In 2020, Victim Support Europe marks its 30th anniversary as a European network dedicated to ensuring that all victims of crime — including child-victims, no matter what crime, no matter where in Europe it took place, can access the rights they are entitled to and get the support they need.
From humble beginnings as group of like-minded professionals and organisations wanting to change the victims’ field for the better, VSE has grown into a large non-profit organisation with a membership of 58 organisations around the world, supporting over 2 million victims of crime per year.
On the occasion of 1st of June — The International Day for Protection of Children, some of veteran victim support organisations from Sweden, Scotland and England, professionals who have spent years helping child victims, reflect on their experience in supporting young people cope with the impact and effects of crime, and tell what they do to assist children — victims of COVID-19 lockdown.
Part 2 (read part 1 here)
Support for Children Affected by Crime
Service User Engagement Officer
Victim Support Scotland
The International Day for Protection of Children (1st June) celebrates children and raises awareness of their rights in all areas of life. Third sector organisations across Europe have a key role in championing the rights of young people who are affected by crime and making sure they have access to vital, age-appropriate support.
At Victim Support Scotland, we support victims and witnesses aged sixteen and older across all our services. We help young people aged twelve and older through our community-based services, while our court-based services support people of any age who are cited to give evidence in court, which can often include very young children. Victim Support Scotland also provides support to parents and guardians of children who are victims and witnesses of crime.
It is important to remember that children’s support needs and experiences of crime are often very different to that of adults. Organisations must provide support in a way that children understand and with which they feel comfortable. Many of the traditional models of third sector support, such as office-based appointments or telephone calls, may be less preferred by children than more informal approaches or digital-based methods. The wider criminal justice system, with its unfamiliar buildings, new terminology, and authority figures, can be an intimidating environment for children and adults alike.
Situations like the COVID-19 pandemic bring other potential challenges. Children and young people unable to physically attend school or nursery due to pandemic lockdown measures might no longer have the safety net provided by these settings or might be experiencing an unsafe home environment.
For Victim Support Scotland, working in partnership is core to championing the rights of children and young people who are victims and witnesses of crime. For example, we have been working closely with Scottish courts system agencies in the development of new evidence and hearings suites for child and vulnerable adult witnesses. These suites transform the way that evidence is given for criminal trials by providing remote facilities to pre-record evidence or to give evidence by live link to a courtroom. This allows children to give evidence in a less formal setting and ensures they don’t come into contact with the accused, where relevant. Access to support organisations is a fundamental part of these new facilities too, making sure that any child or adult who wishes to receive support can do so with ease.
Another crucial part of Victim Support Scotland’s joint-working is with third sector organisations that provide specialist support to children and young people. These organisations are key referral partners as well as collaborators in championing children’s rights within the criminal justice system. Models of support such as the Icelandic Barnahus (‘Child’s House’) approach provide an excellent basis for multi-agency working by putting the best interests, wellbeing and rights of the child at the centre of all activity. Earlier this year, the People’s Postcode Lottery funded a ground-breaking collaboration between Victim Support Scotland, Children 1st, Children England and the University of Edinburgh to build a bespoke ‘House of Healing’. Based around the principles of Barnahus, children will be able to receive medical care, get support and take part in decisions about their protection in one place, rather than having to visit different services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made co-collaborations such as those outlined within this article even more timely. Through effectively working together, third sector organisations and partner agencies across criminal justice, health, education and beyond can ensure that the rights and support needs of children affected by crime always remain a priority.
Victim Support England and Wales:
“The goal of our practitioners is to help children process the feelings that they may be having, so that they can build resilience and move forwards”
Ben Donagh, CYP Team Manager
Tanya Faithful, CYP Caseworker
In many ways, the work that Victim Support has done during lockdown is the same that it always has been. We support children and young people who have experienced crime, whether it is burglary, bullying or living in a household where there is domestic abuse. The goal of our practitioners is to help children process the feelings that they may be having: anger, anxiety or loss of confidence, so that they can build resilience and move forwards.
That said, the last few months have undoubtedly had a significant impact on the way that we are able to work with children. Not being able to meet in person has been difficult — practitioners often use craft activities and games to communicate and encourage children to open up. But our practitioners have adapted to the restrictions amazingly, continuing to build relationships over the phone and occasionally skype — interestingly, most children prefer the phone as it’s less direct than a face to face video call.
There has also been a focus on upskilling parents by sending boxes (‘a caseworker in a box’), with everything they need for craft activities. This works alongside phone coaching sessions with parents on simple activities that reveal whether a child is having a good or a bad day. One mother and son who fled from an abusive partner before lockdown have actually found this time to be a big part of their recovery journey. The child had been angry at his mother for moving away despite his father being the perpetrator. Through support from their practitioner, and the extra time spent together, they have had a lovely time camping in the garden and building their relationship again.
But clearly lockdown has also sadly amplified the fact that children and young people are often hidden. It is most often a professional such as a teacher that raises the alarm that results in a referral to us — most adults don’t want to get involved. Schools being shut has reduced referrals and we expect a big increase when life goes back to normal.
Our practitioners have also been extremely worried about some of the more vulnerable children they support, particularly where there is no safe adult to work with. Although such children are still technically able to go to school during lockdown, several parents have refused to send them, some using unsubstantiated claims of underlying health conditions as an explanation. When the children are too young to speak to over the phone to our practitioners, this lack of contact is a very hard situation.
We know that the support given to children and young people can make all the difference in their lives now and the future. A new proposed Domestic Abuse Bill is currently in Parliament awaiting discussion and voting on specific elements. We want this bill to recognise children as victims of domestic abuse; they are currently seen as witnesses. The change in status would help direct money to provide the services that we know are needed — the pandemic has only highlighted this further.