Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


The Impact of COVID-19 on Circles of Support and Accountability

Circles South West Trustee Kieran McCartan talks about the impact of covid-19 on CoSA.

Circles of Support and Accountability [CoSA] are groups of trained community volunteers who support people convicted of a sexual offence (usually contact offences against children) to integrate back into the community post-release. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual face-to-face sessions were not possible. This research looks to investigate the impact that COVID-19, social distancing, and remote working, has had on CoSA provision and providers in Europe, the USA, and Canada and the potential impact of the pandemic on Circle processes moving forward.

A mixed-method, English language survey was designed and distributed via Qualtrics. All CoSA providers who were members of the Circles Europe Association were sent a link to the online survey. A total of 16 CoSA providers from eight different countries (three UK providers, five Dutch providers, one Belgian provider, one Spanish provider, Belgium, Spain, one Latvian provider, one Irish Provider, one American provider, and three Canadian providers) completed the survey during the lockdown in late July, as well as throughout August 2020.

The research found that all CoSA providers were impacted by COVID-19 and the lockdown period in Spring and Summer 2020; with the majority being adversely affected with there being differences in the impact of COVID-19 on Circles provision within and between countries. These differences particularly across CoSA providers in the UK and the Netherlands (however, it must be stated that these two countries had multiple CoSA providers complete the survey, which was not true of all countries with CoSA provision). The research demonstrates that there was an impact on staff, volunteer, and Core Member health and wellbeing because of the pandemic, some of which affected their engagement with Circles provision and each other. During the lockdown Circles, providers were able to adapt their offering (in the short term) to continue providing a version of Circles and to support Core Members, as well as staff and volunteers, during the pandemic. Circles providers wanted Circles delivery to return to a face-to-face provision but were unsure when this would happen or if it would ever be possible.

This research highlights the importance of CoSA providers having to adapt their Circles provision because of the COVID-19 lockdown and, importantly, the need to continue this adaption regarding the limitations presented by the “new normal.” This research shows that most CoSA providers across various international jurisdictions managed to continue to provide some level of support to Core Members.

Moving forward into the new “normal” the report outline recommendations for CoSA providers including, the need guidelines for remote and socially distanced Circle; clear guidance from funders about the use of monies; increased staff, volunteer, and Core Member support; and for CoSA providers, with their partners and funders, needing to develop clear pathways to navigate the “new normal” and the most effective ways to plan CoSA provision.

For access to the full report, please see. McCartan, K., Höing, M., Taylor, R., Kitson-Boyce, R., Rossoni, I., Hoogeveen, C., Claes, B., & Wilson, R. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on circles of support and accountability. Circles Europe.

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