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*Sgt Catriona Holohan with Aisling Mulhall, Tusla, Paul Fitzgerald, Court Service, Siobhan O’Connor, Clare Haven Services, Sgt Aiden Lonergan, Mayor Mary Howard, Madeleine McAleer, Clare Haven Horizons and Dr Maura Finn at the launch of the Domestic Abuse Resource Park for County Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward

An increase in reported domestic violence in Clare this year has prompted the development of a resource pack for abuse sufferers.

For the first nine months of 2020, a 7% increase in cases of domestic violence in Co Clare were reported. Breaches of Domestic Violence Orders rose by 31%.

A resource pack for professionals working with children and families, ahead of what is expected to be a particularly difficult Christmas for people affected by domestic abuse has been developed by a network of agencies including An Garda Síochana, Tusla, community support services, legal services and health service providers in County Clare.

The Domestic Abuse Resource Pack has been undertaken jointly by The Clare Local Area Network Opposing Violence Against Women (CLAN)* and Tusla Clare Prevention Partnership and Family Support (Clare PPFS) and is supported by Safe Ireland. The network group has launched an interactive, one-stop-shop, of relevant information and supports for those subjected to domestic abuse, their families and the professionals on the frontline supporting them.

This specially designed interactive document and information booklet will be available on Clare Haven Services website as an ongoing support throughout the year. The resource pack has also been produced in the form of an information book and directory, and will be available to GPs, practice nurses, Gardaí, Citizen Information Services and other public bodies.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic a sharp increase in demand for domestic abuse support services has been recorded. Between March and August 2020 a total of 3,450 women and 589 children who had not previously contacted a domestic violence agency sought support. During this period, national helplines received 33,941 calls, an increase of 25% from 2019.

A study by the National Crime Council / ESRI found that 42% of victims of domestic abuse were experiencing abuse for over a year before they reported it to anyone. The study also showed that women and men were equally likely to have told someone about the abuse, with two thirds revealing their experiences to someone, most often to a friend (49%) or family member (43%). Over one in six of those affected confided in a GP, with about one in 20 confiding in a nurse or a hospital doctor. Just over one respondent in eight told a work colleague, while under a quarter of those severely affected by abuse told the Gardaí.

There was a determination to have the domestic abuse resource pack available before Christmas, Chairperson of CLAN and Domestic Violence Liaison Sergeant, Ennis Station, Sergeant Catriona Holohan stated. “For many people this is a frightening and dangerous time of year, partners are on holidays and children are off school for two weeks. There is also the added pressure of Covid-19 restrictions.”

Sgt Holohan added, “The purpose of this resource pack is to act as a roadmap in assisting professionals working with children and families and to provide a clear signpost to appropriate support services and resources available in County Clare. Professionals working with children and families need to be able to recognise the signs of Domestic Abuse and have ease of access to other support agencies”.

Clare PPFS Senior Child and Family Support Network Coordinator Aisling Mulhall explained that a partnership approach is at the heart of addressing issues of Domestic Abuse. “It is agreed that domestic abuse in County Clare is prevalent and complex,” she said.

Clare Haven provides refuge, outreach support, court accompaniment and a 24 helpline to women and children subjected to domestic abuse throughout county Clare.

Manager of Services at Clare Haven Service, Dr Siobhán O’Connor, explained that the Domestic Abuse is endemic within our society. This resource pack addresses the needs by having a community and multi-agency response. “It is important that people subjected to domestic abuse know that there is help and support available, often through services they deal with on a regular basis. In Clare these services work closely together to help everyone subjected to abuse, including children. The Domestic Abuse Resource Pack will therefore be available as an interactive document on the Clare Haven website, so people impacted can see where help is available and have access to these services at their fingertips,” she said.

She flagged that frontline domestic abuse support services, such as Clare Haven Servics and An Garda Síochana, continue to be available and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the Christmas period.

Clare was the first county to hold remote family law court applications during the Covid-19 pandemic, and this Thursday will make history again as the Clare Court Services hold the first full family law order hearing online.

Meanwhile Ennis GP Dr Máire Finn has praised the Domestic Abuse Resource Pack as a valuable resource for professionals, victims and those who may be concerned about a family member or friend.“This is impressive and important work. While General Practitioners are trained in this area, this document provides contact details for all support agencies in County Clare, including names, phone numbers and email addresses. It is a valuable resource for anyone who comes into regular contact with people who need very specific help,” she commented.

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