6. Accessing support
A small number of services observed that the return of children to schools on 11th August provided more opportunities for individuals experiencing abuse the necessary privacy to contact services for support. The majority of services, however, did not observe any significant changes in clients' engagement with their service due to children's return. Some organisations continued to extend their hours of operation to increase the opportunities for clients to access the service.
A number of organisations highlighted the continuing restrictions and absence or restricted provision of some mainstream services in their local areas were a challenge for victims of domestic abuse and/or other forms of VAWG. Some services observed that victims were being impacted by abuse and then further impacted by the lack of capacity across mainstream organisations/services. Two organisations located in different rural settings provided this was a particular challenge in relation to mental health support. A national support service for people who had experienced sexual abuse noted some survivors had experienced challenges accessing sexual health services, with some survivors asking whether they required to disclose their abuse in order to be prioritised. The service also reported that some clients were facing difficulties accessing addiction support or home detox services.
The general absence of face-to-face service provision continued to have an impact on some clients. Some organisations communicated that the restrictions on face-to-face engagement meant victim/survivors felt support was not being tailored to their needs. The local lockdown in Aberdeen, which restricted travel, meant some clients, who had been engaging face-to-face, reverted to phone contact with services and service managers noted the negative impact on victim/survivors of this restriction. One specialist domestic abuse organisation communicated that clients had reported the absence of group work meant peer support networks were absent, the isolation caused by domestic abuse was not eased, and this had a negative impact on their emotional recovery. To address the challenges, some organisations had started socially distanced outdoor meets or walking groups, however it was recognised that this type of engagement would become more difficult over the winter months.
Digital exclusion continued to be identified as a barrier to some clients accessing support services, although the issue was not reported to be as prevalent as during the earlier phases or lockdown.
Some organisations continued to be able to return to offices due to the spaces being inappropriate and/or unable to facilitate safe social distancing measures. In some local authority areas, domestic abuse organisations worked with partners or the local Violence Against Women Network to secure alternative office and/or community spaces to engage with clients. In some areas, other third sector organisations had loaned larger spaces (such as youth centres or community halls) during hours they were not being used, and in some instances private sector companies had offered office spaces, which were unused due to their workforces working from home. Service managers reported positive outcomes for staff and clients as a result of these initiatives as face-to-face engagement tended to be the preference and the larger spaces available allowed this to be safely facilitated.