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The Better Chances Forum (BCF) is a collaboration of more than 75 organisations from the community, government and private sectors supporting better chances for children, young people and their families. They focus on early intervention and prevention to keep families together. They bring together people from organisations and groups across the Northern Rivers region of NSW to: explore service system challenges, gaps and opportunities; share information and build relationships; understand what’s working and what’s not working; and consider how we can work better alongside communities.
BCF provides an online meeting space each fortnight where services can connect, collaborate and support each other through this challenging time for our children, young people, families and our sector. Anyone is welcome to join in the meetings, which are facilitated by Social Futures through Zoom. Some topics discussed include:
- Accessing legal advice to support families as they exit from COVID-19 social isolation
- An increase in child wellbeing reports and the importance of referring clients to early intervention child protection legal advice
- The importance of existing place-based community connectors such as early childhood education services in staying connected with vulnerable families.
- Extra student support during school holidays and returning to school
- Increased referrals from schools after school return, including children needing to access basic needs to attend school, eg, uniforms.
- Liaising with police regarding interactions with young people in public space due to COVID-19 restrictions
- Lack of referral points for young people from 12 years and up to 20 years and the growing gap observed in the sector
- Existing services are at capacity and youth worker/ mentor focused programs are needed
- Promoted the Community-hub as a central point of communication during this time. Including consolidated resources on the Community-hub – in consultation with Dept Education – for schools to access regarding local services offering support for families transitioning back to school on campus.
An online evaluation showed that attendees agreed the session content was relevant to their work and they feel better placed to continue their work. Participants commented the most valuable aspect of sharing time together was:
- Sharing ideas and strategies with other organisations on how to engage with vulnerable families and children, and sharing information regarding support for communities
- An awareness of agency support and what services organisations can link to, and a greater awareness of issues in the community
- Opportunities for collaboration
BCF is building on this connection. We are currently reviewing our processes to focus on driving systemic change, including testing our cultural bias and including the voice of children and young people in BCF.
CREATE Foundation is the national consumer body representing the voices of children and young people with an out-of-home care experience, including kinship care, foster care and residential care. CREATE develops policy and research to report on and advocate for a better care system.
The Australian child protection system has been facing an unprecedented challenge during the global COVID-19 pandemic. When young people turn 18 and are scheduled to exit the care system and transition to independence, accessing housing is very challenging, even under normal circumstances. The social distancing regulations, however, presented an opportunity for CREATE to innovate during the pandemic to ensure young people could stay connected. CREATE produced an animated series featuring CREATE's purple mascot, Gus the gorilla. The series Gus talks COVID-19 with kids, for kids! covers the most important things that children and young people need to know about COVID-19. CREATE also interviewed young people via Zoom so they could share their view on what they were experiencing during the global pandemic, like how it affected their wellbeing, housing and jobs. In particular, CREATE interviews young Aboriginal people about the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives and what they think children and young people in care need at this time. The CREATE website has a COVID-19 Update Resource for young people, and a lot of ideas for creative and fun activities to do at home. In spite of the global pandemic, CREATE Foundation is answering the call and sustaining the work in key advocacy areas more than ever. They are providing young people at risk with up-to-date, reliable information and support to ensure they are empowered, safe and well.
Gig Buddies Sydney (GBS) tackles social isolation for adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities and/or autism by providing support for them to lead full and active social lives. GBS matches clients with a volunteer Gig Buddy - based on mutual interests such as music tastes, sport, location and age - to go to events together once or twice a month for a year. We believe that people with learning disabilities have the right to stay up late and have some fun. GBS is an initiative of ACL Disability Services, a registered NFP committed to promoting the rights of people with learning disabilities to live the lifestyle of their choosing.
