A new fully online training course for child protection and welfare practitioners is to launch in the coming weeks in direct response to the rise in domestic violence cases over the course of the pandemic.
The organisers of the course — Stephanie Holt, Associate Professor and Head of School at the School of Social Work & Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin, and Sonya Bruen of legal firm Mason, Hayes & Curran — said there had already been more than 100 expressions of interest in attending, including from social workers, public health nurses, and gardaí.
Prof Holt said: "The impetus came from Covid, the increase in DV [domestic violence] cases, and the national conversation that was opened up about DV more broadly, way beyond practice.
"[Social work] practice has been hugely challenged along the way. There are increased risks for those living with DV."
She also said that the extended closure of schools and other activities for children had meant the "normal avenues" for information-gathering had been "shut down".
The course runs across four sessions, amounting to 20 hours, plus a seminar, starting in April, and is likely to be repeated later in the year.
Prof Holt said that while gardaí and social workers had adapted "very, very quickly" to the difficulties posed by the pandemic, emerging issues such as coercive control were also presenting a challenge to professionals working with families.
Ms Bruen said she and her legal firm have seen a significant increase in their legal work around children, families, and domestic violence over the last year, and particularly so over the last lockdown.
Prof Holt said: "We are anticipating at least 100, based on initial interest, and are planning to run it again later this year.
The CEO of Safe Ireland, Mary McDermott, has backed the new programme.
“We welcome the launch of this new socio-legal online programme," she said.
"In particular we support the interdisciplinary approach which works to identify emergent recognition of the positions of children as direct victims of violence and coercion in their own right, their burdened roles, and the emergent phenomenon of the weaponisation of children as extensions of abusive patterns, especially in court proceedings.
"We welcome this integrated trauma-informed approach which centre-stages DSGBV as a causal issue in child protection matters.”