Many of us are beginning to notice and enjoy the warmer weather, the last term of school for the year has started and arrangements are being made as to what activities and get-togethers with family and friends will be happening over the Christmas and summer holidays.
Meanwhile, there are people working in services where this is their busiest period and are not thinking about a wind-down.
In addition to the emergency service workers, those working in hospitals, and those keeping the shops open, some of the services that experience a high level of demand at this time of year are those working in the area of domestic and family violence. In fact, for those working at the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) this busy period begins in November and often does not ease again until the end of February.
There are a mix of factors that drive the increase in demand for DVCS’ services during this time. Pressures that come with increased and often fractious family contact, financial stresses and the strains of holiday expenses, child custody arrangements and increased isolation all result in more people seeking assistance from DVCS. People making contact describe situations in which they are experiencing many different forms of violence, including physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse.
There are also situations in which alcohol can exacerbate tensions. Open windows and more time spent outdoors due to summer heat often means that violence that takes place behind closed doors is more easily detected and reported.
Some of the families that have contacted DVCS speak of an overwhelming pressure to “do family a certain way” during the school holidays and end-of-year reflection often prompts those experiencing violence to re-assess their relationships. Another year has passed and many start to think, “I can’t do this for another year. I need help”.
The increase in calls for help at this time of the year has been so unrelenting that it has resulted in the introduction of a specific program to deal with the increase in demand. For a number of years, the ACT Government has supported the Domestic Violence Christmas Housing Program which provides additional emergency accommodation over this period through to the end of January. This project is delivered in partnership with the government, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) and specialist homelessness services.
The spike in calls for help at this time of the year is on top of significant annual increases in calls for help to domestic and family violence services. For example, DVCS saw a 25 per cent increase in contacts last year during this time. This is similar to increased demand reported by other services working in this area.
Like other first responders, DVCS triages clients during the holiday season. We might put extra resources on; we often end up dealing with the ‘pointiest of the pointiest’ at this time of year, because we’re trying to respond to those at most risk and most vulnerable who don’t have other resources. We also have to make sure we’re caring for our staff because the work can be very challenging and significantly more demanding on the back of what is already a busy year. So, thank you to our wonderful staff who work over the Christmas and New Year’s and summer holiday period to make sure that there is someone at the end of the phone when people ask for help around domestic and family violence.
We encourage members of the community who want to help DVCS during this busy time to visit our website and become more familiar with how you can support someone or how you can donate money to support families experiencing violence.
Mirjana Wilson is the CEO of the Domestic Violence Crisis Service.