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COVID-19 – The effects on survivors of abuse

Clare Jerrom speaks to Future Pathways Alliance Manager Flora Henderson about how COVID-19 has impacted on survivors of abuse in care.

The loneliness and isolation experienced by so many during lockdown have been amplified for many adults who experienced neglect or abuse in the care system. For some the restrictions of freedom have felt reminiscent of their childhood experience. For others, isolation has been more acutely felt due to small nor non-existent support networks.

The effects of being placed in care can be traumatic: children are removed from their families sometimes leaving siblings behind. Some young people will have experienced the difficulties of dysfunctional family life including parental substance misuse or mental ill health. Local authorities are meant to become the corporate parent for children in care of course, but in the past that hasn’t always been the case. As well as the pain and isolation of being placed in care, some young people have gone on to experience abuse or neglect by the very people assigned to protect them. This can have lifelong impacts and create a longstanding distrust of professionals.

Some children in care simply experience the loss of having a nurturing adult in their lives whereas others are emotionally, physically or sexually abused while in the ‘care’ of the state. This is not the case for all care experienced people by any means, but it is an issue that has only recently been properly recognised.

Future Pathways

Future Pathways was set up by the Scottish Government in 2016 and is an alliance of four partners working together with the Scottish Government: Health in Mind, Penumbra, the Mental Health Foundation and Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership.

This is the first time a group of organisations have come together in this way and the collective aspiration is that more people can benefit from the person-centred, trauma informed support Future Pathways delivers. That is, support built around each person, what is important in their life, and recognising that everyone is different. Some people may have a clear idea of the support they need, others may need help to identify it. Either way, Future Pathways’ goal is the same – to have a positive impact, regardless of where someone lives, or when the abuse took place.

Flora Henderson, Alliance Manager of Future Pathways, said: “It is a unique model based on the fact that people who register have a wide range of needs that are unique to them, and we want people to experience support that truly fits.”

Flora’s background is in health and social care and prior to her work at Future Pathways, she worked supporting people with long-term health conditions. When she heard about Future Pathways being launched in 2016, she felt strongly that it was a service she wanted to become involved in feeling that more could be done to help people access joined up support.

It is why Future Pathways was set up – to be a service that makes no assumptions about what survivors need, instead listening to what is important to each person and tailoring support to this. Future Pathways works with adults aged 18 and up, with most people registered aged between 40 and 70.

“Much has been learned about what types of support really work for people and it is important to ensure more people experience this,” said Flora, who took the helm of the service shortly after its launch.

Accessing Support

Future Pathways’ staff team is based across Scotland and can be contacted by phone on 0808 164 2005, email or by using the form on the website . Registering only requires people to provide a name and a method of contact – they do not need to provide a personal history to register.

“We do find that a lot of people have not disclosed abuse before contacting us and this can be for many reasons – the stigma attached to abuse, not wanting to burden others, a lack of a personal network. Many people tell us they don’t have anyone else to talk to,” said Flora.

In the early part of the project, most people found Future Pathways through voluntary organisations that already worked with survivors or via the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Since then, self-referrals have increased: “When we were first set up, people were wary because we are a government-funded initiative” explained Flora. This reticence wore off as people who had registered built trusting relations with the support co-ordinators who listened and addressed their needs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Future Pathways continues to receive increasing numbers of referrals via word of mouth.

The support co-ordinators first and foremost listen to the survivors and together they agree what would most make a difference to their lives. For some, Flora explains, it may be digital access – particularly in the first lockdown – and Future Pathways can help by providing a laptop or tablet. Others may need help accessing training and education to ensure they do not miss out on job opportunities or can move towards career aspirations. Help to navigate existing services is available, for example around housing, benefits, and social care. Others require psychological trauma support or counselling. Help is also available to access records of one’s time in care although Future Pathways is unable to fund legal costs for survivors.

Impact and COVID-19

Future Pathways has supported more than 1,200 people of the 1,600 so far registered, and around 30 people register each month – a number which shows little sign of diminishing. Since the outbreak, Future Pathways adjusted to remote working quickly and sought to contact everyone registered, anticipating that the impact on people would be significant. “We contacted more than 1,000 of the people registered with us. Many people described disruption to their usual coping strategies for example face-to-face support was no longer possible and it was harder to get help from existing services that were no longer operating as normal.”

The impact of COVID-19 has been significant with many people reporting changes in employment and even job loss, in context of living with often precarious finances. While Future Pathways can offer one-off financial assistance, which offers some small breathing space to consider next steps, it’s not an alternative to the benefits system.

Many people have shown extreme resilience in the difficult climate and taken “lots of positive steps despite the head winds of COVID. For example, some people are now active community volunteers. Many people working with us have drawn on and developed self-care skills which are likely to be really beneficial as we come through this period.” said Flora.

“Almost everyone we spoke to has been impacted by the pandemic. Being isolated, for some, was reminiscent of being taken into care and being able to speak to someone who understood this was appreciated as much, into more than the other supports that were available” explained Flora

The dedicated team at Future Pathways have continued to operate throughout COVID-19 despite the confines and various restrictions and government advice. Adults who experienced abuse as children in Scotland while in care (children’s homes, foster-care, borstals, long-stays in hospital) have continued to register and receive support.

Future Pathways can be contacted on 0808 194 2005, via the website or at registration@future-pathways.co.uk .

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