News | Published April 17 2020

Part One: Chief Executive of WillisPalmer on the impact of Covid-19 on the "toxic trio"

The impact of Covid-19 on victims of domestic abuse, is perhaps best summarised in a recent speech given by the Duchess of Cornwall, who said: "This is a hard time for everyone, as we are all asked to stay at home to stay safe. But for some of you it is even harder, because home is not a safe place.” In an exclusive, seven-part series for The Parliamentary Review, Chief Executive of WillisPalmer, Mark Willis, investigates the knock-on effects of lock down on already over stretched social work and NHS departments.

While prime minister Boris Johnson has said we can hopefully “turn the tide” on the coronavirus within 12 weeks, the ramifications for health and social care will likely be evident for many years to come.

It is hoped that cases of Covid-19 will plateau and decrease in the UK in the forthcoming months, but it is inevitable that children’s services and the NHS will be dealing with the fallout of the virus for a very long time in terms of child abuse, neglect and mental health problems.

For many years, one of the biggest challenges facing social workers is “the toxic trio”– where families are experiencing a frightening combination of mental ill health, domestic abuse and substance misuse, with the three intrinsically linked. Research by the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, found that in 2018, 100,000 children in England – 0.9 per cent of all children in England – are in a household where an adult faces all three “toxic trio” issues to a severe extent. There are 420,000 children – 3.6 per cent of all children in England –living in a household where an adult faces all three “toxic trio” issues to a moderate or severe extent. 

But the lockdown measures introduced to combat the spread of Covid-19, while necessary to reduce pressure on the NHS at this current time, will undoubtedly lead to a surge in referrals to psychiatric and mental health services down the line while children’s services will be inundated with cases of child neglect, abuse and domestic abuse.

The impact of the “toxic trio” on children and families is devastating. Children living in families experiencing one of the three strands – either parental mental ill health, substance abuse or domestic abuse – can be harrowing. But with the three intrinsically linked, thousands of children are witnessing the effects of all three. The repercussions on these vulnerable children are exacerbated considerably, shattering lives, and requires ongoing intervention with professional social workers to try and repair the significant damage.

Alarmingly, the lockdown measures will undoubtedly plunge thousands more families into the same kind of despair thus resulting in the intervention required from experienced social workers to soar dramatically.

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Authored by

Mark Willis
Chief Executive, Willis Palmer
April 17 2020

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