Families are spending more time together

COVID-19 pandemic increases family violence risk

Isolation, shutdown and unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic are putting people at increased risk of violence, Austin Health’s family violence experts are warning.

Specialist Family Violence Advisor (Mental Health Division) Beth Tynan and Family Violence Social Work Senior Clinician Louise Whatmore say that staff should be aware that more people than usual may disclose that they are experiencing family violence.

“Staff should be acutely aware that people may be experiencing an increase or escalation of violence due to COVID,” Beth says.

“Despite COVID, all support systems remain in place,” she says.

“We don’t expect staff to be Family Violence experts, but rather, where they’re concerned about someone, to reach out, sensitively enquire whether they are experiencing violence, and link them to support where required.”

More time at home with violent family members, fewer opportunities to access support, less contact with systems (such as schools), family and friends, and increased stress on families are all driving violence.

Alcohol and substance use and mental health issues may also be impacted by the pandemic, and are known risk factors for family violence.

“It’s important to know that people can leave the house to seek support and safety,” Louise says.

Internally, you can access support for someone by contacting Social Work, or reaching out specifically to Beth (for Mental Health) or Louise. If the person has experienced sexual assault, contact the Northern Centre Against Sexual Assault  (NCASA).

“Now that people are at home much more with their children, we need to think of the potential vulnerability of children,” Louise says.

Anyone concerned about a child should follow the Vulnerable Children clinical guideline. Support in the community is available from Police (in an emergency), from Safe Steps, or for men, from Mensline.

“Some of our staff are also victim survivors of family violence. We acknowledge that things may have changed if they’re working from home. Support is still available via the Hub, their manager, the People & Culture Family Violence Contact Officers, and from the EAP,” says Louise.

The EAP’s Domestic and Family Violence Helpline is 1300 338 465 (during business hours). Those who prefer not to access support through Austin Health can call 1800 RESPECT.