As we return to the new normal, some people have come through the pandemic relatively unscathed. For others, relationships have fallen apart, and their reality has shifted in ways they could never imagine.
Recently The Sydney Morning Herald reported that nearly 200,000 people have filed for divorce across Australia in the past two years as relationships succumb to extended lockdowns and other COVID-related stresses. Relationships Australia NSW chief executive Elisabeth Shaw said the pandemic brought a lot of stress and conflict, and also forced couples to spend time together and face problems that might have been “on a slow burn” previously.
At JewishCare NSW, the Child and Family Support team also have noticed increased referrals from families requiring support due to recent separation and post separation conflict.
We have noticed increased waitlists for all counselling services and mediation and are helping families until they access these support services, through our programs including our Women’s Domestic Violence Support Group; our Men’s Post Separation Group and our Keeping Kids In Mind Parenting Program for parents experiencing conflict post separation.
We are also seeing increases in our domestic and family violence case management load. In complex cases we are often required to involve the Department of Communities and Justice as well as the Benevolent Society. Our Affiliated Professionals Program has been supercharged to provide those in need with counselling services, mediation and services with family lawyers. There is also the added pressure of the rising cost of living, particularly on single-parent families. We are fortunate to be in a position to provide grocery and food vouchers thanks to community funding.
It’s a similar story at Jewish Care Victoria. While lockdowns have been lifted for some time, people continue to experience significant impacts due to the pandemic, particularly, in relation to family violence, mental health and financial stress.
Jewish Care Victoria’s Service Coordination team have experienced an increase in referrals and in the level of complexity that clients are facing.
Some form of family violence is present in 20 per cent of all cases. Jewish Care Victoria has found that when coercive controlling behaviours are explained and named as family violence this is often the first-time clients realise that what they are experiencing is abuse. Many victim-survivors report never having experienced family violence prior to COVID and it is all too common that the behaviour of the person using violence escalated during lockdowns.
These behaviours have a direct impact on children. Brain development continues from pre-birth throughout the early years, which is why it is vital for parents and carers to provide a safe and nurturing environment. Children who have experienced high levels of conflict can experience “toxic stress” which can damage parts of the brain leading to learning difficulties, emotional dysregulation, and poor mental and physical health.
While the team is experienced in working with family violence when the level of risk is low or intermediate, the need to partner with specialist family violence services, Child Protection and the Police has increased. Jewish Care Victoria’s parenting support work alongside their Tuning In to Kids and Teens parenting programs has seen a marked increase in participation as parents are forced to grapple with their own emotional stressors while parenting children who themselves are struggling.
As part of an Integrated Family Services Alliance, Jewish Care Victoria accept referrals from a centralised intake where Child Protection have often been involved.
Jewish Care Victoria provides case management and has access to brokerage that can assist with mental health assessments or allied health services, such as speech therapy. Each year Jewish Care Victoria is seeing more and more families present where one or more children have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, depression and anxiety.
The increase in family violence and distress is evidenced across a range of programs beyond those provided by the social work team.
Our financial counsellors and housing support workers have seen increased levels of help-seeking because of family violence.
Referrals from schools, shules and community organisations highlight the impact of COVID-related stressors on parents, families and children.
Community members joining our community education offering (Healthy Communities) continue to ask for training on family violence, child wellbeing and mental health, further highlighting growing concerns in the community.
Across Australia, as our world adjusts to the new normal, it is our hope that people are able to rebuild their lives in a way that makes sense to them and that sets them up for success in the future. We will always be there for community members in need.
Rada Pantzer is a case worker, Family Support Services, JewishCare NSW. Eithne Donlon is the manager, Client Services at Jewish Care Victoria. If anyone in the community needs help please reach out to JewishCare NSW on 1300133 660 or Jewish Care Victoria on (03) 8517 5999