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Guidance for providers of accommodation for survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV).

First published:
1 April 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

This guidance is to support the management of survivors of domestic abuse and their children who are residing in domestic abuse accommodation settings, including emergency safe accommodation and move on accommodation. All service providers are responsible for taking reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces and premises under Regulation 12 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020. Whilst Regulation 14 places a restriction on people gathering indoors, it provides that it is a reasonable excuse to gather indoors to avoid injury or illness or escape a risk of harm (reg 14(2)(o)).

For the purpose of this guidance, the term ‘refuge’ covers:

  • shared refuge
  • communal refuge
  • dispersed, self-contained accommodation with support
  • move-on accommodation

This guidance also provides advice on managing self-isolation for clients and their children under 18 in the event that either they, or a refuge staff member, show symptoms of COVID-19 or   test positive for COVID-19. Refuge premises may be self-contained premises to house individuals or individuals and their child(ren), or they may be premises with multiple rooms which provide refuge for a number of refuge individuals or individuals and their child(ren). Both types of premises/settings are considered to be one household for the purpose of all individuals taking refuge there and the self-isolation measures will apply to all residents as one household.

Further Guidance is also available for community based VAWDASV services on managing easement on restrictions.

COVID-19 and VAWDASV

Evidence of the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV) remains at an early stage and mostly comes from news articles and reports from individual VAWADSV organisations and other impacted countries. This guidance is based on information we currently know and may adapt over the coming weeks. 

Increase in emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and financial control

If an abuser is spending more time in the home with more access to family members and children, we may see an increase of different forms of abuse, increase in the severity of abuse and potentially an increase in the number of children witnessing abuse.

This may range from:

  • further isolating their partner or family member from family and friends,
  • exerting unreasonable requests or demands on their partner or family member
  • increased criticism of their partner’s parenting
  • directing abuse towards children
  • using the pandemic to justify increased financial control
  • stopping their partner or family member from caring for an elderly loved one
  • stopping their  partner or family member from working, or forcing them to continue to work even when they are scared of becoming ill.

It may also be the case that due to the enhanced social pressures and exacerbating factors, such as concerns about money or health, and being confined for extended periods of time with other family members, those not previously recognised as abusive partners/family members may start to exhibit signs of abuse.

Not every home is a place of safety. It is highly likely that the requirements imposed by social distancing and (if necessary) any requirement to self-isolate in their own home will increase the risk and fear felt by a victim of violence and abuse. The need to socially distance and (if necessary) self-isolate can mean that an abusers’ power and control becomes amplified. For some victims/survivors, additional barriers may be experienced or intensified increasing their vulnerability. These include victims with insecure immigration status who have limited access to healthcare or financial resources, or, disabled victims/survivors who may be at greater risk of infection, or cannot access support from family and friends.

Victims and survivors who are separated from their abuser may also see an increase in abuse whilst complying with the coronavirus restrictions. Harassment via technology or child contact issues may be factors that increase risk post separation.

Access to support

As a result of the restrictions in place to limit the spread of coronavirus families may be spending longer at home together, and therefore adult and child victims/survivors will have fewer opportunities for contact with supportive friends, families, community members and providers. Victims’ contact with support networks may be limited to social media, ‘phone and other forms of technology which could be monitored by perpetrators.

Live Fear Free helpline will remain open and offer a full service during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Welsh Government will communicate this through its networks and social media platforms and encourage others to do so.

Helpline: 0808 8010 800

Text: 078600 77333

Live chat: https://gov.wales/live-fear-free/contact-live-fear-free

Safeguarding remains a priority area of business for Social Services and if you have concerns that a child or adult is at risk of harm, abuse or neglect you should contact Social Services to report this. Information on how to report a concern is available on each of the local authority websites.

Sector experience and feedback shows that at times of crisis numbers accessing services sometimes go down, which can give an inaccurate picture of the needs across Wales.  This may be because victims need face-to-face contact to feel safe or to disclose, or that it may be harder for them to access services, or that a victim has no safe means of either leaving, or contacting the services they need.  It is also clear that this pattern then leads to a spike in demand for services once face-to-face contact is resumed.

Refuges and other forms of domestic abuse safe accommodation do not need to close unless directed to do so by Public Health Wales, the Welsh Government or the UK Government.  

