Julie French is the Manager at Innisfail’s Community Support Centre, which provides a broad range of family and community support services, including counselling, parenting and educational programs.
COVID-19 has had significant impacts on the community sector. But while social distancing has made it increasingly difficult to provide support services in the home, the team at Innisfail’s Community Support Centre have seized the opportunity to innovate and use technology to improve the way they work.
Julie said her team embraced virtual apps and video calls on WhatsApp and Zoom to deliver services during COVID, and saw some exciting results..
“It worked really well where there was trust and relationship with the family already,” Julie said.
“We had one situation with a mother who has cognitive challenges, and we were able to check in with her and her four-year-old on a video call and guide them through a bedtime routine.
“They both responded really well to that model, and were able to establish a routine where the mother felt more confident with dinner, bath time and reading stories through the app, while still having the case worker there in the background as a support.
“While we were initially sceptical about how it would work, the case worker reported more engagement through this model, and found that having the worker there virtually not only gave us the chance to be able to assist the family outside of regular hours, but it really empowered the mum to feel more confident with the transition to leading her child’s bedtime routine.”
Using apps and video calls also gave the team the chance to continue providing support services to clients during the height of travel restrictions, when some staff members were unable to travel back to Innisfail.
“Our child trauma counsellor was stuck in Brisbane and couldn’t get back, so we set up a model of virtual apps to engage 13 – 17 year-olds,” Julie said.
“It worked particularly well in youth counselling and trauma-informed expressive therapy.
“In one case, we were able to talk to a girl while she was in her paddock grooming her horse, so the benefit of that was we were working with the client in their own environment and she felt very safe around her horses.”
Julie said the success of engaging with clients using apps during the pandemic has given the team the confidence to continue providing services with the help of virtual apps.
“We provide services to people right across the entire Cassowary coast, so while every case needs to be assessed individually, there are some cases where this model will help us connect with clients who are up to 200km away,” Julie said.
“It’s given us the confidence and belief in these virtual models which not only give us the benefit of supporting clients across distances, but it also means we can check in at times that suit the family.”
Julie believes the use of technology could also help other community organisations going forward as they support their clients with a more flexible approach to intensive in-home support services.
“Traditionally organisations like ours have always been face to face and have been quite resistant to other ways of doing things,” Julie said.
“But it’s been really interesting and exciting to see how well this has worked for some of our clients, and it’s something we’ll certainly continue.”