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Virtual reality of COVID-19

Features

It’s mid-morning Wednesday, and Pamela Strapp’s face beams into southern lounge rooms through a virtual playgroup.

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The Centacare community engagement worker is hosting her first live story time to engage Onkaparinga families she would usually meet in person as part of Centacare’s Mobile Family Connections Program.

Afterwards, Pam receives fan mail from a young mum whose daughter has rewound the story three times. Inspired by new possibilities, Pam makes plans for a live puppet show.

Darren Clarke

In the north, social worker Darren Clarke is setting up a broadcast of his own from home, with an image of the Dad’s Business HQ as a virtual backdrop.

With face-to-support suspended at the space, specially designated for dads, Darren is improvising with a Virtual Internet Engagement Wednesday session, delivered via Zoom.

The backdrop is providing a welcome sense of normalcy for the many dads and dads-to-be who frequent the space at Elizabeth Rise Shopping Centre each week for parenting and other supports.

Some are grappling with their role as fathers on the back of complex challenges including family breakdown, domestic violence, mental health issues, social isolation and substance misuse.

COVID-19 has intensified these experiences for many of the dads, Darren says, so adapting service delivery in such unprecedented times has been vital.

“Essentially, it’s a digital space for dads to connect and talk about whatever gets them to relax, take some time out and put things into perspective,’’ he says.

“The dads have fed back that this sense of normality helps them to stay focused, which as we are all learning, is about doing your best to stay in some type of routine.’’

A five-hour drive away in Mount Gambier, family workers Romlea Smith and Priscilla Baker are packing bags of craft and literacy goodies for families to collect from Glencoe’s Country Post Bar and Bistro.

The packs have a child development-focus and are picked up with other essential supplies such as groceries, mail, coffee and fuel.

Before the health pandemic, families met at the store each fortnight to borrow toys and other educational resources from the visiting Wattle Range Mobile Toy Library.

With the library grounded by COVID-19, the South East Family Connections team has drawn on its strong relationship with the bistro to ensure that geographically-isolated families stay in touch with the supports they need.

“Even before COVID-19, outings to the local store played an important role for families who have limited opportunities for social interactions and access to services,’’ Priscilla says.

“At such an uncertain time, seeing this small business and community service partnership flourish, and prove so capable and effective in reaching isolated families and children, has been a very rewarding experience for all involved.’’

In metropolitan Seaton, clinical nurse Tarrin Muhlhausler is playing a pivotal role in Family Preservation.

As social distancing restrictions have evolved, Tarrin has stepped up to assist outside agencies such as Child and Family Health Service (CaFHS), which work alongside Centacare in support of vulnerable families.

Recently, Tarrin assisted a family in their home with a digital cardiology appointment, conducted remotely by the specialist. In addition to setting up the technology for the meeting, Tarrin interpreted and recorded the information for the family.

“This highlights our partnership with agencies, as we are able to support them during a period where they would have normally completed assessments,’’ says Family Preservation manager Megan Jones.

“We’ve also demonstrated our flexibility in working during this period, and how we can support families who are facing new complexities in managing digital medical appointments.’’

Similar stories are being told across Children’s Services, as COVID-19 highlights effective collaboration between government and non-government organisations working in child protection, health, housing, education, alcohol and other drugs, and the NDIS.

This has ensured continuity of wrap-around case management services for at-risk families whose experiences have been exacerbated by the challenges COVID-19 presents.

“We continue to support families via phone calls, text messages and video chat on a regular basis, in some cases, daily, depending on the level of complexity they’re facing,’’ says Jess Hickey, manager of Centacare’s Northern Family Support Programs.

Jess highlights Kids in Focus (KIF), a unique program which supports parents and carers who are misusing alcohol and or other drugs. The service works to increase parenting capacity, build healthy relationships between parents and their children, and provide safe family environments.

“KIF has been providing practical support to all families in many different ways, from making sure they all have current ambulance cover to delivering Oz Harvest food hampers, activity packs for children, cab vouchers for transportation to client appointments, and age appropriate information and handouts relating to Covid-19,’’ Jess says.

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