Margaret Augerinos – Covid Impacts on CNV – Family Violence

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Margaret Augerinos – Covid impacts on CNV – Family Violence Comments and Musings

During 2020 Margaret Augerinos has led the adaptive change that has been necessary to keep staff and clients safe from Covid, whilst also being focused on keeping vulnerable women and children safe from family violence. When the referral numbers dropped rapidly the Centre for Non Violence quickly used social media and mainstream TV, print, and radio to let people know that they were still open and able to provide support. 

Margaret Augerinos is the CEO of the Centre for Non Violence, which provides support to women and children experiencing violence, and for men who want to change their use of violence. Margaret has worked in the family violence sector for many years and has advocated for change in Victoria, nationally, and in international forums. 

Margaret Augerinos led the Centre for Non Violence through Covid and kept women and children safe from family violence
Transcript of podcast episode

Francis Lynch: My name’s Francis Lynch. Thanks for joining me on the comments and Musings podcast today. I speak to Margaret Ocarinas, the CEO at the Centre for Non Violence, who has worked in leadership in the family violence area for many years. Margaret has led CNV. Through some major changes in 2020, starting new services advertising their 

Francis Lynch: services in the mainstream media, when referrals significantly dropped and keeping all their staff connected and and engaged during two lockdowns, join me for this conversation with. Welcome, Margaret. Thanks for joining me on the comments and musings podcast. I’m talking to leaders from a range of organisations in the Community, health and aged care sectors, about how they’ve adapted to the impacts of COVID-19 and 2020. We’re recording this in September, so we’re a few months in. And you know, lots of changes have been made around us in, in our organisations. Can I start off just by asking you if you can tell us about what the centre for non violence does and and what? For your add.

Margaret Augerinos: Sure. Thanks, Francis, and thank you for inviting me today. Look, we sent it for nonviolence. Is the family violence crisis response service that works across the Loddon region of Victoria. So it covers our six local government areas, from Gisborne in the South up to Echuca across to. You know, Kyabram and over sort of over as far West as bought I’d say would be the edge of our border. So it’s a really large and diverse area that we work in. We do provide all of the services, crisis response and therapeutic recovery services for victims, survivors of family violence, as well as programmes for men who use violence towards family members and a range of community engagement and violence prevention programmes across the Community as well so. It’s a fairly broad surface and certainly extremely busy in in most sort of understanding of how busy services get. It is a constant demand, yeah, yes.

Francis Lynch: Yeah, and and and I’m wondering how COVID-19 has impacted your organisation this year?

Margaret Augerinos: Look with as with most organisations, the impacts have been really, really significant. Obviously, you know just the impacts on individuals in our organisation and how we’ve all had to change and and adapt how we work and and. And how we manage our lives personally, so those sorts of impacts really have been quite significant. But in terms of our services and programmes, we’ve had to do a really radical shift in thinking about how we deliver. How do you deliver a crisis response service to community members where the risk of Community transmission regarding COVID is so significant and real and you know, balancing the need to deliver? Really responsive. Appropriate services to vulnerable community members, whilst preserving, protecting, maintaining people’s safety, including community members and that of our staff. So it’s been a real a real challenge and I think the the challenges remain because even if we get into a COVID normal, whatever that looks like, there is still. Ongoing risks and the need to constantly shift how we do things and respond to the to the events as they’re emerging and developing. And that sort of rapid fire response and and realigning of services just takes so much critical energy and thinking and and and how we’re dealing with COVID now and responding and thinking about our service responses is different to what it was back in March at the at the beginning of the pandemic.

Francis Lynch: And and you know, being in Victoria’s gone through two lockdowns, but I know you know from my own personal understanding, I know that you’ve also been going through growth of services during this time too. So you’ve been out there, the orange door services are starting this year. There’s a lot of of new developments. So you’ve you’ve at the same time having to redesign your whole organisation. The same time as as taking on new services that that challenge has been significant. I just interrupt the flow here since I mentioned the orange door. This is a service model that is being rolled out in Victoria as part of the Victorian Government’s response to the Royal Commission into family violence. It strengthens support for children and families by bringing the intake and assessment functions for family violence. And child well-being into the same working environment, the modern region orange door that the centre for non violence is a part of will open in October 2020. Now back to Mark.

