In this unprecedented time, we are collectively having to adapt our ways of being and operating rapidly in order to minimize the damage done by COVID-19. At the same time, we here at the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence know that the virus is not the only potentially lethal threat faced in our communities. Many Mainers are weighing the risks they face from the virus against risks from abusive partners and from institutions that have the potential to add to the harm those abusive people cause.
Since the news of Maine’s first case of COVID-19 broke on March 12th, MCEDV and our member programs have been working to ensure that the needs of survivors of domestic abuse are attended to during this public health emergency, while at the same time ensuring that our organizations do our part to flatten the curve and keep staff, volunteers and people using services as safe as possible.
At the Domestic Violence Resource Centers (DVRCs)…
- Advocates can be reached anytime via the 24-hour helpline (1-866-834-4357).
Phone work is where our movement started and has remained rooted, and advocates are specially trained to work with people over the phone. DVRCs have added capacity to their helplines and have also begun initiating calls to people with whom they have been working that they know it is safe to contact.
- Most in-person services are temporarily suspended.
DVRCs across the state have made the difficult decision to halt many in-person services, including one-on-one appointments and in-court advocacy. Advocates are still delivering food and essential supplies to families in residential programs while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
- They are exploring new methods for delivering services, including chat, text and video options.
Western Maine member Safe Voices has offered services via chat since last year; New Hope for Women in the midcoast launched a chat service April 1st, and other DVRCs expect to follow suit soon as they move quickly to develop protocols for safe, secure and confidential service delivery online. Check your local DVRC’s website and social media for their status.
- Advocates are helping people find safe places to be while seeking to offer shelter in a way that manages the risks posed by the virus.
When COVID-19 came to Maine nearly all of the DV shelters were full. Each of the shelters have different capacities to provide for the possibility of fully isolating a family that is ill, and advocates are working to balance the at-times competing safety risks for people currently in shelter and people seeking emergency shelter during the epidemic by locating alternate places for those needing shelter to safely stay. Advocates continue to staff residential programs in-person at a minimized level without the benefit of protective gear or medical support, and are working over the phone with residents to strategize around social distancing and what happens when a resident becomes ill.
- Advocates are providing support by phone to assist people seeking protection orders before, during and after filing.
To date, Maine’s courts have prioritized maintaining the availability of protection order hearings. However, there are significant additional barriers to seeking an order at this time. Many courts are operating on reduced hours. The lack of remote/electronic access for filing petitions and participating in hearings leaves survivors trapped between risking their health by going to the courthouse or risking their safety by not doing so. Accordingly, we have seen a steep decline in orders filed since the crisis began.
At the MCEDV Statewide Office…
- We are supporting our members.
As the member programs seek to adapt, we are offering daily technical assistance, best practice guidance and practical problem solving. We are regularly convening gatherings of advocates to facilitate connections and innovation across regions and are participating in national discussions to bring relevant experiences from outside the state to bear.
- We are advocating with the courts and justice system partners. While Maine has transformed in the past month to slow the spread of the virus, we have been working with our partners to ensure that critical protections remain available for vulnerable survivors of domestic abuse, and that Maine’s institutions consider the unintended consequences survivors face from some efforts intended to mitigate harm due to the virus.
- We are adapting our education programming.
As our schedule of upcoming trainings has slowly and steadily been postponed or cancelled, we are working to reschedule and shifting some to videoconference formats. We have been advocating with the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation around their plans for enforcing the 2020 intimate partner violence training requirement for social workers, counselors and psychologists, and were pleased to when the Governor issued the executive order declaring those licensed professionals will have until after March 20, 2021 to fulfill the requirement, so we do not have to cover this important content (required one time only) online.
- We are working with the media. MCEDV and our member programs have been busy working with Maine media to help Mainers understand the risks faced by survivors during this time, and also the resources that remain available to them. Read our recent OpEds in the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.
- We are meeting our administrative responsibilities. MCEDV continues to meet its obligations to administer and oversee funding flowing to the network of Domestic Violence Resource Centers throughout the state and have shifted the base of those operations to be entirely remote.
As the situation evolves, MCEDV and our members are committed to maintaining essential services and to bringing the perspectives of vulnerable survivors forward in the state’s COVID-19 response.