Life in a Domestic Abuse refuge during the COVID pandemic

Healthwatch County Durham talked to frontline staff and clients from local refuges about how women are being supported in Domestic Abuse refuges in County Durham during the COVID pandemic.

We have heard a lot in the press recently about the pressures facing many families who are experiencing domestic abuse at home during the current pandemic. The purpose of this briefing is to give an overview of the experiences of women being supported in Domestic Abuse refuges in County Durham during the COVID pandemic. Healthwatch County Durham contacted 4 refuges in the county to talk to frontline staff and clients about how women were being supported at the present time.

What people told us

  • Due to the configuration of one of the refuges there had to be a reduction in the capacity. This was to ensure they could maintain social distancing. There are financial implications that come with the decision, so it will be hard to know what a long term solution might be
  • Some shops and services, such as taxis has imposed a limit of 1 adult and 1 child. For women in refuges this was a problem if they had more than 1 child, there were different solutions in different refuges. In one, the refuge had contacted the shop concerned and explained the situation allowing the women to go shopping with her whole family. In another refuge they had set up a temporary system of supervising children to allow for essential visits, such as to the GP
  • One of the team leaders talked about staffing challenges, with some staff members shielding due to their own or children’s health, self-isolating, bereavements etc. She said - our staff have had to lone work more often than usual which has an impact on what can be achieved/done in one day. Even throughout COVID-19, safeguarding concerns don’t go away, in some cases they increase and staff have been able to identify concerns and escalate them appropriately despite staffing and logistical challenges. Staff have remained positive and resilient throughout this time and have consistently delivered a high standard of service to the families they support
  • Some of the staff feel that there will be a surge in women and families seeking help once the current lockdown is relaxed. They think there will be many women who are finding it difficult to access help now, but as soon as they are more mobile, they will seek support from refuges
  • One of the refuges was really positive about the way in which safeguarding is being managed during the lockdown. Safeguarding strategy meetings are still going ahead using Microsoft TEAMS and this is working well

Refuges are having to change the way they do things for now, but the services & staff are flexible and resilient. They all stressed that their main focus remains the importance of ensuring the women and children still feel welcome and well supported during their stay at the refuge.


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