Anagha Joshi is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Responding to increasing and changing client needs in crises
Responding to increasing and changing client needs in crises
This short article explores the impact of crises on service delivery and the evidence on how practitioners can support clients during crises.
During natural disasters and crises, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities require support. Additionally, many other families and children may need assistance for the first time. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example of a population-level crisis, where practitioners have been required to manage increasing demand and case complexity, as well as support a diverse range of people needing services. This short article provides an evidence summary of the impact COVID-19 had on service delivery, and what may help to support children and families during crises.
What is the impact of a crisis on service delivery?
COVID-19 brought with it significant changes to family life, with many people needing more help than they had before.In Australia, service providers across homelessness, rental support, family violence, alcohol and other drugs, and children and youth experienced increased demand. , , , , Community service organisations reported an increase in families seeking support for the first time. , , , ,
In addition, a broader range of people sought care during the pandemic, with more temporary workers, migrant and culturally and linguistically diverse communities and the elderly needing support., Service providers noted a change in client needs, many with issues of increased complexity (e.g. clients presenting with co-occurring issues such as domestic violence, mental health issues and financial stress). ,
What does the evidence say about supporting service users in times of crises?
Research is still emerging on what has been working to support families and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, a broad review of the evidence was best to capture what helps to support families and children during various types of crises. There is limited peer-reviewed research on what works to support service users; in particular, new service users in crises in the child, family and community welfare sector., The following considerations are drawn from guidelines, frameworks, reports from not-for-profit organisations and government inquiries on what has helped to support the changing needs of clients during crises.
Responding to urgent needs
During a crisis, it may be necessary to respond to the immediate needs of families and children affected and prioritise these over non-urgent needs., , This is an important part of psychological first aid, which is considered best practice psychosocial support in the aftermath of a crisis. It helps individuals experiencing a crisis to cope and reduces their chances of developing mental health challenges. , , There are examples in the sector of shifting resources away from usual services to providing food and emergency accommodation or making welfare calls for clients. , However, delaying usual services may risk increased demand for usual services in the future.
Engaging and maintaining connections with new users
First-time users accessing emergency relief services can often experience feelings of shame or embarrassment.It is considered helpful for service providers to step new service users through their options and to take the time to understand individual or family contexts and their difficulties holistically. Continuity of service delivery is important and often challenging in crises, and engaging new users may require more frequent contact to achieve this. , New users may initially rely on word of mouth from friends and relatives or for case workers to communicate what support is available. ,
Considering mental health and collective trauma
Practitioners have a role in understanding how crises can affect the psychological health of families and children. Guidelines exist on how to support families and children’s mental health during and immediately after a traumatic event.Supporting parents and caregivers of children to respond to and support children experiencing post-traumatic symptoms can be effective in reducing the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder. ,
Collective trauma occurs as a result of an event that damages the ties that bind communities together. Therefore, promoting a sense of connectedness is important during crises.Proactive messaging to promote social cohesion during crises is considered helpful.
Crises can result in increasing and changing demands on service providers in the child, family and community welfare sector, requiring them to adapt their models of service delivery. There is limited evidence of what works for users during crises. Further understanding about how service providers engage with new users, compared to existing users, and what methods are effective, would be useful to engage and support them in crises.
How will you use the evidence or information in this short article in your work? We would love to hear from you in the Comments field below.
Further reading and related resources
- Emergency Relief, Communities and Vulnerable People
This website by the Department of Social Services provides information on types of emergency services and provides a link to a database of emergency relief service providers.
- Community Trauma Toolkit
This toolkit by Emerging Minds contains resources to support adults and children during, before and after a traumatic event.
- Collective trauma is real, and could hamper Australian communities' bushfire recovery
This short article discusses the experience of collective trauma and the importance of community connections following natural disasters.
- Best Practice Guidelines: Supporting Communities Before, During and After Collective Trauma Events
These guidelines by the Australian Red Cross provide advice on how to best support communities before, during and after collective trauma events.
- Ask Izzy
This website provides information on food vouchers, rent assistance and emergency relief available.
- Hunger Report 2020
This report by Foodbank describes the effects of COVID-19 on the demand for food relief in Australia.
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