Our third fortnightly snapshot of the COVID-19 community snapshot is now open. The first two snapshots have produced a significant amount of data that we are currently working through to identify patterns and correlations.
It is clear that the community services sector has shifted from concerns around the need for PPE and other COVID appropriate rapid responses. Amongst leaders and managers, more operational concerns have emerged that relate to sustaining work practices under current conditions with an eye to future uncertainty (including KPIs and funding).
Australia has done exceptionally well to ‘flatten the curve’ (for now), but the public health measures have had and will continue to have economic and social consequences. These consequences may well impact people beyond ‘traditional’ cohorts that access community sector services.
As a sector, there is going to be a complex mix of needs that will require attention. Whilst the sense of panic of what might have been be has diminished, there are practitioner-informed indicators within the data that suggest that there is going to be a broadening cross section of people who will require assistance from the sector. For instance:
- Domestic violence: There remain significant concerns in relation to family and domestic violence. Frontline workers are reporting a higher rate of concern, yet the emerging story appears to be that domestic violence services are not being utilised at higher rates. There are genuine concerns that access to these services has been compromised due to the proximity of perpetrators during isolation and quarantine measures.
- Emergency relief: With the rise in welfare payments, the presentation of traditional client groups has not significantly spiked (we will look at new datasets on this over the next week). Instead, new cohorts are under unexpected financial stress are presenting. There is a growing concern for international students, migrant groups, refugees and visa-holders, as well as for others who will experience unemployment.
- Homelessness services: Homelessness remains the peak concern across the sector. While the drive to get people into hotels has been a good news story, in many respects this remains a temporary fix and there is an opportunity here, but no certainty as to what happens next.
These three examples illustrate that while the public health response has moved into a suppression stage, there are social and economic costs that are going to play out in the community for considerable time going forward. Domestic violence reflects a potential pressure cooker scenario; emergency relief an expansion of the client base; and homelessness services an opportunity that if missed will contribute further downstream pressure. So, while the initial shock may be abating, we may just be entering the eye of the storm in respect to the pressure placed upon the community sector.
We don’t know what the pathway out of COVID-19 will look like for community services, but we offer the following policy timeline as a potential progression which draws on the foregoing. At a minimum, we make the simple observation that response will continue across multiple phases:
As we noted previously, mental health is an issue that has the potential to balloon. Concern about people with mental health issues is relatively greater since snapshot 1. They are now the group generating most concern, largely because frontline workers are more likely to cite this issue than their managers. That said, there remains a similarity in reported acute client needs across cohorts and snapshots.
Over the coming days and weeks, we will be providing updates on a range of emerging data.
We are also currently identifying key trends and issues across specific jurisdictions (commencing with Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory).