Reimagining support for victims in a post-Covid world

Last month the Oxford Dictionary announced it would not name a single word of the year, but its report titled “Words of an Unprecedented Year” would include a whole list of the most remarkable linguistic developments. From “furlough”, “lockdown” and “social distancing” to “unmute”, “remote” and “WFH”, the world amassed a new core vocabulary at hyper-speed. In the same way that our language rapidly evolved, organisations have had to transform instantaneously and continually adapt to seismic levels of change. 

For organisations providing support to victims of crime, lockdown created further challenges and meant that providers were unable to offer their usual services. The Government’s messaging during the first lockdown “Stay at home to stay safe” did not apply to the thousands of victims of domestic abuse who were forced to remain in an unsafe environment with their perpetrator. To ensure that support remained available and accessible, victims’ support service providers had to simultaneously accelerate a move to remote working and keep up with increased levels of demand for support.

Moorhouse and Supporting Justice recently met (virtually) with a diverse range of partners from across government, justice, third sector and the NHS to discuss victims’ support in a post-Covid world. Reflecting on experiences during the pandemic and considering what new approaches and practices could be carried forward, we discussed how commissioners and providers could reimagine services to better support and engage victims in the longer term. This perspective summarises our collective thoughts. 

It is easy to focus on the challenges that Covid-19 has created; there are many. However the pandemic also provides insights and opportunities to improve the future of victims’ support, including leveraging some of the measures already introduced by providers during the initial response.  The past year has given organisations an opportunity to view the holistic provision of victims’ services through a different lens, placing the victim at the centre and re-evaluating victim’s needs, particularly in terms of access and engagement. 

The additional impact of Covid-19 on victims of crime, as well as on the staff that support them, has been significant and challenging, but what is clear is that, in reimagining services and how victims are engaged, we must ensure victims have options and choice.

So, how can victims’ service providers reimagine themselves to better support victims in a post-Covid world?

Supporting Justice’s research and analysis undertaken during the pandemic outlined two overriding themes to inform future service provision and meet the varying needs of victims in a wide range of circumstances:

  • Service providers need to challenge their existing assumptions of what is deemed good support and ensure the victim and their needs are at the heart of future strategies.
  • Commissioners need to consider what and how they fund organisations. A long-term approach will provide consistent resourcing and improve service delivery. 

In June 2020, Supporting Justice conducted an online survey of victims’ support service providers to consider the impact of Covid-19 on their ability to maintain support to victims. From the 113 organisations who responded to the survey, results showed that 82% noted the needs of victims have changed due to Covid-19 and social distancing. Providers noted increased mental health issues among victims as well as an increase in more basic needs such as finance, housing and food. 94% of responses said they have adapted their services to deal with emerging challenges and find new ways of working. 

These responses aligned with some of the themes which came out of our discussion. Reflecting on the lessons learned by providers during the pandemic, the list below summarises some of the key challenges and opportunities for organisations working with victims going forward.

Providers should review their access points for victims. Many victims are adopting new ways of accessing services; some prefer these new ‘digital’ channels for engaging support. Some victims found that they no longer needed to travel or arrange childcare to get the support they needed. Others have been negatively impacted by the lack of face-to-face contact, or are unable to access services online due to lack of hardware, poor broadband or difficulties with digital literacy. 

Victims’ support service providers should explore working in partnership to offer more accessible services, for example partnering to provide online digital support. All organisations have had to improve their online or virtual provision. This enabled people to access support services around the clock and there has been an upsurge in the use of live chat facilities and support online throughout the night. The more these services can be joined up to make them easier to access, in a more coherent way, the better for service users. There may also be shared service opportunities for providers that work more collaboratively.  

The positive outcome of communities and providers working more closely together in the face of adversity. We need to examine how this might be achieved on a more permanent basis, through commissioning strategies and developing ecosystems of support that focus on putting victims’ needs at the centre. 

The negative impact of Covid-19 on staff and the urgent need to set victims’ support services on a more sustainable footing for the future. This includes the risk of burnout, needing to meet basic needs (in addition to those relating directly to the crime), adapting to new ways of engaging victims, and the blurring of work and life when both are being managed in the same home environment. 

Commissioners and service providers need to consider how best to support victims with multiple complex needs. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on people’s mental health, including victims and the wider communities in which they live and receive support. The number of victims with multiple complex needs has increased, and this will require a more joined up approach between different service providers.  

Continued agility of approach will be fundamental to success. Most organisations adapted by providing additional support services. For example, in the first lockdown, organisations that usually focused on providing specific services such as advocacy, reprioritised their efforts. They recognised victims’ needs during this time were focused on survival, so they also provided support such as food parcels. Services needed to be designed with agility and flexibility in mind to adapt to the victims’ circumstances. 

What next? 

With the exciting developments in vaccines, we can see a glimmer of hope that we may be able to return to some form of ‘normal’ in the near future. The question is whether we want to return to the ‘old’ normal. Organisations should reflect and learn from the past year, building on key findings to challenge traditional ways of working, informing how to provide better provide services to victims in the future. 

If you would like to get in touch to discuss the above challenges and opportunities for your organisation as we reimagine a world after the pandemic, please don’t hesitate to contact Joe McGarry or Pandora Levinge (Moorhouse) or David Kenyon (Supporting Justice).

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Bea Downing Senior Consultant