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Response to global pandemic

Response to a global pandemic

In an unprecedented year, our response to COVID-19 has seen our organisation move to remote working arrangements for all staff and shift from face to face to remote service delivery, all done thanks to the support, commitment and resilience of staff and clients. The global pandemic, although disruptive to our usual operations, has provided a unique opportunity to innovate, while remaining connected and engaged to our clients and the community.

Mobilising our workforce

The health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and clients is paramount to our organisation. Supporting both staff and clients throughout the global pandemic has been central to our response to the restrictions. Adhering to the State of Emergency and government restrictions, and with advice from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Family Safety Victoria and WorkSafe, we mobilised our 110 staff working across our Barwon, Wimmera, The Orange Door in Barwon and outpost locations to working from home – a first for our organisation, in particular our client services practitioners.

Relocating to working from home saw our staff interact with clients and colleagues over the phone or via video calls in their own home, many of whom had partners and children at home too. It was imperative that our staff felt supported and had the flexibility to manage their work around their home life, creating a safe space to talk to clients while also receiving supervision from their team leaders.

We developed a collaborative, flexible and safe working from home transition plan for our staff, that took into consideration the importance of maintaining the level of support for clients during a period of uncertainty.

Throughout the four month working from home period, we created and established strong communication and engagement initiatives to ensure our staff remained connected, with positive results from pulse and engagement surveys.

We are proud of the dedication and resilience of our team and continue to support them throughout a challenging and unique year.

“I am amazed by the adaptability and flexibility, not only of the workforce but the organisation itself. I always thought that structural change takes a long time and in many ways this may still be the case, but this year really showed that change can happen and sometimes does much quicker than we expect it. That is very exciting and leaves me feeling hopeful and more motivated for the potential of our work.” Specialist Family Violence Case Manager

“While the move to remote working was daunting to begin with, the support and care from the organisation has been incredible. I think we all thought client support could not be done from home, but through the careful planning of the organisation, the dedication of staff and support from our team leaders, we have shown that we can and that our clients continue to receive the care and support they need in their own homes. I’m so proud of everyone – my colleagues, the organisation and our clients who have faced the challenge and continue to be there for one another.” Counsellor Advocate

Impact on clients

In times of crisis, violence can increase in frequency and severity. With significant changes to the way we live, learn and work, these changes would compound the underlying conditions that drive violence.

Our service throughout this year has remained open and available to support people impacted by sexual assault and women, children and young people experiencing family violence. While our method for supporting clients changed from face to face to phone and video call support during the pandemic, our commitment to safety and wellbeing remained the same.

We have continued to see an increasing need for our services in 2019-20, with a 9 percent increase in total clients from the previous financial year. During the first phase of restrictions, which commenced in late March, we did however see a decline in the number of client referrals for therapeutic counselling (both sexual assault and family violence). This was likely due to other professional services not operating during this time and referring clients. We also know that during this period, some clients expressed their preference to delay engagement until in person support was available again and others were apprehensive about speaking of their trauma while their children and family members were also present at home.

This period saw an increase in the need for crisis accommodation, including short term accommodation for longer periods of time; and requests for houses with kitchens and gardens to help women with children who were needing to engage in home schooling and who were also working from home. There was also an increase in the need for safe accommodation out of our region, in Melbourne and interstate, which presented challenges due to travel restrictions and border closures.

“The generosity and understanding of clients has made the transition to remote working a lot easier than we might have expected. For some clients, the pandemic and restrictions have been really difficult, being told what to do and restricting freedoms has been very triggering for trauma survivors. However, for some clients, they have shared a silver lining – the ability to safely explore boundaries – not giving everything to everyone and focusing on self and immediate family. They have also created new traditions – playing games and connecting in ways a busy lifestyle has not permitted.” Counsellor Advocate

Innovation and technology

Video conferencing

To enable greater connection between staff and clients, particularly children and young people accessing our services, a key priority was to introduce a video platform to allow us to connect with clients face to face while working remotely. The safety and privacy of our staff and clients was paramount in choosing the right platform that was safe, easy to use and suitable for all clients, both regional and rural and across all ages.

In June, we launched Health Direct, a video call platform for client appointments in both the Barwon and Wimmera areas. This was an important platform for our staff to connect with clients while restrictions and social distancing requirements continued.

Since launch, we have had more than 80 appointments with clients. Both clients and staff have reported positive experiences and appreciate the opportunity to talk face to face again.


With many people still working from home and limiting activities to maintain social distancing, it was critical to our organisation to create an online service to provide a safe space for everyone to seek support.

In May, we began to research and design our webchat platform that would allow people impacted by sexual assault and women, children and young people impacted by family violence to connect with our Intake team via a private online chat platform.

It was important that this platform would be safe and private, with all traces of the chats deleted once the user left the chat, leaving no history of the chat on the computer. The web chat created was anonymous and accessible to anyone experiencing violence or concerned about the safety of a family member or friend.

“My client is a young child and she loves Health Direct. We’ve been using puppets and doing regulation activities. She’s accessing her own skills to do body scanning. It’s been a great channel for us to connect through. She makes sure she’s in a safe place in the house and checks who else is listening. Afterwards I call her mum and check in how it went.” Counsellor Advocate

Postponement of events and training

The introduction of restrictions saw the postponement of a number of events and training modules.

Our therapeutic group programs, including the launch of our new youth program, TACT-Y, were postponed while we developed a new online format to deliver these important programs to our clients.

Our scheduled training programs, including the MARAM Collaborative Practice module to be delivered in partnership with Bethany Community Support and Victoria Police, were also postponed with a new online platform scoped and ready for launch in 2020-21.

Our Geelong says Enough! Pledge to prevent violence peaceful rally was also postponed. The rally, in partnership with Bethany Community Support, City of Greater Geelong and Victoria Police, was an opportunity to bring the Geelong community together to honor the lives lost as a result of family violence, support those experiencing abuse in the home and contribute to a broader conversation about preventing family violence.

It was a challenging decision to cancel the event after such strong engagement across businesses, community groups and the community, however, our organisation remains steadfast in our commitment to preventing family violence and has continued to share how the community can work together to prevent family violence and promote gender equality and respectful relationships.

While the postponement of these events was disappointing, the safety and wellbeing of our staff, clients and the community took precedence.

The Sexual Assault & Family Violence Centre acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of the land we stand on. We are committed to working toward creating a community where all people indigenous and non-indigenous are safe, connected and empowered to live well. The Sexual Assault & Family Violence Centre recognises the diverse needs of our community and we ensure our services are inclusive of all children, young people and their families including those who are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds, those who identify as LGBTIQ and persons living with disability. We work collaboratively with people and partner organisations who also support our diverse client group. Interpreter and translator services are available to all our clients upon request.

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