Domestic abuse, trauma and lockdown
– July 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant risks for women, children and young people affected by domestic abuse. Evidence shows that for many women and children who are living with a perpetrator of domestic abuse, lockdown has exacerbated the intensity of the abuse and increased safety and wellbeing concerns. Support services, like the National Forced Marriage and Domestic Abuse Helpline, have recorded double the normal level of calls, and specialist services anticipate a huge increase in demand as lockdown restrictions ease and it’s safer for women and children to access support.
Cedar supports children, young people and their mothers who have experienced domestic abuse, who are now living safe from abuse and harm. But, as research shows, past experiences of domestic abuse can cause long-term trauma, impacting everything from mental health, wellbeing and physical health to employment and education. While everyone responds differently to their experiences, the social isolation, anxiety, lack of control and emotional and financial challenges of lockdown could well act as a trigger for past trauma from domestic abuse. In Scotland, 39% of young people surveyed stated that they felt moderately or extremely concerned about their own mental wellbeing during lockdown. It’s also been acknowledged that the actions taken to control the pandemic (e.g., physical distancing) will impact children’s mental health, socialisation and attachment, and children who have experienced domestic abuse and trauma may be adversely impacted by this. Cedar coordinators report that many of the mothers they support have shared that their children’s wellbeing has been impacted by changes in their routine because of lockdown. Mothers have said their children have been feeling anxious and insecure, and have experienced nightmares and interrupted sleep.
|“Cedar has been a great support to me and the kids during the lockdown. The calls, Zoom chats, YouTube messages and care packs that Cedar provide are great. Cedar has helped me find ways to help the kids feel safe to talk about their worries.” – Cedar Mum|
Recovery from traumatic experiences like domestic abuse often centres on building safe spaces, developing trusted human contact and face-to-face support, and sharing experiences with peers. Lockdown has meant much of this hasn’t been possible, and support from across domestic abuse crisis and recovery services has been limited to online or over the phone. Since lockdown, Cedar groups have been unable to run as normal so local Cedar projects have creatively adapted their work to support children, young people and their mothers. Coordinators have offered support specific to COVID-19, and much of this support has been focused on challenges brought about or exacerbated by lockdown constraints such as parenting support, access to food and resources, emergency practical support and signposting relevant services. Coordinators have been providing children with activities and craft packs, and have been offering 1-1 support; others have created virtual activities for children and their mums to complete together, while others have developed virtual wellbeing support groups for children and their mothers. Children and their mothers say they have appreciated regular, scheduled contact with Cedar coordinators, and children have enjoyed completing craft activities and interacting with other children in online sessions.
|“Cedar makes me feel not so worried about stuff, I like that I get to talk to them and see them on mum’s phone. I liked all the pens and art stuff they gave me so I can draw and make stuff. Cedar is great” – Cedar Child|
However, along with many other organisations that provide support services for children, Cedar coordinators have reported difficulties in engaging with younger children by phone or other digital platforms. Digital exclusion has also been reported as a barrier to support for many women and children during lockdown who have limited or no access to technology in order to receive remote support. Families may also have had to focus all of their time and parenting capacity to simply survive lockdown, emotionally and financially, and may not have felt able to engage with virtual support. Cedar coordinators report that some mothers have found it difficult receiving remote support when they do not have a private space in their home.
|“My trauma feels intensified. I’ve nowhere to hide or distract myself from it. It’s made my anxiety worse and I’m scared about easing restrictions on me or my daughters because of COVID-19. In a way, I want to stay in my bubble.” – Cedar Mum|
While Cedar families no longer live with the perpetrator, lockdown has increased risks for children and their mums who are engaged with local Cedar Projects. Some mothers have reported increased contact from perpetrators during this time; some have reported contact beginning again after several years of no contact. In other cases where court-mandated contact between children and their father (the perpetrator) has ceased over lockdown, mothers have borne the brunt of their child’s frustration at these changes in contact. Support services have also highlighted reports where perpetrators have applied a range of abusive behaviours specific to lockdown, related to conflict over child contact. Cedar coordinators report that in some of the families they support, perpetrators have used lockdown as a means to exert control over mothers and children, and there has been an increase in Cedar families requesting support with safety planning during lockdown. The impact of lockdown on the mother-child relationship has been varied; some mothers have reported increased challenges, but others have said lockdown has provided an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their child.
|“Lockdown has allowed me to work through my trauma because I feel safer to do so knowing that everybody is restricted. I feel better emotionally, but the only downside is that I am not sleeping well. I think this is because I am not active or busy enough.” – Cedar Mum|
As Scotland gradually eases out of lockdown, local Cedar Projects are exploring options for adapted service delivery, consulting with children and their mothers on their needs and sharing good practice across the Cedar Network. The re-starting of recovery services such as Cedar will be vital as Scotland moves out of lockdown given that, for many child and adult survivors of domestic abuse, the pandemic and lockdown will have brought about ongoing uncertainty and may have exacerbated existing mental health issues, trauma and challenges in the mother-child relationship. It is widely expected that the numbers of women, children and young people requiring crisis and recovery support for domestic abuse will significantly increase as restrictions are lifted and as children return to school in August. A lack of access to appropriate, high-quality and sustainable support could seriously impact children’s recovery and have a long-term impact on outcomes for people living with trauma. A focus on early intervention will be key to reducing risk, increasing safety and wellbeing, and mitigating the long-term effects of domestic abuse on health and wellbeing, education, relationships and development.
 Domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) during COVID-19 lockdown, for the period 30/3/20 – 22/05/20, Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services, 2020
 Children, young people and domestic abuse: impact, support and recovery, Improvement Service, 2019
 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supplementary National Violence Against Women Guidance, COSLA and Scottish Government, 2020