities.

“Women who make the decision to separate from an abusive partner do so to work toward safer, more satisfying lives, but this is often a difficult transition,” said Ford-Gilboe. “For many women, the violence does not end after separation and can even increase, and they face other challenges that can feel overwhelming, especially if they have few supports.”

iHEAL sessions support women to develop confidence, knowledge and skills to help them deal with the problems they often encounter at this time: ongoing violence, social isolation, distressing health problems, and the ‘costs’ of accessing help from services which may not respond to their needs. The sessions also focus on what is most important to the women long-term in key areas such as safety, health, healing and renewal, relationships, community connections, and basic resources.

“This approach is innovative because it addresses women’s health and healing in a very broad way,” said Ford-Gilboe. “It is appropriate for women from different backgrounds, and is personalized to fit with what women see as their priorities, and the strengths of the communities in which they live.”

The team has tested iHEAL in 3 smaller studies in Ontario, New Brunswick and BC (where the focus was with Indigenous women), and found that it showed great promise. Women who have completed the program say that they are more confident, stronger and hopeful about the future. One woman said it was ‘life giving.”

“The goal here is to help these women to lead safer, healthier and more satisfying lives and more fully contribute to their communities. We are very grateful to the Public Health Agency of Canada for giving us the opportunity to move this program forward,” said Ford-Gilboe.

The current project will include 280 women in these same provinces who have separated from an abusive partner and who live in rural and urban communities. The study will further test whether iHEAL improves women’s quality of life, mental and physical health, confidence and control. A later phase of the study in New Brunswick will adapt the program for Francophone women and test its acceptability for this group.

“The Government of Canada is committed to taking action on violence,” said The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. “Through the work of numerous projects across the country funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, such as iHEAL, survivors of family violence will know they are not alone in rebuilding their lives and their health.”

The funding will be allocated over five years, with the project ending in Sept 2021.


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Stephen Ledgley, Senior Media Relations Officer, Western University, 519-661-2111 x85283,

Ryan Gauss, Legislative Assistant & Communications Advisor, Office of Peter Fragiskatos, M.P., London North Centre, 613-698-9791,



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