Bayside Women's Shelter reconnects with community to support women escaping domestic violence

Vital service: Domestic violent support workers saw an increase in the number of women escaping their homes during COVID-19 lockdown.
Vital service: Domestic violent support workers saw an increase in the number of women escaping their homes during COVID-19 lockdown.

The message to 'stay home' during the COVID-19 lockdown was not as simple for women and their children who wanted to escape what should have been their safe haven.

With the pandemic forcing restrictions on peoples' movements, domestic violent workers were working overtime so those they supported would not fall through the cracks.

Bayside Women's Shelter was heavily affected by unexpected changes, and while they are moving forward again, the way back up will come at a cost.

General manager Sallianne Faulkner said during this time there was a higher reluctance of women leaving violent situations. She said staff had to create new ways of communicating with families.

"It was harder for them to connect with us, so our intake included online messaging and intake protocols were designed to keep women safe while they were at home with a perpetrator," Mrs Faulkner said.

Although women escaping domestic violence was an accepted reason to leave home, the shelter developed a remote model for staff to deliver its service.

This meant relying on social media, email and phone calls to check up on women, as many of them were reaching out for help in the middle of the night when their perpetrator was asleep.

"It was very important that we had heightened awareness of the potential for increased trauma for clients," Mrs Faulkner said.

"We had to pivot service delivery to offer more outreach as women didn't want to come into a communal environment."

As outreach is not government funded, the financial strain was an additional pressure, she said.

Shelters were prevented from face-to-face contact with the community, which meant its vital volunteers and fundraising came to a halt.

Mandatory hygiene practices came at an extra cost, and the brakes were placed on valuable team development.

"We operate as a very lean organisation and rely heavily on our volunteers, but we were completely cut off from them," Mrs Faulkner said.

Over the challenging hurdles of lockdown, the shelter is pushing forward to reconnect with the community in its mission to break the cycle of family and domestic violence.

"We will reinstate programs for our clients that include workplace training, education and upskilling in the areas where they wish so that they can have opportunity for independent lives," Mrs Faulkner said.

"We will work with our staff to engage them in their professional development needs. Our staff are a critical resource for our women and children."

An expansion of social opportunities for vulnerable women will also make a comeback, including cooking and yoga, plus a work skills program.

The shelter plans to launch 'Walk the Talk next year, a school-based program that aims to educate girls about respectful relationships.

Programs specifically targeted for children will also resume.

"Our child support officer is purely focused on helping children," Mrs Faulkner said. "The activities we have for them are so critical because they need just as much support as their mums."

NSW Police also launched an operation targeting perpetrators of domestic and family violence to coincide with the global '16 Days of Activism' campaign.

On November 25, which is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the campaign calls for change in the fight against gender-based violence.

Specialist officers will take part in awareness-raising events.

NSW Police Corporate Sponsor for Domestic and Family Violence, Assistant Commissioner Leanne McCusker, said it was unfortunate COVID-19 had caused the cancellation of some larger events that would raise community awareness, but the focus on this crime type had not wavered.

"While we might not be able to host large events like community walks, it is vital that we continue to check on the safety of victims and their children," she said.

"Police remain committed to preventing domestic and family violence, supporting victims, and ensuring perpetrators are held accountable 365 days of the year."

Police will implement strategies to disrupt and prevent recidivist offending and ensure the safety of victims. This includes Apprehended Domestic Violence Order compliance checks, proactive checks targeting known offenders and providing additional support to at-risk victims, with assistance from the Domestic Violence High Risk Offender Teams.