How services responded to Covid-19

Covid Challenges

Throughout the Fairfield Conversations 2021 we asked the sector to reflect on how the COVID-19 2020 lockdown had changed their perspectives on service provision. We felt that we might learn how to do things differently and measure the adaptability of our community. We had no idea we would be back with a more severe lockdown within days of our Fairfield Conversations Summit.

We have reviewed the data collected to see what might be beneficial for now and in the future.  We thank the services that attended our conversations or participated in our surveys for your reflections.

We could not have imagined a harder lockdown than 2020 but here we are in 2021 with eight weeks and counting.

What did we hear from you?

While COVID threw us a curve ball, many positives came from the 2020 lockdown. Technology was the biggest change and having to embrace technology has enabled service providers to develop diversity in service delivery. Upskilling of clients has meant that technology can now be a useful tool in addressing social isolation. Technology has also provided additional resources and to some extent more clients. In moving forward with new programs consideration is given to both an online perspective and an onsite option.

From a worker’s perspective, their  technology skills have improved, and everyone is now familiar with online meetings.  As a sector, the  ability to collaborate has been strengthened with increased access to online meetings creating a more connected network of service providers.

Clients and workers are more familiar with social media, and it is a good way to convey messages about services and issues in the community. 

Additional funding was directed to areas such as affordable housing, domestic and family violence and youth mental health. Clients on benefits also received additional government assistance with the COVID-19 payment during the lockdowns in 2020 and that enabled them to survive better with more than the Newstart rate. 

Challenges for service providers due to the lockdown included:

  • The difficulties for clients being magnified with lockdown as they tended to live in smaller units, that may be overcrowded with no balconies and limited to no internet.
  • Limited access to devices to engage with or access the internet.
  • An increase in domestic and family violence and its impact on all the family including young people
  • An increase in gambling numbers despite clubs being closed
  • An increase in anxiety and triggering of other mental health issues for clients
  • Providing services online to a range of different clients with different access to digital devices and internet
  • Changes in service provision from direct face to face to online. For example, running playgroup via a Zoom session.
  • The impact of digital fatigue on clients and workers
  • Inability to make referrals for clients as some services were closed.
  • An increase in clients experiencing social isolation

There was an increased demand for:

  • Case management support
  • Free children's activity packs or books that they can give to the children and families
  • Information on grants available to help more families in need - COVID or technology grants (the hunt for more laptops, tablets and dongles in Fairfield LGA was at its peak around March-July 2020)
  • Ideas and mentoring to overcome isolation and provide support
  • Flexible services
  • Respite or help for children with additional needs
  • Persons seeking financial assistance and access to mental health support
  • More families needing food and emergency relief.

Considerations for returning to onsite service

By June 2021 services were resuming onsite and face to face programs and services. Some of the challenges faced by organisations then, and in the future include:

  • More planning for programs and services as some need to be either onsite or online
  • Digital literacy needs to be considered in running online courses or programs
  • Digital accessibility – there is a differing level of access to devices and internet in the community and will limit ability to engage online. This is exacerbated if libraries are closed
  • Strict protocols need to be established for home visits
  • More reliance on emails and phone contact
  • Mild illness needs to be treated more seriously for workers and clients – need exclusions
  • Interagency and communities of practice meeting online – harder to have small spontaneous conversations
  • Office and venue sizes are not big enough when factoring in the social distancing requirements
  • Clients being fearful to connect with services.

Lessons learnt

  • It’s important to check in with people more often
  • There needs to be a balance between online and face to face to avoid digital fatigue
  • More workers attend online meetings as there is no travel time and quieter workers can input through the chat function
  • It’s important to ask the client base what they need
  • Programs need to be more person centered to consider environments and technology capacity
  • There is camaraderie in the sector working together to get things done
  • Offering resources like children’s activity packs enabled more engagement with some harder to reach families.
  • Mental health is more important than ever