This year’s Back to School season has been like no other. It goes without saying that the implications of social distancing, fears of another lockdown and concerns about catching up on lost lesson time have brought many challenges for schools and young people alike. As uncertainty continues, so do the challenges. One of such challenges has been an increase in disclosures and safeguarding concerns about abuse at home. Like the pandemic, this challenge will not be over soon.
To understand the impacts on children and young people exposed to domestic abuse during COVID 19, it is important to consider how lockdown impacted on the nature of domestic abuse overall. Only with this insight can we grasp the full implications for young people both during lockdown and beyond.
Nature of Domestic Abuse in the context of COVID-19
On August 28th, Juno Women’s Aid based in Nottingham City reported a 120% increase on calls from the same date in 2019. Increases in helpline calls and police reports were not unique to Nottingham. According to a Women’s Aid report, A Perfect Storm, 67.4% of survivors surveyed who were currently experiencing abuse said that it had got worse since Covid-19.
Lockdown provided perpetrators with more opportunity to perpetrate abuse, change and intensify their abusive behaviour, and use the virus as an excuse. As well as making it much harder to leave, lockdown provided many perpetrators with a perfect opportunity and excuse to use coercive and controlling behaviour with 71.7% of the survivors surveyed by Women’s Aid stating that their abuser had more control over their life since Covid-19. Many reported the perpetrator ‘emphasising’ that they shouldn’t be going out, exploiting fears about Coronavirus, restricting access to medication or medical interventions and/or cutting off access to support networks. Many survivors also reported that increased intake of alcohol during lockdown (which was not uncommon) had exacerbated the abuse.
Impacts on Children and Young People Exposed to Domestic Abuse During Lockdown
Survivors with children who took part in the Women’s Aid survey also reported things were worse for their children. Over half (53%) said their children had witnessed more abuse towards the survivor, and over a third (38%) said that their abuser had shown an increase in abusive behaviour towards the children.
Many more children and young people will have been living at homes during lockdown where they’ve been directly harmed. Others will have witnessed increased incidents of abuse, seen more incidents worsened by alcohol, and may have seen or been concerned for loved ones with no access to vital medication or medical assistance, or have had this withheld from them directly. It is also not just adult survivors who were unable to leave or had less access to support, many young people have told us changes to existing support had a huge impact on them, and we know that in some areas less than 10% of school places available to vulnerable children during lockdown were attended.
Problems Children and Young People Exposed to Domestic Abuse may have as Lockdown Eases.
As schools return, an increase in disclosures is expected both short and long-term, but direct disclosures themselves may not be the only concerns for children’s health, safety and wellbeing.
Trauma from being exposed to or experiencing abuse can be wide and varied and differ individual to individual. For some, transitioning back to school may mean relief, for others it might mean concern for those still at home, impacting on behaviour and attendance. Unhealthy coping strategies and difficulties in relationships with peers, staff and family may also provide cause for concern. Signs of poor self-regulation could also indicate an ongoing absence of care at home.
What can Schools do?
These facts and figures may leave many professionals working with vulnerable children and young people feeling at a loss for where to start. Here are some key actions to consider:
- Creating safe spaces for children to talk about their experiences of lockdown. These should be spaces where they feel listened to, comfortable to disclose, and have opportunities to access support. This might require pastoral care, after-school clubs or extra curricular activities.
- Building confidence and skills in safeguarding best practice across all or key staff may also be required. Key topics to consider for development or training include:
- recognising indicators of abuse.
- confidence in reporting and responding to concerns.
- solid knowledge of local referral pathways.
- Having the right resources to hand is key. Ensure you have up to date versions of local risk assessment checklists, safety planning templates and appropriate referral pathways. Alongside resources for staff, you might also consider resources for working with children who are currently being exposed to abuse at home or who have been exposed to abuse. This might include workbooks or online programs.
Next week Equation will launch a free on demand video briefing for schools, an “Introduction to the Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Young People in the context of Domestic Abuse”.
Useful resources and training from Equation
- Next week Equation will launch a free on-demand online training session for schools, an “Introduction to the Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Young People in the context of Domestic Abuse”. Sign up to our Children and Young People Newsletter here to receive this direct to your inbox.
- For further domestic abuse awareness training, Equation also deliver Teacher Twilights on a range of topics to suit your needs..
- Equation designs and distributes workbooks for young people impacted by abuse. We have 3 workbooks available for different ages. Prices start from as little as £1.60 per book and we are funded to provide these free of charge in some settings.
- Visit our Best Practice Library to check you have the latest versions of any risk assessment checklists, safety planning templates and referral pathways. The library also contains useful best practice guidance and research.
- You may wish to order free safety information resources for survivors so you are able to provide these to parents or leave them in places which can be discreetly picked up.
If you’re a child or young person experiencing domestic abuse
Call Childline on 0800 1111 or talk to them online
- For everyone up to the age of 19
- Available any time and always free
- Childline can tell you about places near you where you can get help
- Childline won’t tell anyone you’ve called them, unless you’re in danger
If you’re worried about a child or young person
Local to Nottingham/shire: Call the local 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 0340 run by Juno Women’s Aid
If you’re outside of Nottingham/shire: Call the NSPCC 0808 800 5000
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