As a project that relies heavily on both face-to-face contact and going to establishments (restaurants, pubs, clubs, sports' venues etc), GBS had to adapt their service model to ensure that those who were socially isolated prior to lockdown did not become further disconnected. The program moved all activities online, creating Gig Buddies Sydney Online Socials with themed quizzes, charades, virtual bingo, karaoke, Pictionary, guess the number of Easter eggs, and pet-a-ramas (pictured above). Additionally, GBS staff facilitated numerous Facebook chats, inviting buddies to meet new people to alleviate the effects of social isolation.To support clients and volunteers to engage in online activities, GBS staff organised 1:1 sessions to teach buddies the necessary skills to partake in Zoom events. GBS also produced 'easy read' guides and created videos on how to join in. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the GBS team have been amazed at the resilience and adaptability shown by their buddies. An unexpected benefit is that many of the buddies expanded their friendship group, having made more connections during the Socials and Facebook chats. Clients have requested to continue with the online socials post-lockdown so once GBS staff return to the office they plan on changing their service delivery to continue engaging with buddies online.
Human Nature Adventure Therapy’s (HNAT) mission is to empower young people to navigate life’s challenges – transforming trauma and disadvantage into healing and growth. Their innovative adventure therapy programs support disadvantaged and at-risk young people aged 14-19 from across the Northern Rivers region, providing them with professional mental health support in non-clinical settings. Working holistically with young people, carers, community, and referral partners, they connect young people to spaces that can facilitate healing and transformation.
HNAT work primarily with young people who are often the most challenging to engage even when all avenues are available, and needed more therapeutic support and connection than ever during the lockdown. With the in-person therapeutic meetings and bush adventure therapy expeditions on hold during lockdown, staff reached out to all the young people who have been part of their programs for individual check-ins via phone or whatever virtual means was most accessible. In-person group events were transitioned to virtual events, with IT support offered to young people who didn’t have reliable access to wifi.
The launch for HNAT’s new Elev8 youth leadership and life skill building program had to be postponed due to COVID-19, causing a lot of disappointment. HNAT organised and delivered care packages to each young person’s home containing healthy snacks, a Kendama (a Japanese wooden skill toy) and a hand written invitation to the online launch event. On the 2nd April, 23 young people joined the online launch event on Zoom. A virtual Kendama workshop facilitated by a circus performer had everyone moving and laughing. Other benefits of using a Kendama are hand-eye coordination, depth perception, and repetitive meditative movements that can help alleviate anxiety, and one young participant said "This weird wooden thing has changed my life". Local celebrity and powerhouse, Mandy Nolan, ran a comedy workshop where even the quietest participants shared stories of what annoys them or the most embarrassing moment, and Indigenoise hiphop artists performed a special VIP performance just for us. Feedback from the participants included: "Thank you for organising this - it means so much especially when we can't get out and do stuff that makes you feel better"; "I've been feeling really down - it was so awesome to see everyone and laugh together"; “I loved the feeling of connection and familiarity that we all shared. (the gift basket that we received was very thoughtful and made me smile)” and "seeing other Recre8-ers made me realise I'm part of something special".
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, many young people voiced their anxiety about returning to school, having to compete against so many people for employment, as well as generalised anxiety about the state of our planet. In response, HNAT decided to deliver care packages again to address these worries and maintain connections. This time they contained healthy snacks, a carefully selected book donated by Book Warehouse Lismore, a gardening kit with sunflower/basil/lavender/tomato seeds donated by Bunnings, mini canvas and art supplies, and handmade paper card made and decorated by staff with inspirational messages. The response has been greatly appreciative: "So very very thoughtful ❣️ I was not having a great day today and to come home and have a package waiting for me definitely made me smile!! Can't wait to grow the sunflowers", "Thank you so much for the package I love it" and "This is amazing! This is exactly what I need to see. thank you".
St George Community Housing (SGCH) provides a place to call home for more than 11,000 people who live in 6,400 properties across metropolitan Sydney. It’s purpose is to collaboratively shape great places through sustainable, safe and affordable housing, and connect people to opportunities that improve their quality of life. For 35 years, it has served the most vulnerable through the full range of community housing, and through training, education and employment services. It is committed to actively building connections between people and the communities in which they serve.
