Guidance for services which work with those who perpetrate violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV).
This guidance is for services which work with those who perpetrate all forms of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV). It is essential that services which work with perpetrators are able to respond to the changing risks associated with COVID-19, so that they can protect victims and children from harm. All such services will have made changes in the way they operate in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading through both staff and service users. This guidance will provide information on how services can operate in light of COVID-19, and how they can mitigate and reduce related risks.
Effects of COVID-19 on perpetrator behaviour
Services should be aware that COVID-19 and the changes it has necessitated may increase the risk of VAWDASV.
Opportunities for the perpetration of VAWDASV have increased as individuals have been required to stay in their homes far more than previously. Additionally, VAWDASV may be even more ‘hidden’ than before, as victims and survivors will potentially not be able to see their family, friends and co-workers for extended periods of time.
Additionally, victims may have reduced contact with others who may notice and check on their vulnerability, such as neighbours, health workers and shop staff.
Increased stress as a result of COVID-19 may also increase the risk of perpetrators of VAWDASV committing further abuse and offending. This stress may be related to:
- concerns about the virus itself and the risk to their (and others’) health
- confinement within the home as a result of new restrictions
- other disruptions, such as the loss of stable employment
- reeling that their sense of control over themselves, others and their current situation is being challenged.
Restrictions on leaving the home and the closure of many public spaces may also impact on service users with substance misuse difficulties, as they may be unable to access their substances or may be more likely to misuse substances within the home. This may potentially increase their risk level.
Perpetrators who are repeat offenders, or lead impulsive and risk taking lifestyles, may be more likely to spread COVID-19.
Services should be aware that Welsh Government officials are working closely with HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in Wales to inform contingency plans, which prioritise the safety of staff and service users and maintain a focus upon public protection.
For the National Probation Service, this will include prioritising cases who are assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm, domestic abuse and safeguarding children and adult cases. Social distancing requirements have necessitated, adopting different methods of supervising offenders as appropriate.
A number of prisoners have now been released early. Work is underway to ensure partner organisations are well prepared should there be a decision to release any further prisoners. Safeguarding and public protection remain the priority during this time.
Domestic Abuse that takes place while COVID-19 restrictions are in place is more likely occur in the presence of children who are not currently able to attend school.
The current restrictions on leaving the home may provide perpetrators with additional opportunities for coercive control.
COVID-19 may impact on child contact arrangements, or provide opportunities for these to be altered or breached, which may increase the risk of abuse. Links to relevant guidance are available at the end of this document.
Monckton-Smith (2019) identified illness as a potential ‘trigger event’ for certain domestic abuse perpetrators, which could lead to escalation of abuse and potentially domestic homicide. According to Dr Monckton Smith, this is due to illness potentially resulting in a feeling that their sense of control over themselves, others and their situation is being challenged.
Sexual violence may occur within a domestic abuse setting and services should be aware that the risk of this may increase due to the reasons outlined above.
It is also possible that sexual violence will continue to take place outside of the home. Despite restrictions, gatherings and parties may take place. The legal or social consequences of hosting or attending such a gathering may prevent victims from coming forward.
Services should be aware that sex workers may still be exploited despite restrictions.
'Honour-based’ abuse and harmful practices
Services should be aware that ‘honour-based’ abuse, including female genital mutilation (FGM), and forced marriage may still continue to occur while restrictions are in place. ‘Honour-based’ abuse, FGM and forced marriage are usually perpetrated by specific family members, or indeed the whole family, and extended family units living together in one dwelling is common in many practising communities. As such, the current restrictions may provide the time and opportunity for these practices to take place undetected, as the lack of access to schools and other services may mean victims no longer come into contact with professionals who could raise safeguarding concerns.
However, services should be cautious of assuming that these practices are taking place in a community just because it is included in the list of countries of origin that practise these abuses. Such assumptions can make families and communities who have nothing to do with these practices feel unfairly targeted.
Each case of suspected or confirmed ‘honour-based’ abuse, FGM or forced marriage should be treated individually and with prompt and appropriate action taken in accordance with government guidelines on the basis of evidence. Further information from the Home Office on FGM and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on forced marriage respectively is available in the ‘Useful Links’ section of this Guidance
Guidance on continuing to run services for perpetrators of VAWDASV
1. General principles
Safeguarding should guide every decision made by an organisation in how it continues to operate.
