Written evidence submitted by Welsh Women’s Aid (COR100)
About Welsh Women’s Aid
Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): Further call for evidence on domestic abuse in Coronavirus inquiry
• The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledge that violence against women tends to increase during every type of emergency, including epidemics2.
• Early evidence from China, as well as learning from other global pandemics, shows potential increases in domestic abuse3.
• VAWG specialist services anticipate that acts of VAWG will increase, but demand for support will be highest when restrictions start to be relaxed and survivors have more opportunities to reach out for help 4.
• Our COVID-19 Guidance for Perpetrator Services: Key points for
practitioners highlights that expertise from specialist support services suggests perpetrators may utilise COVID-19 measures to further their coercive and controlling behaviour5.
• Similarly our children and young people briefings highlight that the current climate provides increased opportunity for perpetrators to monitor and control family
• members and means that more children and young people become “invisible” to services6.
• School closures will mean that children at risk or in need of care and support will not be observed everyday by teachers. Equally, children and young people who depend on the stability and relative safety of school will be kept at home.
• • Loss of housing benefit revenue for refuges
• • Need for new technology and digital capabilities, recognising the increased cost of equipment and digital tools at present
• • The increasing costs of accessing PPE
• • Training of staff on new technology or differing support methods
• • Additional costs of sourcing alternative accommodation, including the use of dispersed units/B&B if refuge becomes full due to longer stays self-isolating/infection containment is required
• • Increased staffing costs such as to cover additional on call as staff may have to double or treble their on call commitments to cover staff who are off sick or self isolating. Similarly services are having to cover costs of staff working from home such as heating, phone bills and additional equipment.
• • Increase funding for children’s workers as there are likely to be more children in refuge and other settings for longer due to school closures
Pendragon House, Caxton Place | Pentwyn, Cardiff | CF23 8XE Tel: 02920 541551 | Fax: 02920 736128 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Web: www.welshwomensaid.org.uk Registered Charity Number: 1140962 5
• • Increased demand following the relaxing and lifting of lockdown.
• • Technology for survivors to keep in touch with support services.
• • Sourcing of safe spaces to support survivors, away from children who it may not be appropriate for them to have calls in their presence.
Funding will need to be easily accessible so that the focus can be on delivery, not endless funding bids and available ongoing so that services can be responsive as demand and need changes overtime.
Measures or proposals to reduce or avert domestic abuse and child abuse at this time
Welsh Women’s Aid has for many years been calling for public services, including the police, to address perpetrator behaviour as a route to protecting victims, but this must be done in a way that ensures the needs and safety of women and children are paramount. Governments across the UK have produced guidance for services for perpetrators of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, in an aid to protect the safety of survivors and their children.
We have also produced key points for practitioners within perpetrator programmes, we would encourage these be shared.9
Survivors also need confidence that if they report abuse they will receive support and protection, and that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions, even in spite of the circumstances caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. Some police forces in Wales have already reported a decrease in reporting. There are also concerns with the early release of prisoners that probation monitoring of offenders will be effective. The safety and needs of survivors must be prioritised in any early release scheme. A strong message must be made that we will not allow for lower expectations in responses to perpetrators of VAWG.
We have offered the following solutions:
− A message should be jointly put out from all police forces in Wales addressing how Police will attend call outs and take people into custody, ensuring the risk of infection is not prioritised over the safety of women and children. That restraining and protection orders against the perpetrators will be continued.
− During a time of possible escalation of abuse, it will be important to promote the response available for those using abuse that may wish to access support. To this end, the promotion of the Respect UK Helpline should be part of government guidance and communications.
Pendragon House, Caxton Place | Pentwyn, Cardiff | CF23 8XE Tel: 02920 541551 | Fax: 02920 736128 | Email: email@example.com | Web: www.welshwomensaid.org.uk Registered Charity Number: 1140962 6
− Ensure support for the continuity of services available for women in the criminal justice system to meet housing and specialist VAWG support. Proposals to release pregnant prisoners back into the community need to recognise that many of these women will have experienced VAWG and may have multiple needs regarding homelessness, substance misuse and VAWG.
