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COVID Challenges for Safer Communities

Services in the Spotlight

Services in the Spotlight: Safer Communities

 

THE COVID-19 pandemic has brought opportunities as well as challenges for Safer Communities, which provides services to some of the most vulnerable in the community.

The Stockton-based charity has continued to run all three services, commissioned by the Police and Crime Commissioner, throughout the pandemic.

Safer Communities run the following services on behalf of the PCC:

  • Victim Care and Advice Service
  • Restorative Cleveland
  • The Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Teesside.

At Teesside SARC, Safer Communities together with Mitie Care and Custody have continued to provide a 24/7 service for those that have been a victim of rape and other sexual offences.  

One examination suite was set aside for those, who were potentially suffering from the coronavirus and this ensured that the service continued as normal – albeit under multi-agency, emergency planning procedures put in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19. 

Forensic and medical assessments took place when required to ensure that the health support needs were covered and care was put in place to help with recovery.  Support was also provided at the time of police interviews that were carried out at the SARC.

Due to Covid-19, SARC staff looked to reduce the number of face to face contacts where possible and more telephone assessments and support were provided – although face-to-face appointments were still offered if required.

SARC saw a “considerable” downturn in contact during lockdown which is likely to be as a result of less social interaction and the complete closure of the night time economy until 4 July.

In recognition of the impact of COVID-19, SARC benefitted from funding, secured by the PCC from the Ministry of Justice.

The £11,890 awarded to Safer Communities will be used to purchase laptops for staff which will allow them to carry out more work remotely.  This includes contact with patients and improves the opportunity to deliver training and supervision with all of the team. The funding will also assist in the purchase of additional PPE, which is used routinely.

At the Victim Care and Advice Service (VCAS,) less face-to-face meetings took place due to social distancing measures and as the team following Government and NHS guidelines.

The service offers free, confidential support to victims of crime and their families – many of them among the most vulnerable in the community.

There was an increase in the number of telephone calls undertaken and staff found they were spending much longer on calls, particularly with people who were socially isolated.

Staff also made Kindness Calls, undertaking welfare checks on clients previously identified as vulnerable and signposting them to information and additional support.

The service dealt a number of calls around COVID-related fraud including phishing emails and scam telephone calls

But by far the biggest increase was in the number of referrals around anti-social behaviour as people found themselves confined to their homes during the early days of lockdown. The number of referrals for anti-social behaviour tripled during the period.

Dave Mead, VCAS Service Manager, said: “During the lock down period, people were in effect living in a pressure cooker environment, with neighbour disputes increasing and often escalating into criminal damage and violence. This situation presented us with dual problems of an increasing workload as well as the heightened complexities of support”

As lockdown measures have eased, more people have started to request face-to-face meetings. Any meetings have been risk assessed according to Government and NHS guidelines.

For Restorative Cleveland, COVID-19 meant adapting communication to fit the circumstances.

The service enables communication between victims and perpetrators. It aims to encourage the offender to address the impact of crime and tackle the underlying causes of criminality. It gives victims a voice, allowing them to demonstrate how crime has affected them and move forward with the help of staff from Safer Communities.

Communication can take place in the form of a face to face meeting, letter writing, messages passed through a third party or via a recording.

COVID-19 meant Restorative Cleveland was unable to offer the option of face-to-face meetings but other methods of communication and support continued.

Working with officers at some of the region’s prisons, Restorative Cleveland has been using a secure email system to contact offenders.

Staff have also produced workbooks, which allow offenders to work independently in their cells. Workbooks helped prisoners to focus on addressing their offending behaviour.

COVID-19 has even helped Restorative Cleveland to develop new ways to reach practitioners and partners by offering webinar training in restorative justice.

Becky Childs, Restorative Cleveland Service Manager, said: “Webinars were a new method of providing training for us but they have served as a great way to encourage engagement with learning and the continued promotion of restorative justice throughout the lockdown restrictions. It remains a priority for us to ensure that restorative practice is accessible and engaging for all.”

Safer Communities is in the first stages of exploring the possibility of developing a Mediation Service.

Joanne Hodgkinson, Chief Executive of Safer Communities, said “Our staff have been fantastic. They’ve been trying to continue to do their work and been diligent throughout. This is now the new normal for people.”

Posted on Friday 31st July 2020
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