Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during Phases 1, 2 and 3 of Scotland's route map (22 May to 11 August 2020)

This report presents qualitative evidence on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women/girls.

15. The experience of VAWG services and staff

Across the board, the restrictions associated with Phases 1 to 3 had a significant impact on VAWG services' working practice. As Scotland moved from lockdown to Phase 1, the majority of organisations in the sample had established protocols for remote working and safe engagement with clients. Some organisations had established online therapeutic group work programmes, for which there was continuously positive feedback. Throughout the Phases, many organisations reported working longer hours and/or amended hours to cope with the increased and varying needs of victims.

During Phase 1, some domestic abuse service managers reported decreased morale and levels of resilience among their staff. Some communicated that the route map acted as an indication of the longevity of Coronavirus' impact and staff's resilience was affected by realising the long-term impact on working practice. A minority of frontline domestic abuse services, with key worker status, continued to offer face-to-face engagement throughout lockdown and the subsequent phases. The experience of these organisations was different to those working remotely, with service managers generally reporting lower levels of vicarious trauma and higher levels of job satisfaction associated with meeting the immediate needs of victims and families. Organisations and services with a criminal justice remit reported the highest levels of despondency and low mood among staff, related to the ongoing court delays, the challenges of communicating these with victims fairly and effectively and increasingly high caseloads.[46]

During Phase 1, a minority of organisations began to make tentative preparations to return to face-to-face work, including deep cleaning of offices and establishing social distancing measures for work spaces. Some organisations began to offer limited face-to-face services, such as paired outdoor walks or accompanying victims to report abuse to police.

As Scotland moved into Phase 2, many service staff began to report the difficulties of engaging with victims and perpetrators remotely. Some services communicated challenges in rapport-building with victims by telephone/remotely, particularly with new clients entering the service for the first time, and with young children. A majority of organisations reported that face-to-face engagement allowed more accurate risk assessments in terms of domestic abuse, mental health and child protection and more accurate screening processes for potential perpetrators. Some staff also reported they simply found it more effective to offer support to clients in crisis face-to-face.

As Scotland entered Phase 3, there were increased reports from service managers of both staff and victims requesting a return to face-to-face engagement. The experience of organisations, in terms of service provision, tended to be affected by their location, capacity to ensure social distancing in the workplace and whether they were situated within local authority or larger organisational structures, and therefore dictated by external protocols on social distancing measures.

There were also a number of opportunities and positive outcomes identified for VAWG services during phases 1 to 3. One service, based in a rural area, reported that it was able to support a higher number of clients across a larger geographical area due to remote working and the time saved from not travelling to outreach meetings. Some victims, who were usually unable to attend face-to-face group work sessions due to travel restrictions, anxiety, agoraphobia, childcare responsibilities and/or risk of detection by the perpetrator, attended remote sessions and provided positive feedback regarding their experience. Similarly, some services observed that remote working provided increased opportunities to attend relevant trainings and seminars delivered from partners all over the UK, due to the time and resources saved in not travelling. This was reported as particularly beneficial for some BME and LGBT+ specialist support services who established links with equivalent services in England and Wales. Some services report their existing online/telephone services have improved during the COVID-19 period as more, focussed resources have been dedicated to maintaining and improving them.

There was also a correlation identified between organisational effectiveness and organisations that had robust and established multi-agency relationships, and broad knowledge and experience of clients' rights, legislation and their local context. These organisations appeared to experience the fewest challenges in supporting and advocating effectively for their clients during lockdown and the following phases.



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