Coronavirus and domestic abuse

The pandemic has impacted the lives of people in more ways than perhaps we have realised. People’s health, the NHS and the consequences in many of our care homes are all readily understood but it may come as a surprise that domestic violence has rocketed. Mainly women but also children have been on the receiving end of brutal treatment. We approached Southside in Bath, one of our Partner Charities, which deals with disadvantaged and often ignored families to explore how we could help. We made a grant to Southside’s Emergency Fund which is focused on vulnerable families to access the essentials they need such as food, care supplies and baby clothes/equipment.

Some families are really struggling with home schooling and lack the space and resources to enable each child to learn online or undertake the recommended range of learning and creative activities. They have developed Activity Packs for children of vulnerable families locked down in their homes to help with home learning which we also funded.

Penny with bags ready to go out to families

We asked Penny Mckissock, Southside’s Chief Executive to tell us what is happening in what could be described as “Behind Closed Doors”. This is what she had to say.

“Southside supports hundreds of individuals and families across Bath and North East Somerset who are dealing with multiple and complex difficulties, including domestic abuse, debt, addiction, mental ill-health and/or homelessness. The coronavirus crisis is particularly challenging for them and critical support services are limited by the lockdown restrictions. Many are at much greater risk through being cooped up at home – isolation, mental health and financial pressures are exacerbating some already volatile family situations

The Southside team of specialist staff and volunteers have been working hard throughout this crisis to keep in regular contact by phone or online, delivering food, essential supplies and activity packs for families struggling with home learning.

Southside workers have seen the impact of this crisis on so many lives and are doing everything they can to help people find safety, care and support.

Stories from behind closed doors at this difficult time include:

Lauren is 24 and has three children, her fourth child is due in August. Lauren’s childhood was traumatic and violent, she witnessed her mum being beaten so badly that she could not walk. This would happen a lot and little Lauren would watch her mum as she tried to crawl to safety as her dad mocked her. Food was short, her school uniform was rarely washed, and other kids called her names.

… support for families

Lauren fought back; she did not take it lying down which caused her more trouble with the teachers. Lauren ‘failed’ at school, she was always thinking of her mum and if she would find her alive when she got home. Her adult life has been chaotic, violent partners, children with different dads who all abused her. She started drinking and getting into trouble and she was then referred to Southside. It took a long time to build trust and now she is working with us as a volunteer, her ‘fight’ and determination is coming back and, in her words, she is ‘giving back what Southside gave me’. Lauren has been working hard as a volunteer throughout the lockdown whilst also coping with home schooling, so Southside were delighted to be able to give her activity packs for all three children.

Emma is in her early twenties and has two daughters Melissa, aged three, and Aliyah almost one. A neighbour, coincidentally one of Southside’s volunteers, heard her and the children screaming. She managed to get her and the children out to the safety of her house and called the police and then contacted one of Southside’s support workers. Emma spent most of her childhood in care and was sexually abused by one foster carer. She is terrified that her children will be put into care and have a similar experience.

Her ex-partner has not yet been arrested and is believed to be in contact with his mother in Bristol. The mother has never spoken to Emma but has managed to have her 11-month-old granddaughter to stay for several days at a time (Emma’s other child has a different father). We believe that the mother is now in regular contact with Emma, manipulating and ‘grooming’ her, promising her the love and care she has never had. She has recently asked Emma to get a passport for Aliyah, a concern Southside’s worker communicated immediately to Emma’s social worker. Emma’s ex-partner comes from a large Somalian family who are known to have taken their children abroad and subjected them to FGM (female genital mutilation).

… being safe

Southside’s support worker, who is calm and kindly is manging to build trust with Emma but is also able to outline the risks in a compassionate way. She was able to share her concerns with Emma, putting into words that Emma could risk losing her children and was very clear about the risks to Aliyah of FGM.

Claire, a parent who has a demanding job in the Ministry of Defence is really struggling as she did not realise how much she relies on her mum for support and childcare. During the lockdown, her mum has been at her own home out of the county so cannot help as she usually does. The Covid-19 pandemic has really heightened her anxieties and she had a panic attack when shopping, due to the lack of social distancing.”

These are a few of many stories Southside could have told about what happens on a daily basis. We tend to not want to know about the abuse that does take place in the home. It is on our doorstep and we ignore it. The pandemic has brought this major problem more into focus. We are pleased to have been able to help Southside with their Emergency Fund but this is a continuing issue we all need to face up to and eradicate.