How do we keep support services thriving in a global pandemic?

The arrival of COVID-19 has meant the people who provide essential support services have had to completely shift how they work. To find out more about the challenges they’re facing, we hosted an online session with over 45 people who work across all facets of support services, from art therapy to Aboriginal advocacy. Here’s what we learnt.

In early April 2020, we launched a new online webinar series focused on keeping our support services going during COVID-19. For our first session, we shared rapid innovation mindsets and were joined by 45 people who work in support services all across Australia, everything from art therapy and mental health to Aboriginal advocacy, domestic violence and disability services.

These are the givers, the doers, the purpose-led people who help our world go round when we’re going through a tough time.

Our world has shifted rapidly and now, more than ever, our support services are needed.

Continue reading for a snapshot of what we learnt in the session, or watch the whole session here.

Upcoming webinar

Do you work in support services or want to know more?

The next online session in this webinar series is called Rapid Innovation Skills for Support Services, and we’d love to see you there.

Welcome to a new reality

Preparing to help others starts with looking after ourselves. We know that many people are having a difficult time right now, balancing their own needs and rapidly adapting the support that others rely on. 

On this journey ahead of us, we’ll interact with many people who need help, but it’s important we take a moment to stop, breathe and check-in with ourselves before. At TACSI, we are continuing to bring this focus to how we operate to support our colleagues and partners.

The challenge of delivering support

The challenges for support services right now is undoubtedly vast. They include questions around how to keep doors open as funding slips through our fingers and getting infrastructure to direct workers so they can work remotely, to pivoting service models and navigating new areas of safeguarding, digital exclusion, accessibility and data privacy. 

In this session, we focused predominantly on how physical distancing only highlights and increases the need to hold human relationships at the core

Challenges in delivering support

Making space for change

During the session, we heard from Danielle Abbott, the quality implementation lead for our Family by Family programme, which links volunteer families who have come out the other side of a tough time with families who are right in the thick of it. The purpose of Family by Family is to make sure that families have someone to walk alongside them as they work towards their goals; it also aims to increase social capital and decrease the need for families to interface with crisis services. 

Danielle walked us through some of the changes that the Family by Family team is making to ensure physical distancing, while still responding to the increased stress levels of families. This includes strategies like coaching sessions and training online, and safe spaces for children to interact together online like playgroups and cooking classes. 

Peers have continued to link up together in platforms that work for them and share stories while setting goals. Some families have even told us that meeting this way has helped them to become more concise about what they’re thinking and feeling.

We also heard from Lucy Fraser, a senior social innovator at TACSI, who shared a project we’re developing alongside Cohealth and young South Sudanese Australians that supports the mental wellbeing of their peers. The team recognised the changing COVID-19 context as an increased risk to mental wellbeing, and an opportunity to adapt solutions to operate in social distancing conditions in order to prevent worsening health. 

As a group, we also talked about a number of initiatives and resources around the world, remembering that not everything revolves around tech, and that sometimes it’s the low tech examples, like dancing together in our neighbourhood, that can enhance our experience and deepen the connection to others. 

Building mindsets for rapid change

While it’s important to take time to reflect on what the future might hold, there are also some rapid responses needed in the short term.

Focus on the why

Your services and organisations exist for an end outcome. This more than likely hasn’t changed; only the what and the how are shifting. Remember why you get out of bed every morning and the outcomes that you see. This will drive you forward.

Be brave

You’re entering a rapidly changing world, one that requires you to act fast. Be brave, learn and innovate together, test what works through quick prototypes with your users and partners, and continue to learn through adaptation.

Hold the tension of risk

How we perceive and manage risk has undoubtedly changed. This means how we make decisions in this new world will most likely require us to face our fears, and learn how to adapt in order to improve. Regular and clear communication is critical right now, as is working in the open.  Now is the time to bust open our organisational barriers around our shared mission and work openly. This means we can share thoughts, drafts, temporary policies, new service models, what we’re all learning, what worked and what didn’t.

Keep what (still) works

You don’t need to throw everything out and start again. Step through your service experiences end-to-end, and consciously think of the shifts in emotional or practical needs that might have happened. Look for common interactions and how they could be solved in the best way. This is key for making sure we continue to uphold the user’s voice in all the different adaptations, and bringing those with lived experience to work alongside us.

If all else fails, be human

Everyone will have good and bad days, and we won’t get it right all the time. Let’s take our time to be vulnerable and embrace other’s vulnerability. Continue to build small circles of trust around us, and to bring lived experience into the heart of our organisations and the services alongside them to build the support they need.

Imagination is new reality in the process of being created. It represents the part of the existing order that can still grow.

Nancy Hale

Hope for a better future

All these changes signal hope for a better future.

Already, we’re seeing:

  • Personal connections are strengthening. People we’ve not had the time to speak to in the past are now calling.
  • Greater rallying and engagement around people and place
  • A greater pace of action
  • The environmental impact of changing behaviours
  • A reimagining of access across geographies 

Imagination holds the key to the future. Together, we have the ability to ignite the collective imagination of our communities to find new ways forward, and utilise this catalytic time in our history to shift things about the world we never thought possible. 

A big thank you to everyone in the session who shared their challenges and the things they’re trying right now. We look forward to meeting next time.

Upcoming webinar

Do you work in support services or want to know more?

The next online session in this webinar series is called Rapid Innovation Skills for Support Services, and we’d love to see you there.