Many of SGCH’s programs are designed to reduce social isolation and the COVID-19 restrictions meant finding new ways to connect with clients online and stay in touch with their most vulnerable clients over the phone. SGCH introduced the Community, Place and Partnerships (CPP) Studio - an online platform where clients can get involved with SGCH activities such as yoga, bingo, gardening, gentle exercises, and Tenant Group meetings or just a chat over coffee through Zoom. SGCH assists participants download Zoom, create email accounts, and register for the programs, with instructions translated into their top five languages. At the end of each session, each participant completes a survey so SGCH can create a better CPP studio experience. Although small, the Studio is proving popular and also has the added advantage of attracting customers who do not have the ability to join because of mobility problems. Going forward SGCH intends to keep the CPP Studio as one of the many tools it uses to engage their community.
LEAD Professional Development is a TEI-funded NFP that provides professional development, learning opportunities and consultancy services to family and community support practitioners and their organisations.
After 35 years of facilitating face-to-face workshops, seminars, conferences and forums, LEAD had to quickly change their modality for the safety of their participants and team. On 25 March, before the introduction of mandated changes, they closed their office, transferred all staff to working remotely and cancelled all face-to-face events to ensure the safety of the participants and their team. LEAD was already using Zoom regularly, and delivering online professional development to NSW Teachers, so they were able to adapt their learning platforms to support training for all TEI services. Their team of subject matter experts, many of whom have been facilitating LEAD events for many years, were also able to adapt their format so that LEAD could continue to deliver evidence-based, cost-effective, engaging and interactive learning experiences for their participants.
In addition, LEAD distributed frontline assistance packs to service providers in Western Sydney Nepean Blue Mountains that had trouble accessing PPE. LEAD purchased over 400 masks and gloves and 25 bottles of hand sanitiser and surface disinfectant, that were gratefully received by local service providers.
The Neighbourhood Centre in Bathurst (TNC) plays an important role in its community, reaching out to vulnerable groups to make sure everyone is included and involved in building a stronger community. TNC delivers many services and programs, such as Bathurst's first Dementia Cafe, Friday Friends group, Men Connect and Friday Chair Yoga. It’s also the number one volunteer recruitment agency across the Central West, Far West and Orana regions, providing free assistance to NFPs with recruiting and training their volunteers.
After COVID-19 restrictions began, TNC had to transition the Dementia Cafe (DCaf) to an online forum, which was not an easy task since most of their clients and volunteers are over 65 and not tech savvy. The love of the program however, was enough motivation for the participants to learn video calling and they now meet online every Wednesday. There have been a few mishaps though, with one client accidentally turning their own face into a Halloween image and not knowing how to turn the function off! Some clients are now using their new skills to keep in touch with family and some have even taught others how to do it. TNC’s clients have been deeply comforted by the ability to stay connected during this time of isolation.
Chair Yoga started off as part of DCaf, providing physical activity, relaxation and meditation for less mobile clients. It also provides stress management tools for carers and important brain and memory activities for our clients with dementia. It was so successful that TNC started a popular Friday Chair Yoga session at the centre, which is now live streamed on Friday afternoons at 2pm on Facebook. TNC has reached over 2000 people locally and many more across the country and even globally.
TNC volunteers have gone above and beyond for their community. For example, Denis, who continues to visit elderly clients at their homes, stands outside their window with his pet cockatoo Charlie, who says g'day with him! The Bathhurst community has deeply appreciated not being forgotten and have delighted in meeting their unusual feathered visitor!
With the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, the Toukley Neighbourhood Centre’s food relief program Lakes Foodcare was forced to close. The premise is not big enough to abide by the social distancing restrictions and 80% of their volunteers are elderly and in the high-risk group.
Beverley Hopkins, the chair of the board at Toukley Neighbourhood Centre, really felt for the 500 weekly shoppers and decided to set up an online click-and-collect service. She spent the four day Easter holiday setting up a Shopify website where members of the Toukley community can select their items, pay and pick them up from the front of the shop. Clients don’t even need to get out of the car, with volunteers packing and bringing the groceries to their car. There is also a paper form available for community members without access to or expertise for online ordering.
