Orla Barron is an equality lead at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
Domestic abuse happens to regular people. It’s a misconception that it only happens to women in heterosexual couples or in certain classes of society.
My trust employs some 22,000 staff. If we look at the statistics that one in four women and one in seven men may experience domestic abuse – that is a significant amount of our workforce who may be stressed, under-performing or taking time off due to abuse.
Back in 2008, we launched a domestic abuse support service and workplace policy because we know we have a duty of care and a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that our staff feel supported.
Long gone are the days when we expect people to leave their domestic issues or worries at the gate. We know that domestic and/or sexual abuse will impact significantly on a person’s physical, emotional, psychological and mental health and is very much a workplace issue.
Over the last ten years, we’ve had to learn as we go along – we initially only had a central contact number but introduced an email address because it can be easier for people to share their problems this way than having a face-to-face conversation. Enquiries come directly into my inbox so I can provide timely support and respond quickly.
I also deliver awareness sessions on domestic abuse support, which can be an opportunity for someone looking for help for themselves or to support a colleague.
As a service, we organise safety plans, personal alarms for people, and we can set up a salary advance if they have made the brave decision to leave the abusive relationship or need to pay for a non-molestation order. We can arrange to move a staff member or change their contact details so that the perpetrator cannot find or contact them.
What I would say to any other organisations is that it can be challenging but to keep up the momentum. In this last year, we have seen contacts almost double from the previous year and, remember, this could not only change someone’s life; it could also save it.
- Have a communications strategy in place to reduce the stigma of domestic abuse and get the message across that confidential support and practical assistance is available in the workplace. You could put up posters and leave leaflets in communal areas. Every year we produce a desk calendar with the services’ contact details so staff can easily get in touch.
- Provide full training for your support service staff and managers. We offer training from Women’s Aid, Nexus, Men’s Advisory Project, Rainbow Project and Staffcare. We also work closely with our trade union colleagues.
- Ensure, where possible, that your team of support offices is representative of the workforce in terms of rank, profession and geographical location.
Photo caption: A ceremony celebrating 10 years of the service.