Domestic abuse and Scotland’s roadmap to COVID-19 recovery and renewal
– August 2020
As Scotland moves into the recovery and renewal stages of COVID-19, it will be vital to embed the work of domestic abuse recovery services as a priority going forward. We know that women and children recovering from past experiences of domestic abuse have faced additional trauma and potential challenges in their journey as a result of lockdown measures. We also know that domestic abuse services anticipate a spike in demand as restrictions ease. This poses a risk that specialist support services may struggle with increased demand and capacity constraints. For women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, this could delay their support due to longer waiting lists and limited service provision. Not having access to high-quality, person-centred support could impede their recovery and have a serious long-term impact on their outcomes. This blog post explores why domestic abuse recovery will be vital to Scotland’s roadmap to recovery and renewal, and highlights how embedding sustainable recovery services across Scotland can help local and national government build back better.
A focus on early intervention
Early support for children and young people affected by domestic abuse can help to avoid costlier, more intensive interventions in the long term. It is anticipated that children and young people have been negatively affected by lockdown restrictions and may be facing higher risk of poor mental health and negative health behaviours, particularly those children who have experienced domestic abuse and are living with trauma. Due to isolation during lockdown, children’s relationships and wellbeing have been impacted and without the right support could have long-term negative effects. Children who have endured adverse experiences such as domestic abuse are at a higher risk of these impacts. Domestic abuse recovery support like Cedar is proven to improve outcomes for children and their mothers by helping them to understand that domestic abuse is not their fault, increasing their knowledge of safety and wellbeing, and by strengthening the mother-child relationship. 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.
Reducing service demand
Embedding domestic abuse recovery support in COVID-19 recovery and renewal planning will help to reduce demand on services in the long term. We don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of the lockdown on children and young people affected by domestic abuse, but demand for support across universal and targeted services is likely to increase as children begin to disclose and their experiences become more visible to teachers, social work and health practitioners, for example. While not all children and young people affected by domestic abuse will need additional support, it is vital that those that do can access it as soon as possible.
One example of the impact of domestic abuse recovery is education. Research shows that children can internalise or externalise their traumatic experiences of domestic abuse, sometimes leading them to have reduced concentration, display challenging behaviour and find it difficult to sustain relationships. Evidence shows that recovery support like Cedar can help children understand the root and impact of their trauma, and can improve children’s concentration at school, reduce anxiety and increase their confidence in participating in the classroom. We know that schools will be focusing explicitly on children’s mental health and wellbeing as they return in August, and it is vital that teachers and staff can signpost families if children require additional, specialist support, both to improve children and young people’s education outcomes but also to reduce the need for further or prolonged interventions in school or beyond.
A whole systems approach
Broader recovery and renewal cannot be achieved if we don’t have systems and services in place to protect and support women and children affected by domestic abuse and other types of violence against women. A whole systems approach recognises that tackling domestic abuse is everyone’s responsibility—all individuals, organisations and systems have a role to play. If services, systems and workforces are domestic abuse-informed (i.e. they understand the impact of domestic abuse and understand their role in supporting those affected by domestic abuse), this will strengthen multi-agency collaboration, reduce long-term costs and improve outcomes for children and young people.
Staff across the public and third sectors have faced, and continue to face, increased workloads, and reduced staff numbers due to stress, illness, vicarious trauma and bereavement because of COVID-19. Embedding early intervention and adopting a whole systems approach will likely lead to long-term reductions in service demand which can also support workforce resilience and wellbeing. It will be important to strengthen staff morale and collaboration, and support staff to understand the wider impacts of trauma, abuse and adversity.
Listening to children and young people affected by domestic abuse
Pre-pandemic, children and young people affected by domestic abuse highlighted the need for improved access to specialist VAWG services, clearer signposting of support, and for systems and people to work together to ensure they can access the right support at the right time, and have their voices heard in decision making.  It is key that local and national government and partners draw on children and young people’s experiences of systems and services as they develop their plans for long-term recovery and renewal.
“I mean it’s important for us to be involved. You don’t know what survivors need until you ask them.”
Young person, Everyday Heroes Report on Services
 Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls – 30/3/20-22/05/20, Scottish Government, June 2020
 Coronavirus (COVID-19): children, young people and families – evidence and intelligence report, Scottish Government, July 2020
 Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term in August 2020, Scottish Government, July 2020