Addressing Pandemic Needs

Responding to Violence in the Home During COVID-19

By: Amy Hunter, PhD, MPH, Susan DiVietro, PhD, and Rebecca Beebe, PhD

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new level of concern to those of us who work to prevent intimate partner violence (IPV) and child maltreatment. Since the pandemic hit, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence has reported increases in calls for service with many first-time callers, and increases in the severity of the violence being reported. At Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center, we are anticipating increases in frequency and severity of both IPV and child abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic and are working to ensure that case managers, social workers, home visitors and others are well-prepared to respond.

Reasons for Expected Rise in Intimate Partner Violence and Child Maltreatment

Intimate partner violence includes physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and technology-related abuse. As families continue to spend more time at home due to stay-at-home orders, school closures and summer break, for many this means being trapped with a violent partner and/or parent. As stress levels increase due to employment challenges, financial issues and the fear and uncertainty that accompany the pandemic, there is less access to social support, reduced opportunities for stress relief and recreation, and also fewer opportunities to access community-based resources for victims of violence.

IPV and child maltreatment are public health crises. Data show that an estimated 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will fall victim to violence by a current or former partner in their lifetime and that an estimated 15.5 million children lived in homes where IPV occurred within the past year. We know that IPV and child maltreatment occur in the same households more than 50% of the time.

When stay-at-home orders took effect in mid-March and schools closed, calls to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) Careline dropped significantly compared to the weeks immediately prior to the pandemic, as did reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Much of this decrease can be attributed to school personnel, who are mandated reporters, no longer interacting with children.

Drs. Hunter, DiVietro and Beebe published a guest blog on this topic in the American Public Health Association’s Public Health Newswire.

Ways to Help

We shifted our in-person trainings to virtual trainings for DCF workers, community providers and others. We recently launched a training for DCF social workers providing current best practice recommendations around remote assessments for IPV.

We encourage those who interact with children and families during this time, such as case managers, social workers and home visitors, to talk to their clients and families about violence and to be extra vigilant for signs of abuse, as they may be the only people who interact with potential IPV and child maltreatment victims during the pandemic.

There are other steps to take to provide a safe space for victims to talk about their relationships:

  • Make sure your patient, client or friend is alone before talking about IPV.
  • Listen and learn with open-ended questions (e.g. Tell me about your relationship. What’s it like when you argue? How to you solve disagreements?).
  • Use language a client recognizes.
  • Be prepared for a disclosure; have resources and phone numbers ready to call and/or make a warm handoff.

In partnership with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we encourage the following steps for those who may be victims of IPV:

  • Contact CTSafeConnect for confidential, free support and assistance. The hotline is operated by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and is available for calls, texts, and live chat. If you need help or just someone to talk to, please visit CTSafeConnect.org or call or text (888) 774-2900. Advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All services are free and confidential. This service is available to anyone, so even if you are not a victim yourself but have questions, you can access this service.
  • Recognizing that IPV and child maltreatment may escalate during the pandemic, DCF launched a Talk It Out Hotline, which can be accessed by calling 1-833-258-5011.
  • Identify a trusted friend of family member where you can stay, if the need arises.
  • Stay connected with family and friends to avoid further isolation.
  • Inform friends and family of a code word you will use if you need to leave your home quickly.
  • Find a safe place in your home where you can hide if an argument breaks out.

Together, we can work to raise awareness about the increased risk of IPV and child maltreatment during COVID-19 in the hopes of preventing injuries and saving lives.

Read more articles on the work of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health in addressing pandemic needs.

Amy Hunter, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist. Susan DiVietro, PhD, and Rebecca Beebe, PhD, are medical anthropologists. All three are research scientists at Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

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