The Virtual Village

Prototyping a Virtual Village of peer to peer intensive family support

We’re rapidly prototyping a new model of intensive family support and connecting families across South Australia to create a Virtual Village of support for families who feel isolated, stressed, overwhelmed – and have very few options for support around them.

I never thought I would meet someone who has made it out the other side! this gives me hope!

Sally, mother of family connecting into The Virtual Village
This new prototype model is delivered through a number of different digital and telecommunication platforms which are tailored to the specific needs of families coming into the rapid prototype model. 

The digital nature of the prototype enables rural and remote families to access peer support from a family who lives in another town.  This helps families who want support from a peer rather than a practitioner, but also want to keep their story confidential without concern of being judged by others in their community. 

The Virtual Villager (peer volunteer) and their family have experienced similar stress and isolation but have managed to overcome these  and can now help provide support, hope and advice from their own experience. 

Why now?

The idea for the new model originated from the need to support families who would be further isolated as a result of COVID-19.  With Australia now slowly moving to easing restrictions, we are hearing from families involved in the prototype, and referrers, that The Virtual Village has a place in society post COVID-19 for the many families who continue to experience physical and social isolation pre-dating the pandemic. 

Coronavirus hasn’t changed my family’s life - [life] has always been like [this] I've been living in my own pandemic for 40 years

Lucy (villager receiving support) 

The live prototype is being co-designed with families in collaboration with the scaling innovation team at The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, Uniting Communities and the South Australian Department of Human Services. It is informed by over 10 years of TACSI’s experience and learning from co-designing, adapting and delivering various kinds of peer to peer responses across Australia and New Zealand.

Helps reduce impacts of Toxic Stress

The Virtual Village is an alternative way to connect families who are isolated, share stories and create virtual environments where families can work towards their hopes and aspirations without feeling alone. Research indicates families who are isolated and have lived with years of toxic stress and social isolation are experiencing the poorest outcomes including –

  • physical health issues
  • poor mental health
  • low or no social relationships
  • higher chances of experiencing Domestic Violence and/or Drug and Alcohol Misuse

The Virtual Village Volunteers use their own stories and experiences of living through toxic stress to form true relationships and trust while inspiring the possibility of change.

Our Village Coaches (the trained professionals who support Village Volunteers), train, teach, mentor, inspire and motivate families along the way.

How it works

Families connect for a minimum of 3 hours weekly with the Virtual Village Volunteer who they choose via the platform of their choice. Village Volunteers are coached and mentored in a peer group and in one to one sessions weekly with Village Coaches (the trained professional) where they focus on strategies to support families who are seeking support from The Virtual Village. 

The aim of The Virtual Village is to:

  • Increase family wellbeing and safety
  • Connect families into the right services at the right time
  • Support the development of a greater network of supports, building social capital and reducing social isolation and loneliness
  • Help parents raise children who are enabled to thrive
  • Build the capability of Village Volunteers to safely access their lived experience to support others through a similar situation
  • Decrease toxic stress in the household

What’s changing for the families involved?

Jenny and her children were experiencing family violence and communication breakdown  and decided to work on the emotional regulation of the family. They participated in virtual activities with their connection including pizza making nights and the ANZAC dawn service. These positive family experiences have helped Jenny to see her kids smile and her family have opportunities to experience the joy of family life, and able to see the positives in each other and build on this.

Jenny reports back on her and her families engagement in the prototype sayingbefore the connection I was stressed… [there was] lots of conflict in the house. [Just 5 weeks in] there has been less verbal abuse, less family violence, less stress….’

By helping to remove some of the toxic stress in families and replacing them with experiences of joy and capability building we are seeing families rewrite their family story.

The Virtual Village is available for all families experiencing stress or in the midst of crisis.

What we’re learning from the prototype

Families in crisis want support from a peer to see them through their crisis (crisis in this case includes active domestic and family violence and alcohol and drug misuse)

All families (both those seeking support and those volunteering) engaging in the prototype want to come out the other side of crisis stronger, with increased confidence, and thriving – they want to be more than just resilient

The Virtual Village provides a different kind of Intensive family support, meeting families on the platforms that work for them at a time and in a place that works for them

The prototype is presenting a cost effective approach to supporting families across regional, rural and remote locations

Connecting families to volunteers who live in a different town or region offers confidentiality of the family’s story, which many families are finding invaluable

The digital nature of The Virtual Village is proving to be a great way to help families who are anxious to leave their home and is presenting a valuable first step in accessing external supports and build the confidence to leave the home in the future

Families and referrers are saying that the option of peer support is an invaluable addition to the re-preservation family support ecosystem and would value its availability beyond COVID-19 protective measures

How to connect with The Virtual Village

Would you like to be part of The Virtual Village?

Enquire here

Would you like to make a referral into The Virtual Village?

Refer here

Want to learn more about how The Virtual Village works?

Get in touch