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Family shelters report corona-related surge in demand for services

The network of shelters said that in Pori, the number of people seeking refuge from domestic violence doubled in April.

Miehen jalkojen välistä näkyy lattialla istuva pelkäävä nainen.
Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

The number of people seeking shelter from fractured homes has increased by more than one-third during the past five years, according to the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters.

The NGO network said that shelters have seen an increase in people seeking refuge from violence in the home in particular. However it said that the change may have had more to do with a greater readiness to seek help than an actual increase in violent behaviour.

"People are braver about seeking help," the Federation’s executive director Riitta Särkelä said in a statement.

Särkelä also noted that more services are available to intervene in domestic violence cases.

Customers double in Pori

The federation currently provides support services for 16,000 people across the country, one-third of whom are children. It added that more than 7,300 people seek help to escape domestic violence every year.

Arja Saarinen, executive director of the Federation’s Pori shelter Esiko, said that the numbers do not come as a surprise.

"For example in April the number of people fleeing intimate partner violence in Pori doubled," she added.

Families seeking help together

The Federation said that entire families are now turning to the organisation for support. It noted that this is especially the case when parents are struggling in their roles.

The NGO said that what is positive is that there seems to be a lower threshold to seek help when problems begin to emerge. Outcomes are generally better in such situations it noted.

Conversely, cases referred to shelters by child welfare officials have been increasingly serious.

"Cases referred via child welfare services have involved [people] in significantly worse situations. We are seeing more families than ever with young children with serious mental health problems," Särkelä said.

The NGO called for early interventions to ensure family dysfunction does not deteriorate. It said that municipalities’ varying levels of financial resourcing reflect their ability to stage early interventions.

"Municipalities don’t always notice that neglecting care during pregnancy and early infancy can mean even bigger costs down the line. The number of people receiving 24-hour rehabilitation during pregnancy has plummeted compared to the past," Särkelä pointed out.

Less talk, more action

The Federation said that the coronavirus epidemic has increased appeals for assistance and noted that the users of its chat service had increased by a factor of 10 since last year.

Pori shelter head Saarinen criticised the fact that there seemed to be more talk than action over early intervention in family problems.

"The literature shows how important early intervention is thought to be. But you don’t see that in the practical work. We can see that customers coming to us for preventive support have not had early interventions but they already have problems that require remedial action," Saarinen explained.

She added that it is not enough to talk and write about early intervention and preventive actions. "Responses have not been timely and families are already experiencing serious problems."

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