Margaret Augerinos: Absolutely. And we’ve had, yeah, we’ve had a lot of new developments that that have that were in play just as COVID struck and certainly, you know, the launch of the Orange Door is one of those, you know, later in October. But we do have, you know, we’ve had a new therapeutic programme that we were trying to recruit to and establish. And that required. Significant recruitment efforts at the Orange door, you know, we’re we’re seeing about another 18 positions that we’ve been recruiting to. So the challenge of how we recruit, support and Orient people into agency culture values functioning just, you know, feel a sense of belonging, like who do they belong to. Has been incredibly challenging and and to do that all online and for people to start working for CNV who have never, ever they’ve never been in the building, they’ve never met us. It is an incredibly difficult time. But I have to say, you know, it’s really forced us to be very creative and also to really think about what are the critical things that we. Need to do. To help Orient and support people coming into the organisation. You know, what are those? What are those key sort of messages and if we? Have to sort of. Distil it down. What are what are those? Sort of important bits. And we’ve actually done a really fantastic. Rob, I have to say to. Developing a completely online orientation programme for our staff, for our new staff and the feedback we’ve got is really incredible and people saying that. Overlay of COVID and everything having to be online. The depth and quality of the induction and orientation has has just been. Incredible. And they’ve never experienced that so. COVID has actually given us lots of opportunities to really rethink what we do and what are those sort of critical and important foundational pieces of work, whether it’s service delivery, whether it’s orienting and supporting staff, it has actually given us licence to be creative and to cut out the noise and chatter. I guess you know that often goes around. Face to face interactions and service delivery and be much more targeted and focus.

Francis Lynch: So there’s been lots of organisational change and and you know development and and learning I suppose. Do you tell me how?

Margaret Augerinos: Do you think?

Francis Lynch: That the impact of COVID-19 has been on the people who need to use your services or are seeking to use your services. What are you? Saying, look, we initially saw.

Margaret Augerinos: A significant downturn in women reaching out for services and also men reaching out for for support. And that really concerned us, but it was also something we were aware of given some of the international trends and experience that we’d heard, particularly from colleagues in Japan who had gone through some of the COVID, you know, I guess, you know, the first wave hit some of the countries overseas, Europe and Asia.

Francis Lynch: OK.

Margaret Augerinos:A lot earlier than it did Australia and so we had heard that. There were less calls to services that crisis hotlines were experiencing, a downturn in traffic. So we did predict that that would happen, and it did. And one of the things obviously and and it I guess it happened for a range of reasons. You know people didn’t know whether they could leave home. They were also trying to manage. Their own lives. The reality of, you know, children being sent home. From school or? Work was drying up or whatever was happening, so there was a lot happening in people’s lives that might might have made. It difficult for them to even be thinking about reaching. Out for support. But we did notice some weeks into April that the calls were really quite low and we’re getting quite concerned. And for the women that we were able to to reach some of the existing clients. We were working with. They were starting to tell us. Stories and and experience of coercive control increasing by their partners. Or ex partner. There’s we were hearing that, you know, men were using coercive tactics as they always have, but they were using different tools and techniques. So suddenly it was around. You can’t leave the house because you might get COVID, you know, or or. I’ve got COVID and I’m going to give it to you if you don’t. Do you know what I tell you to do? So there were some really concerning trends, I guess that we were seeing and for women being stuck in homes, not being able to reach out was a considerable a concern for us. So we had to think creatively. Around how do we reach those women? And you know, so that we had things like staff members were going out at night and writing on public pathways, you know, you know, feeling unsafe, you know, whatever call C&B. Or call the police.

Francis Lynch: Oh really?

