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

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.

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 isolation for clients and their children under 18 in the event that either they or a staff member either show symptoms of COVID-19 or are confirmed as having the disease. 

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 from family and friends,
  • exerting unreasonable requests or demands on their partner
  • increased criticism of their partner’s parenting
  • directing abuse towards children
  • using the pandemic to justify increased financial control
  • stopping their partner from caring for an elderly loved one
  • stopping them 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, that those not previously recognised as abusive partners may start to exhibit signs of abuse.

Not every home is a place of safety. It is highly likely that self-isolation and social distancing will increase the risk and fear felt by a victim of violence and abuse. Self-isolation and social distancing can amplify abusers’ power and control. For some 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 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 in isolation. Harassment via technology or child contact issues may be factors that increase risk post separation.

Access to support

With self-isolation and social distancing keeping families together in their homes, adult and child 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 offering a full service during the COVID-19 outbreak. 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, that it may be harder for them to access services or that a victim has no safe means of leaving.  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.

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 do have symptoms, then they would need to follow the current national guidance in requesting that person self-isolates for 7 days. Refuge providers should assess whether their individual 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 guidance and maintaining hygiene and cleaning practices.

If a presenting family have been referred whilst self-isolating (within the 14 day period) because they had been in contact with a symptomatic person, they should be reminded to continue with their self-isolation until their 14 days are up.

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

Residing with others

It is advised that residents minimise the time they spend in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms, sitting areas and outdoor smoking areas. Keep shared spaces well ventilated and well cleaned.

Aim to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from others you live with. Where possible use separate bathroom areas. 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
  • residents take their meals back to their rooms to eat
  • facilities are cleaned regularly

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. You should do your very best to 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).

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)

both they and their family should remain in their own room and follow the self-isolation guidance.  Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation.

Refuge providers should ensure there is a process in place for residents to declare when they are feeling unwell 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 7 days.

In an emergency, call 999 if the person is seriously ill or their life is at risk.

Staff should ensure that the unwell person minimises visiting shared spaces, such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas, as much as possible and keep shared spaces well ventilated and cleaned. Wherever possible, unwell persons should not visit shared spaces when others are present and the unwell person should keep at least 2 metres from other residents and staff in the refuge and not share a bed with their children. If unwell, the symptomatic individual should use PPE to protect others, and when cleaning areas, PPE (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 unwell using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom themselves (if they are able or it is appropriate). If a child is ill, their parent should clean the bathroom.

The refuge can remain open with refuge staff and visiting professionals being able to leave and enter the unaffected areas of the refuge as required. 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

Refuges are considered ‘households’ for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy. Individual accommodations may be made up of one or more families for the purpose of this guidance.

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 be given to the needs of the entire household, including any children residing at refuge who will have their own needs.

If a client or their child(ren) shows symptoms, they should self-isolate in line with the guidance for households shared by the Welsh Government.

  • If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started.
  • If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill).
  • For anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 day isolation period.

It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 14 days and socially distancing will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community.

Refuge providers may need to consider a range of practical solutions to self-isolating such as scheduling isolated times in shared areas.

If there are multiple residents across projects that needed 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 symptoms, people in high risk groups, and all other people).

Living rooms or activity rooms could also be turned into self-isolation rooms. 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 the guidance from Public Health Wales.

Read guidance about dealing with people who are unwilling or unable to self-isolate or follow coronavirus lockdown instructions in supported and temporary accommodation, hostels and people who are sleeping rough.

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 should avoid close (face-to-face) contact with people showing symptoms and practice social distancing with all other clients (staying at least 2 metres apart) and ensure frequent hand washing.

If any members of staff become unwell on site with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature or a loss or change to their usual sense of smell and taste, they should be sent home and sickness policies should be followed.

General Safety Advice

Staff and residents should be reminded about good practice on routine infection control; general cleanliness and cleaning of surfaces; handwashing; and social distancing.

Additional cleaning rotas should be considered within shared areas. Usual household 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, intercoms)

Hand washing will remain the most important personal safety measure, and where there is hot water and soap this should always be encouraged. Personal protective equipment (gloves, aprons, sanitiser) should be used wherever possible and in line with guidance on safety and cleanliness.

During normal day-to-day activities facemasks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and do not need to be worn. Facemasks are only recommended for infected individuals when advised by a healthcare worker, to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.

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 someone shows symptoms of COVID-19.

Further guidance

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

Please also note guidance form the Information Commissioner: Data protection and coronavirus

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.

For guidance on PPE in housing, health and social care supporting settings – see the latest advice from Public Health Wales.

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