Some members have raised concerns regarding the early release of prisoners. We have had examples of perpetrators contacting survivors prior to release with threats of violence. These have been reported to the police but survivors and the sector need further information to provide them with the confidence that perpetrators of domestic abuse will not be released early and will be effectively monitored by probation when this does occur. Similarly guarantees of the use of DVPOs and non-molestation orders will be given and upheld during the pandemic need to be strengthened and ensured that this is delivered on the ground in local courts and by police forces across the country.
Preparedness of responders and service providers to address the needs of victims during the pandemic
Service providers supporting people fleeing domestic abuse and all forms of VAWG are doing all they can with the limited funding and resource available to them.
Sexual violence services and most domestic abuse community provision has moved provision to telephone or online support. Services are purchasing equipment for staff and are having to cover the costs of home working, and will require additional funding to ensure they can sustain this provision. Extra funding is needed to support them to do this. Both survivors and support staff are finding it hard to find safe spaces for remote support as family and children are in close proximity. We are consistently advising that KPIs need to be relaxed from commissioners to ensure support can be as flexible as possible to help accommodate people’s individual circumstances. Training is required for staff and volunteers on the use of technology and the provision of remote support for survivors, particularly in remotely handling trauma including flashbacks and triggers during sessions. We are constantly calling for the suspension of any competitive tendering processes and KPIs, to ensure services are secure in their provision and can focus on frontline provision and adapting services to meet the need of survivors.
Across the board staffing is an issue for services due to staff with vulnerabilities, sickness and childcare concerns. Most services have reduced staffing in place and are currently managing this through reallocation of cases and duties, however some have had to reduce provision due to staff shortage or utilised agency staff at an extra cost to already stretched Pendragon House, Caxton Place | Pentwyn, Cardiff | CF23 8XE Tel: 02920 541551 | Fax: 02920 736128 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Web: www.welshwomensaid.org.uk Registered Charity Number: 1140962 7
budgets. Smaller local and rural services are being significantly impacted by staff shortages where availability of agency staff maybe too costly or limited in numbers.
Our members have also reported a lack of PPE which due to the nature of their work is necessary to protecting their health and wellbeing and the people they support. We have specific concerns for those services providers and service users in outreach provision for women with multiple needs including homelessness, substance misuse and exploitation by the sex industry as it will be particularly difficult for this cohort of women to take precautions to stay safe and avoid infection. PPE for staff will be critical as they continue to provide support.
The effectiveness of Government advice, co-ordination and support for responders and service providers
We welcome action that Government is taking to support charities and vulnerable people, particularly around the work to develop specific guidance to services supporting survivors and their children, and that additional funds have been made available for frontline charities. This must provide flexible funding directly to specialist support services to respond to dynamic needs to continue safe and effective services for survivors and perpetrators. At present there is not clarity on the funding that is being announced by Home Office, MOJ and the Chancellor as to how, or even if, this will be available to specialist services in Wales or if there will be ‘consequentials’ provided to Wales so that the equivalent investment can be made by Welsh Government. We have asked this question when the moneys were announced but have yet to receive a response.
Similarly, clarity is needed on the funding announced by the Chancellor that will be administered via the National Lottery. It is not clear how or if this will be accessible to services in Wales. Welsh specialist
The ongoing plan to respond to the pandemic must include a strategy to protect women and girls and prevent abuse. This must be informed and monitored by those linked to the frontline provision of specialist services. We are concerned that there is limited consultation with the Welsh VAWG sector in regards to MOJs responses, particularly regarding criminal and civil court arrangements. We are seeing increased need from survivors regarding child contact and family court, as survivors in Wales will be interacting with a non-devolved civil court system and a devolved CAFCASS Cymru service provision, it is critical that their voices and the specialist services supporting them inform government and court responses.