The overall aim of the study is to inform the development of national safeguarding policies and practices regarding domestic abuse (DA) in pandemics and other emergency situations. The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2020) warns of an increased risk of DA in emergencies, including epidemics. Social distancing during Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ is thought to increase the risk of DA whilst accessing support is more difficult. Increased financial pressures, increased proximity of family members living in the same household, isolation, the increased burden of domestic labour and caring responsibilities for women are all potentially risk factors for increased rates of DA. Victims of DA have less opportunity to disclose abuse to professionals or to seek support from family and friends (Women’s Aid, 2020). Domestic homicides are reported to have increased in England since lockdown, with substantial increases in calls to national domestic abuse (DA) hotlines (The Guardian, 2020a). Safeguarding refers to protecting the rights of adults and children to live safely and taking necessary steps to protect them from abuse having (reasonable) regard to the wishes of the individual/s concerned alongside a positive duty to promote well-being and positive outcomes. Safeguarding is embedded in statutory guidance (DoE, 2019; DoHSC, 2020) and operationalised via multi-agency working. Safeguarding practices of agencies that aim to identify, respond and support families experiencing DA have changed during Covid-19, but little is known about the impact of such changes (cf. SafeLives, 2020). The study’s objectives are to:
Investigate how Covid-19 impacts domestic abuse safeguarding interventions, roles and processes;
Identify examples of good practice, challenges, multi-agency relationships, new work practices and innovation during lockdown and as lockdown unfolds;
Analyse the effect of Covid-19 on the identification of DA victims and the support offered to them by different safeguarding agencies;
Document survivor perspectives including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) survivors living with DA during the pandemic and their experiences of help-seeking;
Contribute to the development of national safeguarding policy and guidance during pandemics and beyond.
Study research questions:
How have DA safeguarding interventions and processes in different agencies changed due to Covid-19, at strategic and operational levels?
What is the effect of Covid-19 on the identification of DA survivors and their children and on the support, protection and safeguarding they have received during lockdown?
What ongoing lessons are there for multi-agency arrangements during a pandemic to enable effective identification, recording and response to safeguard DA victims from abuse, especially from BAME groups?
This research is being carried out in collaboration with Dr Lis Bates, Reader, University of Central Lancashire and Dr Michelle McManus, Liverpool John Moores University.
The study is organised in two work packages.Work Package 1 (WP1) – National Safeguarding Context (England) WP1 will aid understanding of national safeguarding responses within emergencies, inform strategies as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, and identify good practice that should continue post covid-19. An England-wide survey will be distributed online via Qualtrics to safeguarding leads based in local authorities, health and policing, exploring changes in safeguarding processes during Covid-19 compared to pre-Covid-19 safeguarding procedures and practice. Open and closed questions will be formulated, and data will be subject to statistical and thematic analysis in understanding key changes in safeguarding responses to DA nationally. Telephone interviews will be conducted with 20-25 safeguarding leads to gain more in-depth data about the context, and perceived impact of safeguarding changes, particularly for BAME women and children. The sampling framework will be based on i) rural/urban locations, ii) different geographical regions and iii) areas with high BAME populations. Work Package 2 (WP2) : Case-studiesTwo representative case study areas were identified. Greater Manchester was selected because it is a large, mainly urban conurbation with a diverse BAME community. Lancashire is spread over a larger geographic area and has a much smaller population, comprises both urban and rural areas, is culturally diverse and has a county structure. The case-study approach will utilise a mixed-methods approach:
Qualitative Interviews with DA specialist organisations: At a strategic level (n=10), interviews will largely mirror the interviews in WP1. At a frontline level (n=20), interviews will be conducted with frontline practitioners to investigate workers’ experiences of providing domestic abuse support from ‘home’ in the context of traumatic stories and access to formal and informal support.Qualitative Interviews with survivors of DA: (n=15-20), to explore survivors’ experiences of negotiating the service landscape during different Covid-19 phases. Interviews will only be sought where participants already have access to a support service. The sample will specifically include BAME women as these perspectives are under-researched, and the emerging evidence is of a differential impact of Covid-19 (Imkaan 2020). Interviews in WP1 and 2 will take place remotely via SKYPE, Microsoft teams or telephone, be recorded and transcribed and analysed thematically (Braun & Clarke, 2006), using N-Vivo for data management. Quantitative Analysis of Police databases: Two sets of police DA incident data will be extracted from GMP and Lancashire police forces: (1) Incident data for all DA-flagged cases reported during 6 months prior to Covid-19, and the same six months in 2020, post-lockdown (c.20,000 cases). Analysis will map operational changes to police safeguarding and interventions and inferential statistical analysis will explore how the identification of victims, and the protection and safeguarding they receive, changed pre and post-Covid. The impact on BAME victims will be specifically explored, through descriptive statistical analysis of cases where victim ethnicity is recorded. (2) A ‘deep dive’ sample of c.50 cases to examine in-depth the types of DA cases and analyse how Covid-19 affected identification, support offered and case progression of different case types.
One seminar on preliminary findings from interview analysis with domestic violence and abuse specialist organisations in case-study areas (Greater Manchester and Lancashire) on their experiences of providing support to DVA victims during the pandemic. Power point is available and a briefing paper will be available shortly.A second seminar on DVA survivors experiences of accessing support during the pandemic is scheduled for Nov 30th 2021.