About the WESNET COVID-19 survey of the violence against women (VAW)
WESNET surveyed the Australian violence against women sector over a period of two weeks during mid-April 2020. The purpose of the survey was to better understand how COVID-19 may be influencing survivors’ help-seeking behaviours and the ways in which services modified their service delivery.
There were 99 survey respondents, the majority of whom worked in Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) specialty services and women’s refuges. These respondents represented all Australian states and territories. They were located in various regions throughout Australia including a range of metro, regional and remote areas.
Key findings from the survey were:
- Some agencies were receiving more calls, others around the same number and around 40% were receiving fewer crisis calls than usual.
- Nearly 40 per cent of respondents reported constraints on staff capacity due to COVID. As a female-dominant workforce, common issues included balancing childcare and caring responsibilities while working from home.
- COVID-19 is adding another layer of complexity to client needs. Clients need additional supports and require more time from their support workers.
What was occurring for services during this time?
Respondents indicated that 60 per cent of agencies received up to twenty crisis calls in the previous week. The remaining 40 per cent of services indicated that the number of crisis calls their agency received in the previous week ranged from 21-186. Nearly 70 per cent of these calls were either self-referrals or police referrals. Other sources of these calls included other support services including DFV specialist services, health providers or other intake services.
Client support via phone
When asked how the past week’s calls compared to their agencies’ usual call volumes, respondents’ answers showed that:
- 30 per cent of agencies received more calls,
- 28 per cent said call numbers were about the same, and
- 38 per cent had fewer calls than normal.
This reflects the general media commentary and anecdotal advice given to WESNET that some services had gone “deathly quiet”. There were concerns raised that women who would normally be contacting a service when the children were at school and their abuser was out of the home, could no longer make contact.
Client support in local communities
Respondents reported that 38 per cent of clients making crisis calls during the past week were primarily calling for information and advice. Additionally, respondents said that their community client caseload numbers most commonly ranged from 6-20 clients during the previous week. The survey showed that:
- 20 per cent of respondents reported more community clients,
- 56 per cent of respondents reported similar community client volumes, and
- 19 per cent of respondents reported fewer community clients.
The remaining 5 per cent of respondents mentioned that there was more client “turnaround” and that the number of DFV-specific clients has increased.
Respondents reported that 70 per cent of their support for community clients was provided via phone, followed by in-person and email support, at 18 and 16 per cent, respectively. Texting and video calls were each used in less than 10 per cent of interactions.
Contact with clients most often occurred weekly, daily or on an ‘as needed’ basis.
Client shelter and refuge services
Approximately half of all respondents stated that they provided accommodation for women and their children in the form of shelter or refuge. Of those, respondents reported that 75% of their clients were physically well.
Of the 25% who were physically unwell, respondents identified:
- client illness or injury related to recent and/or long-term abuse,
- symptoms perhaps similar to COVID-19, but not meeting testing criteria, and/or
- clients who were tested for COVID-19 but were confirmed as not having the virus.
Nearly all clients in shelter or refuge accommodation were communicated with over the phone. Sixty-two per cent were supported in-person. Email and texts were used for communication by 16% of respondents.
Clients in other types of temporary accommodation
Outside of respondents’ agencies, the other types of accommodation most survivors were reported to be accessing included motels/hotels, AirBNB/sharing economy and caravan parks. Over half to three-quarters of women accessing these types of temporary accommodation are reported to have children with them.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents said that they were in contact with their non-shelter/refuge temporary accommodation clients, but interestingly, text messaging occurred at a higher rate of 45 per cent of these clients.
Respondents reported providing a wide range of services and resources to women and children in temporary accommodation. These included food, toiletries, transport, advocacy, counselling, and other types of case management support.
Constraints on services and staff capacity
Nearly 40 per cent of respondents reported constraints on staff capacity. As a female-dominant workforce, common issues included balancing childcare and caring responsibilities while working from home. These included the impact of working while caring for their own children, staff turnover, split shifts and legitimising DFV work as ‘essential’ in order to receive childcare.
Twenty-seven per cent of respondents reported that all their staff were now working remotely. All others reported that they are still going into work, have a combination of staff working in the office and at home, or have working arrangements like rosters, skeleton staff or rotations so that staff work both. Respondents explained that call numbers do not reflect the workload, often because of the increased complexity of cases and new tactics of abuse workers were not seeing before. Additionally, respondents reported the limitations of phone-only work, particularly for assisting women who are limited-English speaking.
Around half of the respondents noted difficulties during isolation with helping clients access cleaning products and long and short-term accommodation. About a third of respondents mentioned items like parenting or protection orders, food, hygiene products, and income support.
Around a third of respondents mentioned barriers working with other agencies. Respondents shared that closures and misunderstandings due to funding limitations were some of the issues. Approximately 15% of respondents reported issues in interacting with police and other state agencies. Some reasons respondents provided for the source of these issues included that police were stretched to capacity due to COVID-19, the justice system lacked communication about perpetrator risks and misunderstanding survivor presentation.
Policy level responses from Australian Governments
Throughout March and April 2020, the Federal and State governments announced various responses to fund the impacts COVID-19 would likely have across a range of support sectors. Google reported a 75 per cent increase in search terms related to domestic violence. The COVIDSafe App rolled out across Australia on 27 April 2020 in an effort to trace the transmission of COVID-19. WESNET continues to provide advice to survivors about the gathered safety implications the app could have for survivors.
15 May 2020