Related Sector: Health & Social Care

While the need for the government to implement lockdown measures during the current pandemic is understandable, it will undoubtedly have many unwanted ramifications.

One serious concern is the potential for increased risk to children and young people in suffering from domestic abuse while they are trapped at the home.

The reality

Victims of domestic abuse may currently be trapped in the home with a violent perpetrator during a time of severely limited contact with the outside world.

Those who are experiencing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse within the household from a partner, parent, stepparent, or sibling will have no respite from the perpetrator.

Along with travel restrictions, social distancing measures have forced the closures of many ‘safe spaces’ for the vulnerable in our society, including; schools, libraries, places of worship and community centres. This will have led to an almost 100% reduction in contact with professionals across health, social care, and education, while also removing any support network with friends and family outside of the household.

This forced isolation will have undoubtedly left people with the inability to speak out about worries or incidents and will certainly feel unable to speak out if the perpetrator is in the household in the instances when visits do occur.

The current situation for victims of abuse is stark.

Impact of COVID-19

Forced to spend almost all of their time together is likely to bring increased pressure on the family unit, with potentially far reaching consequences.

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented change to the way of life, with many now being subject to the risk factors associated with family violence that were not present only before Covid-19.

Anxiety and depression over unemployment, reduced income, limited resources and potential bereavement are all  factors that are likely to further exacerbate domestic violence or trigger it even if it was present previously.

Additionally, alcohol and other substance misuse factors will be prevalent within the home.

Additional stressors placed on parents who may experience additional caring responsibilities for vulnerable or sick family members and the loss of contact with wider family networks, friendships and support services cannot be underestimated.

An increasing risk of domestic violence-related homicide is also a huge concern and some of the reports in the media have involved children. Worryingly, this is in direct contrast to increasing reports of some social services noting a significant drop in reports of child abuse or neglect.

This decrease is likely a result of fewer opportunities for detection as opposed to an actual decrease in incidence. The forced closures limit children being able to disclosure any abuse or the ability of professionals to detect it.

There is growing concern that we may see an overwhelming number of reports of child abuse or neglect when restriction ease and children do return to schools. The longer the time outside the classrooms the greater the concerns should be.

What’s next - Domestic Abuse Bill 2020

As and when lockdown measures are lifted and society begins returning to normal, child protection professionals may find themselves completely overwhelmed in visits, assessments and reports leaving them unable to meet the needs of the potential number of victims currently forced to stay inside.

Ensuring legal literacy across your workforce is essential in being able to protect, provide support and give guidance for those who need it.

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 was published in January 2019 and introduced into Parliament in July 2019. It has its second reading a few weeks ago on 28th April 2020 and is very likely to become law soon. If it moves forward as anticipated, it signals a major step forward in transforming the response to this crime and is possibly the most comprehensive package ever presented to Parliament to tackle Domestic Abuse, both in supporting victims and in bringing perpetrators to justice.

Author: Meena Wells, Lawyer and Subject Matter Expert in Domestic Abuse
This article was first published on 28th May 2020

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Domestic Abuse – Impact on Children – Safeguarding and the Law

We are delivering a one-day interactive virtual course on domestic abuse to assist social workers with the correct knowledge and skills in providing appropriate support, guidance, and advice to those who will need to seek protection through criminal, civil or family courts. Find out more about the course here

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