Services should ensure staff, children and young people’s safeguarding and resilience policies and practices take account of tackling violence and abuse and Wales Safeguarding Procedures. You must ensure that you are familiar with your duties under the Wales Safeguarding Procedures. A link can be found at the end of this guidance.
Safeguarding referrals should still be made where necessary, for example, to Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) or to children’s services.
The Welsh Government’s Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Perpetrator Service Standards, provide guidance on the range of factors services should consider when adapting their delivery, helping them to remain evidence-based, safe and effective.
CAFCASS Cymru have published guidance around coronavirus, which may be found in the ‘Useful links’ section at the end of this guidance.
Services should take account of the impact of trauma associated with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) related to VAWDASV in supporting children and young people who have been victims of domestic abuse. A link to ACE Aware Wales is available at the end of this document.
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 encourages providers to ensure that they consider the presence of children and vulnerable adults in the household. Social services are still operational at this time and are receiving referrals.
Risk assessment and management
Stopping or adapting a service or treatment may be distressing and difficult for service users and those affected by the perpetrator’s behaviour, and services should seek to reflect an understanding of this in their approach, while not compromising the need to assess risk and take appropriate actions.
In times of depleted resources, risk-need-responsivity principles should still be applied, and the individuals who pose the highest level of risk should be the focus of services and resources.
Risk assessments and the appropriate follow-up referrals and actions should be completed for all service users, even if the decision is taken to only continue programmes and interventions for those at the highest risk level.
Services should make use of valid and reliable risk assessment tools. Risk assessments will need to be updated frequently in light of the changing situation.
Services should be aware that information sharing may be impacted by staff shortages. This includes both information sharing between perpetrator and victim services and information in multi-agency groups, such as MARACs and Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs.
Record keeping, confidentiality and GDPR
Good practice principles should still be adhered to when operations adapt to COVID-19, including good record keeping.
Services must continue to adhere to GDPR to and protect confidentiality. Information on managing the risk associated with staff members working from home can be found later in this guidance.
If it is considered necessary to spend funding in alternative ways, services should speak to funders at the earliest opportunity in order to seek formal agreement.
Where additional funding is needed, services should make a clear case for this. It is not guaranteed that any additional funding will be available.
2. Programmes and interventions
It is not currently possible to safely have direct contact with service users for assessment, intervention, supervision and monitoring. As such all organisations will need to make the decision to either stop a service or adapt it to avoid contact which is less than 2 metres apart.
The decision on whether to end a service or adapt it should be taken following careful consideration of the risks associated with each approach.
If services or programmes are accredited, they should seek advice from their accrediting body at the earliest possible opportunity. Respect have published guidance for their accredited services and for practitioners, which is available at the end of this document.
HM Prison and Probation Service have issued their own guidance to staff in relation to the management of domestic abuse offenders in the context of COVID-19.
The decision to stop or adapt a service should be communicated to service users at the earliest possible opportunity. If a service is being stopped, service users should also be given information on how they can seek alternative support and whether they will be able to continue to use the service in the future.
The decision to stop or adapt a service should also be communicated to the relevant partner organisations at the earliest opportunity, including victim services, so that they may inform the victim(s) and any changes may be reflected in updated victim safety plans.
Stopping a programme or intervention
If it is not possible to continue a service, programme or intervention without direct contact, or if the risk of doing so would be too high, it may be necessary to stop or pause.
Non-completion of an intervention or programme can be associated with a risk increase. If a group or one-to-one intervention is stopped then steps should be taken to ensure the risk level of participating service users is monitored and communicated to relevant agencies.
Victims and survivors should still be offered services or signposted to agencies that are still offering support.
Services should decide how a programme or intervention will recommence following a pause and, if appropriate, communicate this to service users.
Services should have a clear process for dealing with new referrals during this time. If a programme or intervention is stopped, the likely impact on motivation and risk of putting new referrals on ‘hold’ should be considered.
