How frontline domestic and family violence workforce in Australia kept connected to their clients and each other through the pandemic

Community-based family services Employee mental health Social workers Community-based social services Family violence Flexible work Working conditions Australia

People’s movement was restricted through physical distancing, border closures and mandatory lockdowns. Many businesses and schools also closed down. There have been international concerns that these restrictions have put people at increased risk of experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV) whilst also reducing their capacity to seek help. Services have had to adapt and innovate to find ways to continue to connect to at risk clients whilst staying COVID-19 safe. There are concerns that adjusting to challenging work conditions has and will continue to take a toll on practitioners’ wellbeing.

This report presents the findings of a nation-wide study of the experiences of frontline DFV practitioners in Australia during the early months of COVID-19, funded under UNSW’s Rapid Research Initiative. The study explores the perceived impacts of COVID-19 on clients, service adaptations and innovations, and the challenges faced by frontline staff. We draw on insights gained from interviews with 50 practitioners from DFV services between July and October 2020.

Interviews revealed that clients’ experience of DFV changed during COVID-19. The demand for DFV services mostly increased, with the exception of shelters where demand initially decreased. The study highlights that DFV has become more complex and escalated in intensity during COVID-19. Practitioners spoke about how COVID-19 has been used as a tactic for DFV, and that monitoring and technology abuse appear to have worsened during lockdown.

Key findings:

  • Practitioners felt that services did well to adapt and innovate to stay connected with clients.
  • Practitioners acknowledged that it has been challenging for them to adjust to COVID-19 conditions.
  • Practitioners found it challenging to adjust to remote working because of the collision of work and home life, vicarious trauma, fatigue, and professional isolation.
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