15. The experiences of VAWG staff and services
A number of services reported that their and their clients' experience of Phase Three did not differ significantly from the previous phases and the return of the schools had not had the anticipated effect on referral rates or other tasks/actions.
Whether organisations were working from home or engaging in face-to-face service provision varied greatly. A number of services were engaging in face-to-face work only in the highest priority/risk cases, but the default was otherwise to continue working from home. Some services identified that their ability to support clients in person was sometimes "at the mercy" of local authorities or other, large organisations, whose rules dictated external access. A court support service reported the restrictions within court buildings had made it challenging to train new staff and volunteers, due to a lack of shadowing opportunities. The service communicated concern about the long term impact of this on staff training and their ongoing capacity to support clients at court. The majority of services that were engaging in face-to-face service provision communicated the benefits of this contact with clients.
Staff experience across domestic abuse and other VAWG organisations varied significantly. Some organisations reported that staff were now accustomed to this way of working and working from home protocols had been effectively established. Some service managers reported increasing levels of stress and anxiety amongst their staff, primarily related to increasing referral rates and caseloads, and the ongoing pressures and strain of working from home. Some services noted working from home necessitated more intensive support from service managers for frontline staff. One national service identified that the unknown nature of the Coronavirus restrictions and workers' inability to provide definite start dates for support to clients was causing increased stress and anxiety for staff.
Other services continued to communicate the organisational benefits of working from home, specifically that they could accept higher numbers of clients to the service from a wider geographical area, or that intensive advocacy support could now be provided by telephone/remotely which reduced costs, travel time and anxiety for their clients.
Throughout August and much of September 2020, funding remained a concern for some domestic abuse and VAWG support services, with some organisations serving redundancy notices on staff while they awaited confirmation of funding decisions, and a number of third sector organisations closing. One service had used unrestricted funding as a means of paying staff overtime to cope with increasing demand, however the service manager noted this was not sustainable.