The coronavirus pandemic has created a ‘perfect storm’ for domestic abuse, with the escalation of incidents at a time when services became less accessible. Norwich Connect’s Service Manager, John Lee, gives us an insight into how the Spurgeons team have managed, in spite of enormous challenges, to continue supporting clients at a time when they need it most.
Nearly two-thirds of women living with their abuser said that the abuse had worsened during lockdown and over two-thirds said they felt they had no one to turn to.*
”Under the first lockdown, the government message was ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe and Save Lives’,” says John. ”But for those experiencing domestic abuse, staying home was far from safe, and many didn’t realise that leaving was an option.
”We knew our clients desperately needed continued support and we were absolutely determined to give it to them.
”But we had to reinvent how we supported them overnight – and it’s a complex service with many strands! As our Peer Co-Ordinators said, ‘Everything is new again, and it’s new all of the time’.
”The team have risen to the challenge magnificently and I’m so very proud of them! They’ve been so creative, so resolute in finding alternative ways to help clients.”
Creativity and determination carve our pathways to success
The Norwich Connect team could no longer meet clients in person – community buildings, where such meetings would happen, were shut. But they realised that social workers and early health professionals could still visit people in their homes.
”And, with a caseload each of 20-30 families,” says John, ”they were able to reach many families experiencing domestic abuse at a time when we couldn’t. So we stepped up our online training and developed resource packs to help parents with safety, wellbeing and trauma work.
”Since March, we’ve trained over 800 professionals, meaning that many more people experiencing domestic abuse will get vital support.”
Taking face-to-face work online via video conferencing worked in some circumstances but not in others. ”Those clients that were able to do our Freedom Programme and Pattern Changing courses online said it was more intimate, and they felt more able to disclose,” says John ”But it didn’t suit those who are trying to juggle work and childcare at home. Instead thanks to a generous donation, we send them each a printed Recovery Toolkit to read when it suited them.
The vital part played by our Volunteers
”We’ve also created workbooks for parents, empowering them to help their children regarding trauma, safety planning and so on. They help to equip parents to support their children beyond our involvement with them, and it will change the way we do things in future.”
Some of these workbooks have been co-produced with Volunteers with lived experience of domestic abuse. Their involvement ensures that Norwich Connect keeps the voice of survivors at the heart of everything they do. It’s also a valuable element in their own recovery. In addition to involvement with the workbooks, Volunteers offer peer-to-peer mentoring to clients in recovery – this has safely been adapted to working online. Recently Volunteers have started to contribute to the appointment of new colleagues, setting interview questions and being involved in the decision-making process.
Great sacrifice but great satisfaction
All the while, the entire Norwich Connect team have been working from their own homes. ”It’s been really tough for them, really emotionally draining.” John says. ”Every day, you’re talking to clients about the trauma and violence they’re experiencing, and you’re doing it from your spare room.
”You can’t offload to your own family, but you need to offload… and you’re trying to deal with the personal challenges of the pandemic like everyone else. So we gave individual clinical supervision to each of the team, and we all took extra care to check up on one another.
”You can’t switch off from domestic abuse work. We’re dealing with cases, with families that live in our neighbourhood. Before Covid-19 closed pubs, colleagues would have to think twice about going to a quiz night in their local because some of their clients went there.
”But we willingly accept those things, because it’s a privilege to do the work we do. And when you’re able to help a family change, to go from abuse, trauma and being at risk of significant harm to being safe and looking forward to the future, it’s indescribably rewarding.”
*Women’s Aid (2020) A Perfect Storm: The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Domestic Abuse Survivors and the Services Supporting Them.
About Spurgeons’ Norwich Connect project:
This year the Spurgeons’ Norwich Connect was shortlisted for the 2020 Children and Young People Now Awards in the Early Intervention category for its work providing assistance for individuals, couples and families affected by domestic abuse.
To learn more about the Norwich Connect Service or to make a referral, click here.