A multidisciplinary Targeted Intervention team arrives for a routine home visit in Adelaide’s inner suburbs.
They pop the car boot and pull out three fold-up chairs.
The chairs are plonked 1.5 metres apart, near the client’s front door.
The mother-of-four takes a seat, with the clinical nurse and financial advocate, while a case manager plays ball with the children in their front yard.
Face-to-face visits are pivotal in building an initial rapport with vulnerable families in order to effect long-term change, but lately they’ve been looking a little different.
Ordinarily, the visits are conducted in the home, but traditional practice has been reinvented as social workers adapt to front lines locked down by COVID-19.
This has brought `front door’ social work to the fore, says Leanne Haddad, Executive Manager of Centacare’s Children’s Services, with staff carrying on as best they can in accordance with the latest health advice to protect themselves and their clients.
“Our focus has been on meaningful face-to-face engagement without creating any unease with a family and cutting off the connection during this crisis period,’’ she says.
“We are still able to see families, and guide them with updated information around COVID-19 while working on their case plan goals, but all in a modified way.’’
For the Targeted Intervention Service, creativity is key to ensure continuation of critical in-home supports for families with children aged 0 to 18, where early child wellbeing or safety risk factors have been identified.
Common challenges for families include mental health, poor hygiene, hoarding, pet management, accumulation of debt, difficulties parenting and managing children’s behaviour, social isolation, substance misuse and neglect.
COVID-19 has magnified the cumulative effect of these experiences while demanding a new approach to address what is working, and what’s not, in each family, and the impact of this on their children.
“We’ve continued to offer home visits, but mostly from out the front,’’ says Manager Michelle Warner, pointing to the fold-up chairs.
“On that occasion, the nurse and financial advocate were able to meet at a distance from the parent while the case manager entertained her children with ball activities.
“We’ve been able to sustain momentum of connection with families, and provide practical support such as delivering non-perishable food and play resources, as well as arrange for special items.’’
For example, a trampoline for a child with autism spectrum disorder whose allied health appointments had ceased due to COVID-19 protocols.
Where face-to face contact is not possible, video and phone support has been invaluable. Michelle highlights meeting one new family via a three-way phone hook-up with the referring party.
In addition, virtual `buzz meetings’ have given rise to on-the-spot ingenuity, with staff making quick decisions to streamline processes and communication with outside agencies, thus saving valuable time.
“In one meeting, our Financial Advocate updated that she had supported a request for Housing SA to post parents an authority form which they required for exchange of information with Targeted Intervention,’’ Michelle says.
“The case manager updated that she would shortly be visiting the family at Strathalbyn and would see if the forms had arrived. Sure enough, the postie delivered the forms during her visit and she was able to take the signed paperwork back to Housing SA at Murray Bridge straight after.’’
Reunification Manager Sam Carpenter reports that the challenges COVID-19 has presented have been surpassed by the innovation borne from the pandemic.
Sam and his team work to reconnect parents and children who have been separated by the child protection system. In some cases, the children have only recently come in to care, while others have lived apart from their families for many years under long-term court orders.
The Reunification Program has maintained face-to-face contact with many families at critical stages of intervention during the pandemic, but has also used creative strategies to engage with clients remotely.
Sam highlights the use of Zoom to deliver remote therapy to one young person who is a huge Doctor Who fan.
“The Psychiatry Registrar and Senior Practitioner have been experimenting with different backgrounds and an interactive whiteboard on Zoom.
“This has been a huge hit with the client because she’s now able to engage with the team from the inside of the Tardis!
“When this is all over, I’m sure we’ll look back and have a new appreciation for the importance and ease of face-to-face contact with families and each other, and no longer take it for granted.
“We will also take pride in our team’s creativity and passion for engaging families in ways that are meaningful and useful during this time, and no doubt continue some of these innovations on an ongoing basis.’’