Refuges and VAWDASV services should ensure that they are advertising their available refuge space as soon as possible on RoutestoSupport (UK Refuges Online), or through communication with the Live Fear Free support team.

The Welsh Government has provided advice to all local authorities to utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those who require shelter and other forms of support due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This means that temporary shelter should be made available for those fleeing domestic abuse but have no recourse to public funds.  Refuge providers should discuss such cases with their local authorities’ housing teams.

Refuge providers should continue to work with local authority housing teams and registered social landlords (RSLs) to manage safe “move-on” from refuge. Individual landlords may continue to let properties to new tenants, as long as they can observe social distancing and Government restrictions during the handover.

Accepting referrals

Refuges and other forms of domestic abuse safe accommodation should continue to take and accept referrals in line with their access to refuge policies and procedures and where it is safe to do so. 

Assessing health and wellbeing should be a priority at this stage. An initial risk assessment should be completed to ascertain if the presenting referral/family has any symptom suggestive of COVID-19.  

If they have symptoms of COVID-19 and are moving into a refuge which is either a self-contained property (for an individual or an individual and their child(ren)) or into a refuge which houses a number of other sole individuals, and/or other individuals and their child(ren) then they would need to follow the current national guidance on self-isolation. Refuge providers should assess whether their individual, and different types settings, allow for this, with self-contained or “move on” premises being the preferred option.

If they do not show symptoms, refuge providers should remind new residents of the importance of following social distancing measures  and maintaining hygiene and cleaning practices, especially if they are to be accommodated in a premises with other individuals/individuals and their child(ren) where potentially certain areas will need to be shared, eg living room, kitchen and bathroom.

If a presenting family has been referred whilst in the process of self-isolating (within the required 14 day isolation period) because they had been in contact with a symptomatic person, they should be reminded of the need to continue with and complete their self-isolation period in accordance with the self-isolation guidance, regardless as to whether they are accommodated in a self-contained premises or a premises that houses other individuals/individuals and their child(ren).

Public Health Wales can provide further information on shared accommodation and safety.

Residing with others

It is advised that in refuges of multiple occupancy residents minimise the time they spend in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms, sitting areas and outdoor smoking areas. Shared spaces should be kept well ventilated and well cleaned.

The aim should be to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from others who live in the refuge and who are not close family members. Where possible use separate bathroom areas from those other individuals. Where this is not possible it is essential that

  1. all residents use separate towels
  2. clean toilet and wash areas before / after use

Where there are shared kitchen facilities it is recommended that:

  • one family uses it at a time (draw up a rota if possible)
  • residents take their meals back to their rooms to eat
  • facilities are cleaned regularly and particularly after each use.

To reduce the risk of contact between residents, a rota could be drawn up for residents to go outside and get fresh air without risk of making contact with anyone else. This should also apply to smoking breaks. 

We understand that it will be difficult for some people to separate themselves from others on the premises. Residents should do their  very best to ensure they follow this guidance and all residents should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces (door handles, handrails, remote controls and table tops etc).

Residents who become unwell

If a resident or their child(ren) becomes unwell with at least one of the following coronavirus symptoms:

  • a new continuous cough
  • fever
  • loss of or change to sense of smell or taste (anosmia) 

and they are residents in a refuge premises that houses other individuals and their families then both the symptomatic individual and their family should remain in their own room and follow the self-isolation guidance.  Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation. The symptomatic individual will need to arrange to be tested for COVID-19

In the event that one resident in the refuge becomes unwell with COVID-19 symptoms then all residents at that refuge will need to commence a period of self-isolation as all residents are considered to be part of one household for the purpose of the self-isolation measures.

Refuge providers should ensure there is a process in place for residents to declare when they are feeling unwell with symptoms that could possibly be COVID-19 in a safe and appropriate manner.

Residents and staff do not need to contact NHS 111 if they think they may have contracted Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).  Anyone with a suspected coronavirus illness should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. They should only contact NHS 111 if they feel they cannot cope with their symptoms at home, their condition gets worse, or their symptoms do not get better after seven days.

Residents or staff with any symptoms of COVID19 should arrange to be tested. In an emergency, call 999 if the person is seriously ill or their life is at risk.