Services should be mindful of the impact that stopping programmes and interventions may have on other related services, such as the police or National Probation Service, and should seek to communicate the decision to stop a programme or intervention with these partners as soon as possible.
Adapting a service, programme or intervention
Where possible, options for continuing to work with service users without direct contact, such as through video call or phone calls, should be explored. Where resources are limited, the highest-risk service users should be prioritised.
Work with perpetrators through video calls or phone call should focus on behaviour management, rather than behaviour change. This is because the evidence-base for delivering behaviour change interventions indirectly remains unclear.
The British Psychological Society has published “Effective Therapy via Video: Top Tips” which services may find useful. A link is provided at the end of this guidance.
Where possible, service users should be helped to find a space in their homes where they will have privacy to engage with the intervention or programme and will not be distracted. If this is not possible staff should consider alternative solutions and the location of the service user and others present in the house should be documented.
Where it is established a service user is unable to access a programme or intervention without direct contact, for reasons such as a lack of internet, computer, smartphone or privacy, this should be communicated to relevant agencies.
Services should be aware that the lack of direct contact may impact on the quality of engagement and effectiveness of behaviour management and/or change efforts.
Services should inform multi-agency groups in which they participate of their decision to adapt a programme or intervention and the likely impact of this on their effectiveness.
3. Other activities
Services should consider pausing non-urgent work, such as research and training, to focus resources where they are most needed.
Some services may also offer additional support to those who perpetrate or to victims around other needs, such as housing or substance misuse. In these cases, the relevant Welsh Government Guidance should be considered. A link is available to all Welsh Government coronavirus guidance in the ‘Useful Links’ section.
4. COVID-19 impact on staff
Working from home
All service staff should be working from home wherever possible.
Services should be providing staff with the equipment and resources they need to work from home safely and effectively.
Services should ensure staff do not breach boundaries in order to continue working with service users from home, such as giving their personal phone number to service users.
Staff should consider their own environment and if they are increasing the risk of their own families being identified. It is advisable that staff who are using video calls to communicate with perpetrators ensure they have only a blank wall behind them, with no family photos, windows or other identifying features. They should also ensure household members will not walk into view of the camera while they are video calling a service user.
Services should ensure staff are aware that those they live with, their neighbours and anyone else who does not work for the service must not be able access, read or overhear any information which is confidential, including any information which may identify a service user.
Staff should also remain aware that it would be inappropriate for their own children, or the children of the service users, to overhear certain aspects of any support offered and should take steps to prevent this from occurring.
Where appropriate, staff should be provided with information and resources on preventing accidental breaches of GDPR and confidentiality which may result from working at home.
Support for staff should continue to be available through phone or video call, including clinical supervision, debriefs, professional support, counselling and team meetings.
Services should be aware of the potential impact of working at home and in isolation on staff’s mental health. Staff may feel additional strain as a result of the nature of their work and their responsibility for potentially high risk service users. Services should take proactive steps to mitigate the impact on mental health, and be prepared to support staff members where needed. A link to wellbeing resources from Mind and Mental Health at Work are available at the end of this guidance.
Services should be aware that staff may themselves be victims of VAWDASV, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should have policies and procedures which reflect this.
Services should be aware that they may experience staff shortages, as a result of staff members having COVID-19, or being unavailable due to childcare responsibilities or the need to care for parents/other family members.
It is possible a service user may have to work with staff they do not know or have an existing relationship with if their regular worker is unavailable. Service users should be made aware of this possibility as soon as possible.
Steps should be taken to mitigate the impact of staff shortages or frequent changes in availability, including good record keeping.
Services should communicate with other organisations, including the Welsh Government, when they are experiencing difficulties as a result of COVID-19. This can include staff shortages, difficulty adapting services or managing risk, or any other issues a service may face.
Equally, examples or ideas of good practice can be shared with the Welsh Government, for consideration for the next edition of this guidance.
Covid-19 is presenting a range of challenges and difficulties to services as they work out how best to operate in a way which will not risk spreading the illness further. This situation is likely to continue to evolve over time, and services may need to continue to respond to a changing environment. In doing so, services should continue to ensure that the safety of victims and children is prioritised above all else.