DJIRRA’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19
While some restrictions have been eased in Victoria the virus is still with us in the community, and the safety of our women remains our absolute priority. This is why Djirra is currently confirming our COVID-19 recovery plan. For the time being, all our face-to-face services are still suspended except in rare circumstances in the legal services area where lawyers are compelled by the Court to do so. Return to our face-to-face programs and services will be announced when the plan is finalised.
With the ease of restrictions, especially with kids going back to school, we anticipate this might give more opportunities for our women to find the time and space to reach out to Djirra safely. Our expertise and our experience tells us that the violence keeps happening behind closed doors, and certainly even increasing, and we are getting ready for an increase in demand for support in the days ahead. Our internal data shows that in the month of April, 23% of women seeking legal assistance from Djirra reported that the family violence they were experiencing was triggered or made worse by COVID-19 isolation.
To support us in facing the challenges ahead, we welcome the Victorian Government’s crisis brokerage funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children escaping violence during the coronavirus crisis. The funding boost for Djirra will ensure vital and immediate support to our women and children who are experiencing family violence. We will be able to provide increased support for safety and ensure women’s basic needs are met. This additional funding will allow us to provide flexible and tailored support adapted to meet the diverse and ever changing circumstances that are emerging for our women. Overall, since the start of COVID-19 restrictions, our women have predominantly sought Djirra’s support to help with their needs for Cultural support, food relief, housing and crisis accommodation, access to Centrelink, and counselling. Now that we are entering a different a phase of easing of the restrictions, we will continue to adapt to new needs that might arise.
Having our doors closed has not stopped us from developing new services. For instance, we are currently hiring team members to join our newly created Intensive family violence support services team. The team will deliver high quality and culturally safe responses to women who have experienced, or are currently dealing with violence in their lives. The team’s approach will range from short-term crisis responses to longer-term intensive case-management. The team will complement the range of services currently delivered by Djirra though our Legal service, Early Intervention prevention programs and our Koori Women’s Place.
CONNECTION TO COMMUNITY
Remaining visible for our women and maintaining the connection has been our absolute priority. Our Cultural Advisor, Wanda Bargo and other Aboriginal women working with Djirra - Adeline Thomas, and our Community Engagement Manager Kelly Faldon have been proactively reaching out to our women. Many women shared how challenging these times are. For many, isolation is triggering or re-traumatising, especially being isolated from family members and close support networks. Not being able to draw on the cultural strength of the group is leaving a gap. The restrictions on gatherings had a dramatic impact on sorry business which has meant that our people have not been able to pay respect the proper way, our cultural way. Counselling is one of Djirra’s services that has expanded to assist our women through this time. We have referred 18 of women to our counsellor, Estelle, who has worked with us for many years and usually attends the Dilly Bag. Estelle is now providing services via technology.
Since the state of emergency was announced in Victoria and the series of restrictions that followed, the women we work with and our staff have reported the rise of a number of issues that affect the lives, safety and wellbeing of our women in Victoria. These issues span across many aspects of women’s lives:
In child protection matters, some matters are being adjourned for 3 months or more. This limits the ability of our Legal team to advocate for our clients on critical matters such as access to their children especially when conditions are too strict or not appropriate. Video-conferencing is often not readily available (and is otherwise a poor substitute) for child contact, especially if parents don’t have the technology or adequate access to data to facilitate this.
We have strong concerns for women in prison who may not be able to have visitors and therefore not have access to their loved ones and usual support networks. Isolation for our women behind the bars has become extremely dire.
In many cases, access to residential alcohol and drug facilities for Aboriginal women have ceased which compromises the ability for women to secure bail if they had otherwise sought to be bailed to these facilities.
Homelessness is still a significant issue for Aboriginal women and with the closure of residential alcohol and drugs facilities, maintaining contact with the women is increasingly difficult.
Access to essential government services like Centrelink has been extremely difficult for the women we work with. Women report having to stay on hold for a lengthy amount of time or not being able to get through at all. This means that women do not get the critical support needed at the moment.
The lack of face-to-face contact with the women we work with limits the ability of our staff to assess family violence risk. Face time and other video-conferencing platforms are not always an option; when our clients don’t have access to free or unlimited internet data, they may not be able to afford the additional credit required to support the call.
ADAPTING OUR SERVICES
Our Koori Women’s Place is now delivering its arts, crafts and wellbeing workshops online. The unintended upside of the situation is that we can now deliver our workshops to all our women, wherever they are in Victoria. The success has been immediate with over 100 women already registered for our May and June workshops.
Our Community Engagement team is covering every corner of social media so Djirra remains visible to our women. The team is going the extra mile making videos and producing new content to spread the word #hereforyou
We are all doing things differently and will continue to do so by exploring options for added services and features in our service delivery using technology and redesigning our services to meet the changing needs of women through this pandemic.
Our Legal service team are adapting to the changing landscape of the Justice System with one message to our women: we are in isolation but there is still help, you still have rights.
All our teams can be contacted via our free toll number 1800 105 303.
DJIRRA’S KEY MESSAGE TO OUR WOMEN AND COMMUNITIES
Our message to all our women remains: We are here for you, the virus hasn’t stopped us and we will continue to deliver the specialist, holistic and culturally safe services you need. We hear you, and we see you, you are not invisible to us. We will support your every move to do what you need to keep yourself and your family to stay safe and healthy. We are here, stay strong and reach out : 1800 105 303.
STAY CONNECTED - STAY WITH US
Connection is at the core of everything we do, and connection with all our stakeholders is very important to us. Thank you for working with us through these extraordinary times.
The COVID-19 page of our website is constantly updated with the latest information about our service continuity and information for our women.
Now, please take a minute to watch the We are Djirra video with Proud Aboriginal women from Djirra and myself telling you what it means to be Djirra. Talk to your networks about us – Keep Djirra visible.