6. Accessing support
The main barrier for services engaging with victims continued to be mitigating the service-generated risks of contacting those who reside with and/or are monitored by their perpetrator. Throughout lockdown and Phases 1 and 2, some organisations continued to report some women and children were unable to engage with support/therapeutic services due to the near constant presence and/or monitoring of the perpetrator and victims' lack of access to safe space. Some services reported they were experiencing challenges conducting initial referral meetings by telephone/remotely, particularly where Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour-based violence (DASH) risk assessment, diversity information, confidentiality agreements and safety plans must all be discussed for entry into the service, as this was a time- and resource-intensive process.
Digital exclusion of some victims was a consistent finding, reported by a number of support and advocacy organisations across Scotland and throughout Phases 1 to 3. Services observed some victims were disproportionately affected, namely those who did not own a smart device, those who did not have good telephone signal in their area, and those who did not have a Wifi connection. Women fleeing abuse who were housed in temporary accommodation were also disproportionately affected. Some women with school age children provided their smart devices to children to access online schooling, which left them without digital access.
At the end of Phase 1, organisations reported increased engagement with families who had multiple, complex and intersecting needs that had been disproportionately affected by lockdown restrictions. Services reported challenges in sufficiently supporting victims, some of whom were experiencing challenges associated with the Coronavirus restrictions (such as specific domestic abuse behaviours, digital exclusion, supporting children with anxiety or other mental health conditions or challenging behaviours, and/or problems accessing basic resources) and other ongoing challenges (such as addictions, mental health, poverty, bereavement, etc.). In some cases, these circumstances were compounded by a lack of spaces in childcare hubs, mothers' roles as key workers, the absence of family support and reduced provision of mainstream support services.
As Scotland moved into Phase 2 and 3, an increasing number of organisations reported engagement with very complex family cases with multiple, intersecting needs. In many of these cases, services reported struggling to meet all the needs of families, due to resource constraints or the limited service provision of partner agencies. In Phases 2 and 3, a minority of services noted that some women experiencing domestic abuse or involved in prostitution/CSE require a very high level of advocacy to access multiple services and this has been especially challenging during the COVID-19 crisis. Services observed that some victims require a high level of in-person support to attend appointments, contact services and navigate processes, and the absence of face-to-face advocacy had impacted negatively on victims' access and support options and capacity.
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