Staff should ensure that the symptomatic person and close family members remain in their room as much as possible whilst self-isolating, minimising their use of shared spaces, such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas. Shared spaces should be kept well ventilated and cleaned regularly after use by each individual and particularly after use by a symptomatic individual.  Wherever possible, symptomatic persons should not visit shared spaces when others are present.  The symptomatic person should strictly keep at least 2 metres apart from other residents and staff in the refuge at all times and where possible should not share a bed with their children.

Symptomatic individuals should use PPE to protect others, face coverings are recommended, and when cleaning areas, PPE (face coverings, plastic aprons and gloves) should be used according to guidance.

If a separate bathroom is not available, consideration should be given to drawing up a rota for washing or bathing, with the person who is symptomatic using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom themselves (if they are able). If a child is symptomatic, their parent should clean the bathroom.

The refuge can remain open with refuge staff and visiting professionals being able to leave and enter the refuge as required. Visiting professionals and staff would need to be made aware if anyone at the refuge has COVID-19 symptoms or has been tested positive for COVID-19.  Visiting professionals should then consider the risks with their employer of attending the refuge to see other non-symptomatic but isolating residents as necessary.  They would need to discuss with their employer the risks of attending and the need to take all necessary precautions to minimise their risk of possibly contracting COVID-19. They may conclude following that risk assessment process, that by implementing certain protective measures (eg use of certain PPE items) the risks can be sufficiently mitigated to protect them and thus enable them to fulfil their arranged appointment(s) with other refuge residents.

Whilst on the premises staff and visiting professionals should adhere to the social distancing measures at all times and also practise safe hygiene measures (washing their hands often and thoroughly or using a hand sanitiser). 

Continuity of staff should be maintained where possible. To keep staff safe they should follow their organisation’s infection control procedures. Guidance on cleaning of residential areas should be followed where there are suspected and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Self-isolating within refuge

A refuge that houses a number of individuals/individuals and their families is considered to be one ‘household’ for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy.

Supporting clients and their children in domestic abuse safe accommodation through self-isolation will be a complex task, dealing with a number of family dynamics, personalities and support needs.  Consideration should also be given to the needs of the entire household (ie all other residents within that accommodation), including any children residing at refuge who will have their own needs.

If a client or their child(ren) shows symptoms of COVID-19, they should self-isolate in line with the Welsh Government self-isolation guidance for households and should arrange a COVID-19 test immediately.

Refuge providers may need to consider a range of practical solutions for managing any individuals and their families who need to self-isolate such as scheduling or drawing up a rota for use of shared bathrooms and shared kitchen areas by all refuge residents.  Further advice can be found in the general advice section below.

If there are multiple residents (and their families) across projects that need to self-isolate, services could consider designating one property as a ‘safe zone’ and move all those needing to self-isolate into that one property.  Any such decision would need to be considered carefully and guidance sought from Public Health Wales.

Where accommodation based services are in buildings with multiple floors or wings, zones could be created for different cohorts (e.g. people who have COVID-19 symptoms and must self-isolate whilst awaiting the outcome of their coronavirus test, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and who must therefore complete their self-isolation period, people in high risk groups, and all other people).

Living rooms or activity rooms could also be turned into self-isolation rooms.  However, the impact of reducing access to activity/living rooms on other residents’ mental health and wellbeing will need to be taken in to account.

Refusal to self-isolate

It is of paramount importance that the mental and physical resilience of residents is considered, especially where there are existing mental health concerns.

It is likely that residents will have experienced significant trauma in their lives and may be less willing or able to follow instructions to self-isolate.  Refuge providers should recognise the importance of taking a person-centred, trauma informed approach to understand why people may be reluctant to self-isolate or follow other Welsh Government guidance measures.  

The guidance about dealing with people who are unwilling or unable to self-isolate or follow coronavirus lockdown instructions is a useful source of advice

Service providers may also find the Guidance for managing challenging and anti-social behaviour in temporary accommodation: COVID-19 useful.

Test, trace and protect

Test, trace and protect is an approach to tackling coronavirus: testing people with symptoms in the community, tracing those who have come into close contact with people who have tested positive for coronavirus, and protecting family, friends and our community by self-isolating.

Information and guidance on how to apply for a test.

In the event of a positive test, a contact tracer will contact the person tested to help identify potential contacts. A second contact tracer will then get in touch with those contacts and advise them to self-isolate for 14 days. These people will only be required to take a test if they develop symptoms.

