The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted pretty much every aspect of the world of today.
For the Association of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA), the pandemic has “significantly impacted” the work of the volunteers and changed the way their support is offered to clients.
“We shifted to virtual support and therapy within two days,” said Stettler ACAA director Stephanie Hadley.
“We flipped on a dime.”
Prior to the pandemic, the organization had discussed bringing in virtual support models but due to the disconnection between the client and the advocate/therapist hesitancy remained.
The events occurring in the spring of 2020 forced the organization to make the change which overall, according to Hadley, has been positive.
With the virtual services, advocates and therapists from under-utilized areas are able to see clients in busier areas which has shortened wait times and significantly cut down on travel for client and and volunteer advocate alike.
“It’s enhanced the way we can do things,” Hadley said.
On the flip side, the pandemic hasn’t just changed the way the agency operates but it has increased the demand for services as well.
According to Hadley, statistics from the pandemic show that the periods of restrictions held a greater risk of abuse at home and more challenges in accessing supports if abused.
Hadley continued that the Canadian Women’s Foundation increased funding for staff, provided gas and grocery cards, and some immediate counselling, but overall wait times for some services exploded from four weeks to nine moths.
However, just because the wait times have increased doesn’t mean that everybody has to wait.
Taking a page from the healthcare system, the manner in which clients are screened into ACAA’s program has changed from a simple sign up to a more in depth assessment and triage model, ensuring that those who need immediate help get it.
The assessment looks at client factors such as safety and food security. When a client is assessed, they are marked as one of four levels, and placed on the wait list accordingly. To further support those on the list, one service that has been added is that of the wait list check in.
Clients who register for intake with ACAA can ask for a check-in as infrequently as every few weeks to as frequently as weekly.
“Things can change,” said Hadley.
“We can quickly move them into service if something comes up.”
To further support clients, ACAA has partnered with 15 remote partner sites, providing them with a laptop which allows clients in distant communites to connect with client centres such as the one in Stettler. The centres also provide a place for clients to meet with law enforcement in a neutral environment or to remotely appear in court.
“We can support anyone has been impacted by sexual violence,” said Hadley, before noting that unlike the Victim Services Unit, which is connected to the RCMP, ACAA can become involved before law enforcement is engaged.
ACAA has been active in Alberta for 35 years.