Margaret Augerinos:Yeah, yeah. We started doing, you know, we. It started ramping up social media campaigns. We paid for radio and TV advertisements, and within about 10 days of that campaign, the you are not alone campaign starting. We started to see a doubling and tripling of phone calls and requests and and also through other services as well.

Margaret Augerinos: So I think I think there was confusion about where the services were open as well. And I think the campaign really did help to to raise awareness. That the our service. Was open, even if the front door wasn’t open. But we were there. We were able to support our people and and so we had, you know, we did start to see an increase in in service contact which was which was play. Thing, but the one thing of course, that does concern us is that women were telling us that telephone work for some women works and and a lot of our work has been telephone based in the past because of the region, the size of the region. But for some women they were really concerned about talking to people that they’d never seen. Not having any relationship or connexion with the service, so for some new clients that have been referred in and that’s been really difficult and I think will remain a challenge as we move. As as we go forward.

Francis Lynch: Look, I can understand that entirely. Just to go back to the advertising campaign you did, I I’m wondering whether that felt like a risk and whether the return was what you expected or whether there was more than you expected.

Margaret Augerinos: Look, I I guess. There’s always one of the things that we know is that when we advertise. Anything around? Family violence response and particularly when you consider the gendered nature of family violence that a lot of the messages are really around women and children as the primary victim survivors in these contexts and men being the predominant perpetrators of of family violence, it does open up our organisations to. Considerable risk from men’s rights activists and others who start to use that as an opportunity to talk about. Men’s experience and you know, and whilst we are always mindful and open and understand that men are also victims of violence in a whole lot of contexts, when we’re talking about family violence, you know, it’s very hard to ignore the data. But Even so, running anything in a very public way always brings that out of the woodwork. So we were concerned. A little about what that would mean. But I guess when we saw the requests for service plummet, you know, we had to balance that risk compared to the fact that it may reach women and Community members who we hadn’t previously had contact with. And that actually did happen. The number of phone calls that. Came in from people who’d never contacted CNV from other family and community members seeking support and assistance for for people that they knew, you know, who they thought may have might. Sorry may have been experiencing. Family violence increased as well as calls from other service providers. So what we would call in the industry secondary consults, which is another service ringing another service for advice about how to support someone they increased as well. And that all happened within, you know, I’d say 10 days we saw a. Peak of traffic to our social media sites, our phone calls and contacts increased and also our website traffic. You know to some of the resources that we developed around COVID and and and what services were available. So all of that traffic increased and you know, so the risks were minimal. The financial outlay was pretty low considering you know the impact it had. And I think I actually think it was very, very effective and supported really strong messaging around it is you know if you are unsafe, you can leave. And to call there are services available.

Francis Lynch: Yeah. No, it was great to see. You know, COVID has been, you know, a universal impact on everybody in the community. Nobody can escape this. So in, in terms of your staff group, how, how, how people travelling?

Margaret Augerinos: Yeah. Look, I think it’s had, I, I’d have to. Say you know the early the. Early stages of the pandemic saw some pretty diverse responses. I think from from staff you know, but the great majority of staff really seem to manage quite well. A lot of them were very concerned about the transition. You’re working from home. And how they would manage doing crisis work and other response work, you know, from their bedrooms and studies and lounge rooms and dining rooms. So all of that was very real, but I have to say I’ve I’ve just been super impressed with how adaptable people have been. But also I I think what’s really come through and it’s not just our staff, but I see it in a whole range of other people that I know on a personal level. All as well. Is just that. The human spirit and resilience is pretty incredible, you know, and despite the fact that we probably are all creatures of habit, the ability for us to react and and respond very quickly to a set of circumstances and move into a new normal, whatever that is, as uncomfortable as it may be. It’s pretty incredible. And so, you know, when we had to make changes, you know, to how we did our work and and continually tweaking things based on what we were learning and seeing, you know, so after a week we realised, well, this strategy’s not gonna work. We’re gonna have to, you know, rethink this, rethink this through and people were just so willing to, not only. Go with the flow but also you know really keen to OfferUp their own. You know suggestions and to and to step outside of their comfort zone. To get to get things done and on the whole, I’d say I think they’re travelling OK, but as with all employers, I think you know, we’re really looking at what are some of the impacts, what are some of the emerging, you know, health and well-being issues that we need to be sort of responding to as an employer particularly around. Staff support resilience. And and really just acknowledging that, you know, this is a a very trying time and unpredictable, you know sort of situation that we’re in. So they’re doing OK and I think I think for some they’ll be glad when things do move back into a sense of normality and reclaiming, I guess some of. The things that we. Yeah, that we loved about our pre COVID life.

