Help for women and children self isolating in family and domestic violence situations

Waratah chief executive officer Astarid Chapman and her team have adapt their service and are offering their counselling over the phone. Image supplied.
Waratah chief executive officer Astarid Chapman and her team have adapt their service and are offering their counselling over the phone. Image supplied.

Reports of domestic and family violence throughout WA has increased with people self isolating at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women's Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA policy officer Kedi Kristal said police were seeing a rise in the number call outs to domestic and family violence incidents.

Ms Kristal said women living with an abusive partner were facing situations where the impact of stress, levels of violence and coercion has increased.

"Women are now in situations were they are getting no respite from their abusive or violent partners, who has possibly been abusive for quite a while," she said.

"In the past they might have got some respite when they went to work or when they went out on the weekend or whatever their lifestyle was.

"We know from those men who choose to be violent, the additional stress on them from loss of income, loss of employment and the loss of things they want to do in their lives, that the target of their behaviour of violence and abuse is going to be their partner and in some cases their children."

Ms Kristal said women were in a low-win situation because they probably felt fearful of taking themselves and their children into a refuge and possibly concerned they would be more exposed to COVID-19 in a refuge situation.

"Not to say they will, but they will have those concerns for themselves and their children as opposed to staying in their own home," she said.

"It is also very difficult for those women to reach out in those situations and it is difficult for services, friends or family to reach into them without exacerbating or putting them at risk because the predator is there 24/7."

Ms Kristal said emergency services were still available and women who were at risk or fearful should call the police.

"Dial 000 or you can call Crisis Care if you want to go into a refuge, if a refuge cannot accommodate you and your children they will put you up in other accommodation.

"They will put you up in motel for a period of time or other safe accommodation until you can either be supported to come into the refuge.

"Other options may be put in place like violence restraining orders that remove perpetrators from your home."

Ms Kristal said they were anticipating a demand now and once the situation reverted back to normal.

"Women who manage to survive and stay throughout self isolation would then likely reach out to refuges and women's services," she said.

"That will expose a huge demand on services in months time and we really need the government to step up and assist and will need community support to manage the anticipated surge in demand as well."

Waratah, a South West organisation providing intervention services for people who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse and/or family domestic violence, is continuing to provide a service and accepting referrals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Waratah chief executive officer Astrid Chapman said all their staff had been working from home since Monday, and appreciated people's understanding and patience while they transitioned to a new way of working.

The organisation are currently counselling by phone.

Ms Chapman said while it was not ideal that counselling occurred from home, it's what needed to happen in these very unusual times.

"Already we are seeing the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable families and are very mindful of the increased risk to safety, particularly for women and children," she said.

"We are committed to being available for as long as we possibly can."

Ms Chapman said she was incredibly grateful that Waratah staff have so willingly embraced this arrangement.

"Counsellors are professionals who are very familiar with their ethical obligations, including confidentiality," she said.

"They will be discussing the new work arrangements with clients in a transparent manner so informed choices can be made.

"The Children's Service will be providing support to parents/carers of our younger clients where direct counselling over the phone is not appropriate and are exploring creative ways of remaining connecting to the children, including utilising our Waratah Support Centre Facebook page.

"Currently counselling is by phone but we are exploring other methodologies.

"The 24/7 Sexual Assault Crisis service continues to be available by phone, visits to the Emergency Department have ceased."

Children's services

Waratah children services provides a free and confidential service for children and adolescents who have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Waratah provides a safe place of counselling and support for families impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault to heal from their experiences and develop knowledge and skills in relation to safety and trauma.

With the COVID -19 pandemic, Waratah and other support services being unable to provide counselling and safe spaces in person and community organisations such as schools closing down there may be further risks to this vulnerable population of people.

The social isolation that is required to reduce the spread of COVID-19 can put those that are at risk of or are experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault at further harm, the prominent factor being that the abuse breeds by being hidden, covert and keeping the victim in fear, away from friends and family.

For children who a protective factor is that they are often visible in the community; accessing services such as Waratah and attending school.

With children unable to be seen by community members it increase their risk of abuse and harm. COVID-19 is also creating fear and anxiety in the public, this can be further exacerbated for families' already experiencing trauma.

An increase in trauma responses and their ability to cope with this pandemic is at greater risk.

Waratah children services are ensuring that it is still able to support these families in this time and are doing so in the following ways; Waratah is still receiving and triaging referrals of support via community, individuals and organisations by phone and email.

All clients engaged with the service are receiving regular phone and email contact; initial assessments, phone counselling and check in phone calls and SMS.

Families are provided strategies, safety planning and support to help.

The service is looking at creative ways to make this support accessible to all that engage in the service as phone support can be a barrier for young children.

The service is currently exploring online methods of Facebook, messenger, and video conference methods (zoom/video posts).

Ms Chapman said the best way to communicate with Waratah, including referrals, was to email waratah@waratah.asn.au.

"This email is monitored throughout the day. Please don't call our usual reception number as the phone is not being answered," she said.

Where to get help

If someone you know needs help with a violent partner or family member, speak out. And if you are experiencing family or domestic violence, the following services can assist:

  • Waratah: waratah@waratah.asn.au
  • 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008
  • Women's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
  • Men's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 000 599