The program has been a huge success and even brought new members of the community to the program. With so many people losing their jobs and facing financial crisis, Beverley’s dedication is an inspiration and her community is so grateful for her commitment.
One Door Mental Health is a bilingual mental health support program working closely with community services and allied health professionals to identify and link people from CALD backgrounds in Western Sydney to appropriate services. They also provide one-to-one emotional support to service users while they are getting referrals and receiving treatments. They provide their services in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Arabic, Farsi and Dari.
With the current restrictions, One Door Mental Health can no longer provide face-to-face services and have adapted by delivering their one-to-one emotional support service and education sessions by Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facebook private Messenger and regular phone calls. Additionally, they started a Facebook support group called Bilingual Support Group where their mental health workers answer questions and share information about community services, supports, resources and self-care tips during physical distancing,
One Door Mental Health is inviting organisations and groups to contact them about tailored mental health sessions to suit your clients' needs. They aim to build partnerships with other organisations and groups to better support people from CALD backgrounds through this difficult time. Contact Jenny Wang for more information.
Pride in Health + Wellbeing (PIHW) is a national community-led NFP. It is part of ACON's Pride Inclusion Programs to support organisations through their LGBT-inclusive journey. PIHW focuses on putting person-centered, trauma-informed and evidence-based practice to the forefront of all they do, and assists organisations with the cultural change required to become LGBT-inclusive.
COVID-19 has removed the separation of work and home life for many LGBT staff, causing additional WHS issues for employers trying to ensure the welfare of the LGBT staff in isolation. Combining the knowledge and expertise of the Pride in Diversity program (workplace inclusion) and Pride in Health + Wellbeing (health, wellbeing and human services inclusion) PIHW has produced a factsheet for employers on ways to support their LGBT employers while they work from home. Some of the issues have never traditionally been part of WHS remit, including if your family is affirming, and this factsheet helps inclusive organisations that are facing this urgent new challenge due to COVID-19 restrictions. The factsheet is part of ACON's COVID-19 clearing house for LBGT-specific support.
Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (ECSC) is a community-based organisation in NSW that provides multilingual/multicultural services and support to meet the needs of the vulnerable or disadvantaged CALD communities, particularly children, families, people with disability, the aged and carers.
To adapt their model of service delivery and provide innovative solutions, the Multicultural Aged Care Services team is making regular phone calls and distributing information in community languages and Easy English via the post for their most vulnerable and isolated older clients. For those clients who are familiar with accessing their website and Facebook page, the team have been sharing resources for staying healthy at home, such as ‘Stay Standing’ and ‘Chair Yoga’ videos.
In addition, the Multicultural Children’s Services team recorded stories and songs in community languages to be shared on their social media sites and via email with childcare centres and their playgroup participants. Also, the Multicultural Disability Services team have consulted with clients to develop a suite of activities for their new ‘ECSC at HOME’ program offering activities such as dancing, karaoke singing, cooking lessons, nail-polish and makeup lessons, lunch and dinner hangouts, exercise, storytelling, and reading to be delivered using a range of technology from WhatsApp to Zoom to telephone.
Mountain Youth Services Team (MYST) supports young people in the Blue Mountains aged 12-24 years. MYST has adolescent and family counsellors, case managers and youth workers who provide drop-in services, emotional support programs, individual support, outdoor bush adventure therapy and counselling support.
With the COVID-19 restrictions, MYST has been unable to run their programs in schools or centres, and are only able to meet clients face-to-face in crisis situations. They’ve had a drop off in referrals and they are unable to feed over 70 young people in their centres on Friday evenings.
In response, MYST has moved its entire system online. Individual support is now conducted over Zoom, telephone and FaceTime. They have incorporated daily digital client support including Instagram Live, Q&A sessions with the MYST Doctor, Twitch Gaming, Sckribbl.io, and Zoom Drop-In. MYST also have a home delivery – dropping off Friday dinner service to clients and their families, as well as care packs and activities such as 'paint a pet rock', 'design your Hazmat suit', and memory boxes.
We'd love to share your organisation's innovative practices. If you would like to be featured here and in our COVID-19 Update send us your story.