A contact is defined as someone who has had close contact during this period, specifically:

  • within 1 metre of the person who has tested positive and has been coughed on, had a face-to-face conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, or been in other forms of contact within 1 metre for one minute or longer;
  • within 2 metres of the person testing positive for more than fifteen  minutes;
  • have travelled in a vehicle with the person who has tested positive. or seated near in public transport

Contacts will not be given any information about the person who tested positive for COVID-19, such as their name or where they came into contact with each other. Information gathered across Wales as part of the contact tracing process is held in strict confidence. It will solely be used by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service to contain the virus. It will not be shared with other bodies.

If a resident or staff member should test positive for COVID-19 then the service provider will need to ensure the whole refuge follows the self-isolation rules. This is because the whole refuge is considered to be one household for the purposes of the self-isolation requirements.

Staff are not automatically to be treated as household contacts of residents and should still be socially distancing themselves where possible.

If there has been a single case in a resident, staff members need to consider how close their contact has been with the positive case. If the level of contact fulfils the definition (as outlined above), then the staff member needs to be treated as a contact, stay home, self-isolate for 14 days or, if they become symptomatic get tested. If it is deemed that the staff member has not had a level of contact, they can continue at work as normal.

If there is more than one confirmed case in the refuge, it may be treated as an outbreak, in which case an outbreak control team should consider all people related to the refuge.

Contact tracers are offered VAWDASV e-Learning as a part of their training.

Staffing

Charities, specialist services and workers delivering key frontline services, are considered to be ‘key workers’ and are eligible for additional support and mechanisms.  This includes schooling and childcare for the children of key workers.

If the accommodation setting cannot maintain safe ratios due to COVID-19, the same procedures should be followed as in any other case of staff absence.  Refuge providers should assess staffing levels on a daily basis and liaise with local authorities and commissioners should staffing become an issue.

Staff and support workers who are well and able to work within the refuge premises should ensure they practise the social/physical distancing measures at all times, staying at least 2m apart from everyone on the premises, and avoid close (face-to-face) contact with anyone, especially people showing COVID-19 symptoms. They should also ensure frequent and thorough hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

If any members of staff become unwell on site with any symptoms of COVID-19 (a new, continuous cough, or a high temperature or a loss of or change to their usual sense of smell and taste), they should be sent home immediately, and advised to follow the self-isolation rules for themselves and their household members, and they should apply for a COVID-19 test immediately.  Appropriate sickness policies should be followed. Thorough cleaning of the areas used by that member of staff should be undertaken as soon as they have vacated the refuge. There is no requirement for other staff members or residents within the refuge to commence a period of self-isolation unless in the unfolding days they too begin to display symptoms of COVID-19.  

If the symptomatic staff member receives a positive test result for COVID-19, the trace process will commence. Services should consider the wellbeing of other staff who may have been in ‘contact’ (as defined above) with colleagues who become symptomatic or who test positive for COVID-19.

General Safety Advice

Staff and residents should be reminded about good practice on:

  • routine infection prevention and control measures
  • frequent general cleanliness and cleaning of surfaces and touch points (handles, light switches) and frequently handled appliances and items
  • frequent and thorough handwashing
  • thorough respiratory hygiene
  • social/physical distancing. 

Additional cleaning rotas should be considered within shared areas. Usual household cleaning products are sufficient and emphasis should be placed on frequent cleaning of touched surfaces particularly in shared areas (bins, vacuum cleaners, door handles, door release buttons, light switches, intercoms).

Frequent and thorough hand washing will remain the most important personal safety measure, and for this purpose a constant supply of hot water and soap should always be ensured. Personal protective equipment (PPE) (gloves, aprons, sanitiser) should be used by symptomatic persons when using/cleaning shared facilities wherever possible and in line with guidance on safety and cleanliness.

Read advice on the use of Face coverings.

Providers should ensure that all staff within VAWDASV accommodation settings have access to up to date Public Health information on COVID-19 and understand what to do if they or a resident within a refuge shows symptoms of, or is tested positive for COVID-19. 

Further guidance

Advice on COVID-19 is updated regularly and available on:

Please also note guidance from the Information Commissioner.

Read guidance on PPE in housing, health and social care supporting settings.

We will provide further guidance if the evolving situation necessitates additional measures. We will also work to ensure that where best practice is identified, this is disseminated across Wales.

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