4. Referral rates
Referral rates for the majority of organisations decreased, significantly for some, in the initial 2-3 weeks of lockdown but there are some indications that referrals were increasing as lockdown progressed. Services provided that referrals reduced from between 25% to 100% compared to equivalent periods prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Services that receive referrals from criminal justice partners, such as court advocacy organisations or perpetrator programmes, reported significant reductions related to the disruption in criminal court processes. Services that primarily offered telephone outreach (prior to the lockdown period) experienced a less significant decrease in their referral rates compared with organisations that primarily offered face-to-face engagement.
By week 3, referral rates became more varied across the board. It was perceived that this was due to information about different communication methods being cascaded to clients and more widely publicised. Some organisations reported slight increases from the initial weeks of lockdown, but still far below their "usual" rates. Between weeks 4 and 8, some organisations reported referrals returned to "pre-lockdown" levels.
The view of the majority of services was that there may be an increase in reporting and referrals once lockdown restrictions began to be relaxed. There was also a perception there may be an increase in the need for emergency housing due to more people fleeing abuse. From week 7 onwards, services started to report engagement with a number of victims who were making plans to leave their abusive partner once lockdown restrictions eased.
In the first three weeks of lockdown, referrals to domestic abuse services came from a narrower range of partners. After week 4, some services reported referrals from sources that did not usually refer to them. Some perceived this was due to a heightened level of anxiety around the risks related to domestic abuse for families in isolation. As lockdown progressed, a number of services reported an increase in self-referrals from existing clients whose cases had been closed. Many clients reported they felt they needed additional emotional and economic support and were negatively affected by isolation. Organisations reported different trends related to self-referrals, with some observing an increase and some a decrease. One organisation reported an increase in self-referrals from women in employment from more affluent socioeconomic backgrounds.
Referrals to DSDAS, perpetrator programmes and Marac have continued during lockdown.Police Scotland highlighted an 22.75% increase in requests under their domestic abuse disclosure scheme during the start of the lockdown (between 23 March and 1 June 2020), compared to the same time period last year. The majority of requests were made by police officers and other professionals (including social work and NHS) raising a concern about someone they think may be at risk of domestic abuse. In week 4, the Caledonian System reported there was an increase in self-referrals to a voluntary domestic abuse perpetrator programme which the Local Authority runs in Edinburgh from men concerned about their own abusive behaviour. In general, Multi Agency Risk Assessment Meetings (Maracs) observed a decrease in referrals for April and early May meetings, however referrals started to increase in week 7.