Open University launches online domestic abuse resource amid lockdown

The Open University’s Open Justice team has collaborated with charity Support Through Court to launch a free open online resource for learners, themed around domestic abuse.

Its timely launch coincides with the rapid rise in numbers of people in domestic abuse situations seeking help during the UK lockdown.

Support Through Court is a charity that helps members of the public who are facing court alone to navigate our complex civil and family legal systems.

The Service is delivered by over 750 trained Volunteers. The Open Justice Centre – part of The Open University Law School – has produced the digital course to train these volunteers to work with both survivors and alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse. Approximately 1 in 10 cases they work on involve domestic abuse1.

According to Refuge, the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose 25 per cent during the first two weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown period2. Following media coverage, visits to the Refuge website increased by 700 per cent overnight3 and helpline calls increased by 120 per cent4.

The course’s domestic abuse modules will also make useful learning for anyone who is thinking of volunteering to work with domestic abuse charities. It has been made available to the public through The Open University’s OpenLearn Create website, and is totally free of charge. Learners can enrol on the online course any time and work at their own pace.

There are nine modules in total, three of which are key domestic abuse training modules.
These are:
1. Introducing domestic abuse
2. Supporting survivors of domestic abuse
3. Supporting clients who are accused of perpetrating domestic abuse.

In addition to the three specific domestic abuse modules, there are six shorter modules which train volunteers on elements such as client interviews and writing court statements. Other modules offer advice on signposting to other services, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), working with vulnerable clients and helping clients to access special measures.

Participants will receive a digital badge for their LinkedIn profile as well as a Statement of Participation to confirm their achievement.

Hugh McFaul, Open Justice Centre Director, said: “We have enjoyed collaborating with Support Through Court to produce this excellent course, and are delighted to be able to launch it at a time of great need in this area. Previously, the training offered by STC was mainly face-to-face. Our digital modules mean that volunteers can train anytime, anywhere. We hope that learners will ‘dip their toe in the water’ and that this training could be the first step to an interest in volunteering in the future.”

Liz Hardie, Teaching Director, authored the course. She said: “Working with clients involved in domestically abusive situations can present unique challenges and it is so important that volunteers understand the impact domestic abuse can have on individuals.

“I was delighted to work collaboratively in partnership with Support Through Court to develop this course which enables volunteers to train online at a time and place to suit them.”

The OU’s history with Support Through Court (previously known as the Personal Support Unit) is longstanding. The Open Justice Centre supplies students from its W360 Justice in Action module to act as volunteers on placements. One OU student, who was doing a Law Studies degree, even went on to become a staff member at STC following his volunteering placement.

Hugh added: “Our Justice in Action module is changing ideas about what students can do with a law degree.”

Lizzie Iron, Head of Service at Support Through Court, said: ‘We have wanted to create online learning for some time, and are delighted to work with the Open University who are experts in this field. After a one-year project focussing on domestic abuse, we were looking for a way to continue training our volunteers in this important area, and the Open Justice modules are a fantastic training legacy – now available free of charge, thanks to the generous support of the Open University team.

“While our face-to-face services are suspended during the Covid-19 crisis, our volunteers can still help people through our National Telephone Helpline on 0300 081 0006.”

To view the course details, visit https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/support-through-court Or, to find out more about the charity head to https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/

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