Lambeth were particularly keen to test that the assumptions underpinning their strategic response were correct and to understand what learning could be taken to prepare for subsequent lockdowns and easing of restrictions.
The London Borough of Lambeth is part of the Safer Lambeth Partnership which includes the local authority, the Metropolitan Police Service Borough Commander, London Fire Brigade Borough Commander, the Chief Executive of Lambeth NHS and the head of the Probation Service.
The partnership was developing their next Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy when COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in March 2020. The immediate priority became the COVID-19 response and an extensive data analysis to understand what this meant for victims and survivors. Lambeth were particularly keen to test that the assumptions underpinning their strategic response were correct and to understand what learning could be taken to prepare for subsequent lockdowns and easing of restrictions.
What did they do?
Lambeth Council’s well-established relationships through the Safer Lambeth Partnership with the police, health, service providers, as well as work with children’s and adult’s social care and housing meant they were able to pool and analyse data sets to understand what happened during the first lockdown (6 March 2020 – 17 May 2020) in comparison to the same period in 2019. They subsequently extended this analysis to compare data from January to December 2020 to the same period in 2019. This enabled Lambeth to build an understanding of not only the impact of the lockdown itself but the subsequent easing of restrictions.
Lambeth analysed referral data (e.g. volume, source, type, severity of referrals into Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) and commissioned services, domestic abuse-related police incident data and adult and children’s social care data). The latter helped them understand whether there had been an increase in adult and children safeguarding concerns related to domestic abuse.
Lambeth made several assumptions and expected to see five trends as a result of COVID-19 restrictions:
- one of the main impacts of COVID-19 would be on domestic abuse
- existing domestic abuse would be highly likely to increase in risk, severity and frequency
- victims’ and survivors’ options for respite, keeping themselves safe and managing risk would decrease or be impeded
- victims and survivors would need additional knowledge and support to safely access help
- victims’ and survivors’ help-seeking options would decrease.
A challenge for Lambeth was the commonly held assumption that COVID-19 restrictions would provoke an increase in domestic abuse. Their belief, based on a body of evidence, was that external stresses were not the cause of domestic violence, but it would increase the risk and severity in existing cases of domestic abuse, an assumption they would later confirm.
Through the data analysis and overlaying it with the views and understanding of practitioners in the field, and the feedback from victims and survivors via practitioners, Lambeth were able to test their initial assumptions and found the following:
- an increase in domestic abuse severity e.g. significant increase in high-risk cases, more referrals
- increased complexity of domestic abuse cases
- changes in referral pathways e.g. more MARAC referrals made on professional judgment
Impact and outcomes
This comprehensive data analysis and understanding the profile of demand as restrictions have lifted during the first lockdown enabled Lambeth to operationally prepare for the subsequent lockdowns by:
- Optimising staffing levels through carrying out continuity planning, ensuring access to testing, following public health guidance and careful management of staff wellbeing.
- Identifying additional resource to manage the increased complexity of referrals as restrictions were lifted.
- Implementing new ways of working through ensuring providers could work virtually and from home.
In addition to informing the operational preparedness of frontline services, the data analysis revealed some additional insights.
Lambeth did not see an overall increase of referrals into services despite the increased call volume nationally, and after having locally conducted an extensive communications campaign in the context of an increased public awareness of domestic abuse. Although there was a significant increase in referrals for services once restrictions had lifted, there was not an overall significant increase compared to the previous year.
Prior to COVID-19, Lambeth had recruited ‘experts by experience’, i.e. victims and survivors of domestic abuse, to co-produce the councils VAWG strategy in which they had touched upon communicating with victims and survivors. During this engagement it was noted that the language used in previous communication campaigns had not been relatable. It needed to shift from ‘domestic abuse’, to asking direct questions that speak to victims such as, ‘Are you scared of your partner, ex-partner or family member?’ The referral data suggests, that even with this approach, further engagement is required within the community to ensure victims and survivors are aware of the support services on offer.
One objective is for people to know the existence of services, but if they don’t think it is for them, then we won’t see them accessing these"
- Rose Parker -VAWG Programme and Commissioning Manager
The data analysis has undoubtedly better-informed Lambeth’s strategic and operational response to COVID-19, but they also recognise that the data has limitations. Further work with partners is needed to better understand what additional data could be collected to not only better understand the needs of victims and survivors but their outcomes as well. For example, the data analysis didn’t reveal what the outcomes were of those with protected characteristics such as those who identified as Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), LGBTQ+, or where protected characteristics intersected, such as outcomes for those who identified as both Black, Asian and minority ethnic and LGBTQ+.
Contact: Rose Parker, Violence Against Women and Girls Programme and Commissioning Manager Integrated Children’s Commissioning and Community Safety, Lambeth Council ([email protected])