Francis Lynch: And and you know, following up on that, the, you know going towards some normality or? You know we we’ve got this. Phrase COVID normal now. But but what? What do you think the next couple of years is going to hold for? For the centre for non violence?

Margaret Augerinos: Look, obviously you know there’s the challenge of. Well, what? What does what does? COVID normal mean in the context of our services and programmes and a lot of our work involves bringing. Being, you know, groups of people together to either, you know, in either in sort of therapeutic contexts or behaviour change in the case of working with men, you know, bringing people together in meetings and, you know, the way in which we’ve done business, I guess for me feels a a little bit like we need to. To really rethink that. And you know if if the risk of transmission remains with us for a number of years and it probably will given the difficulties with vaccines and treatments and all sorts of other, you know, interventions, I guess, to try and manage a pandemic, then what does it mean? What does it mean for how we do our work? And you know, for for a sector that does a lot of its work, it it really prides itself on its face to face and personal relationships. I think the challenges going forward, you know, I I don’t think they’re challenges. I think they’re opportunities and how. Do we how do Margaret Augerinos: we get work done without needing to be in the same space and that I think for the sector that is hard when you’ve got a lot of social workers in our industry whose preference it is to sit in a big room and and talk about things, you know, for hours on end, you know, I think we’re going to have to find other ways to. Do our work. And it will require, I think, a level of trust. Amongst providers where we have to perhaps talk less about some things you know, cause I can’t sit in front of a computer screen all day having meetings one after the other. It’s just it’s sold destroying in a way so you know and maybe we just have to say, you know, Francis, I I get that you know, your organisations, you know, really good at doing this and we we trust you. Get on and do. The job and just tell us what we need to do rather than sitting and nutting it out. So I think it will be an interesting experiment for how organisations work together and maybe doing some things. I think the challenges for employers will be, you know, for a long time, employers, particularly in our sector, that again does a lot of things face to face. You know, we’ve held a position. I’m not saying personally myself or you, but the sector broadly has held a position that this work needs to be done face to face in the office so. The fact that you know, we’ve proven that some services can be delivered remotely that people can be delivering services, working from home or in other locations, you know that’s that’s an opportunity for us too because it also. Opens up a workforce that maybe, you know, maybe they don’t wanna move to rural Victoria to regional Victoria to work. But you know, we could potentially employ someone somewhere else. I mean, they could be. In Sydney for. All we for all it matters doing work for us. So I think we’ve changed work environment and how we how we deliver. Services can be it’s an opportunity, it’s an opportunity for us to to think differently about our work. So I’m I’m I’m a little excited about that. I actually think it’s a good thing to shake things up a little bit and. And and for CNBC, of course, you know, you know, managing, managing growth, managing service development and innovation, they’re sort of like key priorities and and pieces of work that we’re undergoing and doing and planning to do. So doing that in all of this context. I think is is going to take a a little bit of time and thinking through.

Francis Lynch: Yeah, looks like. Thank you. Thanks, Margaret for your time today. I can see that you are really are at that point where the opportunities, the you know, what does the future hold? How can we how can we take advantage of what we’ve experienced this year? So look I. Really hope that those things really make sense and come together. For you and for for CNV, thanks so much for your time today.

Margaret Augerinos: Thanks, Francis. It’s been great to talk. To you.