The lockdown has forced services providing domestic abuse support to become even more resourceful and innovative, says Miranda Hawtrey.
Working in a setting supporting those with addiction issues and complex needs is always a delicate balancing act. But when the coronavirus outbreak swept through the UK in March 2020, the team at Jane’s Place in Burnley had an extra challenge on their hands.
Jane’s Place is a somewhat unique service established in 2017 by SafeNet Domestic Abuse Support Services, who provide domestic abuse support to women, men and children. They are also the lead providers for Lancashire Refuges.
Jane’s Place is the only one of its kind in the North West – not only does it help to support women who are fleeing from all forms of domestic abuse, but it also breaks down barriers often posed by traditional refuge. A lack of appropriate accommodation and support for women and families with complex needs who need to escape from domestic abuse often results in outcomes such as women returning or staying with the perpetrator, escalating risk and coping strategies such as increased substance use, a lack of trust in services and sofa surfing, which often results in rough sleeping.
A mammoth task
The challenge of implementing safety measures and managing the extra risk posed by lockdown in this kind of specialist environment has been a mammoth task, and the team knew they had to adapt the service fast to ensure they could keep everyone involved safe and continue to support their residents.
They started by expanding and increasing their safehouse provision to provide safe spaces for those residents who were shielding, showing symptoms and needing to self-isolate. Those with serious drug and alcohol use issues and/or sex working women who found it impossible to adhere to the government guidelines had to be kept safe regardless of whether or not they were able to comply, and the team achieved this by use of separate safehouse facilities with specialist intensive floating support.
Each individual resident had an emergency COVID plan created and tailored to meet their needs. Along with various other measures, such as extra cleaning, PPE and updating residents and checking in to make sure they knew what the guidelines were, the team quickly pivoted the service to offer as much flexibility and support as possible.
This hasn’t come without its setbacks. The team have faced difficulties accessing help from outside agencies that would usually support residents, and accessing healthcare has been made much more difficult by skeleton staff in other agencies and lack of GP appointments. The residents also voiced that they were missing group work; the need for connection during their journey plays a big part in recovery.
Alongside the practical solutions – with staff members collecting methadone for residents daily and assisting with non-molestation orders received via court sessions over the phone with residents – the team got creative. They introduced ways for residents to connect with professionals and loved ones virtually, created online recovery groups and set up online quizzes and games to help boost morale.
With the lockdown also came a devastating rise in domestic abuse incidents, in the UK and beyond. More than ever, this highlighted the need to find other ways to reach victims who were not safe at home. The team introduced a new online chat service via their website to enable victims to safely access advice and support during periods of isolation or when they were confined at home with a perpetrator and unable to use previous routes to safety, manned by trained support workers.
So what next for Jane’s Place? No one knows how long restrictions will be in place or what the ‘new normal’ will look like, so the team are always thinking ahead and looking at new ways to engage with residents. This includes ‘walk ‘n’ talk’ sessions, encouraging communal gardening as a soothing way to pass the time and, most importantly, continuing to listen to what residents want via their ‘finding our voice’ consultations.
Sarah, aged 34
Sarah had begun taking prescription medication and drinking alcohol at 14 years old as a way to numb the trauma of being gang raped. Both Sarah’s parents had issues with addiction and she felt unsupported in dealing with this horrific trauma. Growing up, she said she always felt ‘unloved’. During her adult life, Sarah was repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse by various males, and her drug use escalated to using heroin and crack daily.
Sarah then was in an abusive relationship and gave birth to two children. The children were subsequently removed by social care due to domestic abuse and substance abuse by both parents. Sarah became street homeless and soon got involved with another abusive male who forced her into sex work to fund substances for them both. Using heroin and crack daily, Sarah’s mental health and physical health dramatically deteriorated and she was also regularly shoplifting to fund substances. Things became too much for Sarah and she attempted to take her own life after a serious assault by her partner. She was then referred to SafeNet and accepted at Jane’s Place Recovery Refuge.
Sarah’s life dramatically changed once admitted to Jane’s Place. Her self-esteem and confidence returned as staff supported her to address health issues and receive support with her mental health. Jane’s Place referred Sarah to Inspire Wellbeing and she was allocated a key worker to help support her with substance use.
Sarah is now abstinent from all substances and back in contact with her children who live with family. She is no longer shoplifting or sex working and wants to start volunteer work after lockdown. Staff referred Sarah for specialist sexual trauma counselling and she also is supported by attending a trauma recovery group.
Sarah has said her drug use was spiralling out of control but she has dramatically changed her life with the support of staff. Sarah says the support she has received to reconnect with her children has been very important to her recovery and motivation. ‘Without Jane’s Place I would be dead,’ she says. ‘You saved my life,’
Kerry, aged 39
Upon referral, Kerry had been in a physically violent relationship for the past seven years. She had been threatened with a knife and her children had been removed for their own safety, as a result of her addiction and domestic abuse in the family home. Kerry referred herself into SafeNet’s services after trying several refuges who would not accept her as she was using alcohol and substances daily.
Kerry was drinking heavily, using crack and heroin, was on a methadone script, and was also having physical withdrawal symptoms – such as seizures – when she didn’t have alcohol. She was also a prolific shoplifter to fund her addictions, and had spent time in prison as a result.
Kerry was still having regular phone contact with the perpetrator when she arrived, who would often try to manipulate her, use controlling and coercive behaviour, give verbal abuse and threaten self-harm if she didn’t return home. SafeNet supported Kerry to stop contact and she attended domestic abuse groups at Jane’s Place. Extensive safety planning work was done as part of her support plan and as her mental health improved, Kerry was able to focus on her recovery.
While at Jane’s Place, Kerry’s anxiety reduced and she was no longer having suicidal ideation. Kerry completed RAMP (reduction and motivation programme) as part of her recovery support plan and, with the support of Jane’s Place and Inspire Wellbeing, she reduced her methadone and alcohol intake.
Kerry’s physical health greatly improved too – she gained weight, began to take pride in her appearance and was focused on getting fitter and healthier. She also began to rebuild relationships with her family and was then accepted for detox and rehab to complete her journey.
Find out more about Jane’s Place here.