Challenges and Retention of Domestic Violence Shelter Advocates: a Grounded Theory


Advocacy, Domestic violence, Employee retention, Organizational culture, Shelters, Turnover


Using grounded theory methods, this study examines the experience of shelter advocates and the relationship between the challenges of advocacy, shelter culture, and retention. Challenges fell into three categories: managing shelter shock, letting go of being the hero, and balancing advocate roles. Sub-challenges included hearing client stories, managing crisis, accessing resources, accepting clients going back to abusive situations, facilitating empowerment, and enforcing rules. Shelter culture strongly influenced advocates’ adjustment. Advocates with supportive cultures expressed less frustration and were more likely to continue employment, while those with less-supportive cultures expressed more frustration and were more likely to leave the domestic violence field or promote within the field to create macro-level change. Implications for shelters and future directions for research are included.

Original Publication Citation

Merchant, L.V. & Whiting, J.B. (2015). Challenges and retention of domestic violence shelter advocates: A grounded theory. Journal of Family Violence, 30. 467-478. doi: 10.1007/s10896-015-9685-y

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Journal of Family Violence




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor