SYFS Staff Rise to the Challenge
When COVID-19 struck, one of the major challenges facing SYFS was how to continue maintaining it’s level of care for vulnerable young people and their families whilst adhering to the increased levels of safety for clients and staff alike. Luckily for everyone involved that direction and support was provided swiftly by the CEO and Management with a new COVID-19 specific Health and Safety Policy Draft being distributed to all staff on March 16 and additional meetings held for Board, key staff, Union Delegates, and management to discuss the draft and government protocols and regulations and develop practical solutions to move forward safely and effectively.
The first key message was around SYFS being classified as a Essential Service meaning it must continue to operate at full capacity providing support and guidance to clients. All staff concerns were discussed and considered with information and support provided to ensure there were no doubts about the strategy moving forward. The process was collaborative with staff having the opportunity to be proactive and take ownership of the situation and provide ideas, suggestions and feedback. COVID training programs were made available and rolled out as well as regular emails and support resources to educate and consistently update clients and staff.
Many Staff took on additional roles such as sourcing and shopping for scarce essential supplies and creating and delivering of care packages and food parcels as they adapted to the changing landscape of working during a pandemic. Rather than baulk at the additional workload and changes, Staff were positive and enthusiastic about taking whatever steps necessary to assist the wider effort regardless of traditional roles and responsibilities, and quite often work was undertaken outside of normal hours and many Staff offered to help. The overwhelming feeling amongst Staff was one of gratitude to still be in work during a time when so many lost their jobs and this brought with it a renewed sense of pride and responsibility to dig deep and continue to assist those most in need.
Outside of internal Staff, tremendous support was also provided by the NSW Minister for Community Services and Disability and SYFS extends it’s sincere thanks to Minister Gareth Ward and his Ministerial and Departmental Staff. Being acknowledged as an Essential Service enabled SYFS to actually expand it’s Social Enterprise Café employing additional kitchen staff to cook more meals and provide a takeaway service providing quality, nutritious meals to our services, clients as well as members of the general public. THE SYFS Cleaning and Maintenance Section also expanded with additional cleaning staff employed in order to comply with the strictest hygiene protocols and protect clients and staff throughout all offices and services.
SYFS was also proactive in its attempt to partner with other organisations impacted by the pandemic and provide employment opportunities both through the Australian Services Union and to displaced hospitality staff. The possibility to re-engage staff who had been stood down and also utilise facilities and resources from businesses no longer in use due shut-downs were explored and carefully considered. Some support and donations of essential products and food were received from existing sponsors and other businesses for which SYFS is incredibly grateful. A special mention of Danna Nelse at the Albion Park Rail Neighbourhood Centre and Staff at Cardno especially Sheree Gillen and Tony Donovan who went out of their way to provide practical assistance.
Staff were encouraged to get creative and think outside the square in providing continued support and services to clients and adapted accordingly, providing additional face to face care when required and a reduction in other service delivery strategies such as group work. In conjunction with other agencies who also had to change the way they operated, online and phone and support and tutoring increased as did one on one support for students adapting to online study. Along with these changes and new strategies to minimise the risk of infection amongst Sstaff and clients, a great deal of work, time and energy was also placed on planning for worst case scenarios to ensure there were plans and resources in place to move quickly and minimise risk should this occur.
Despite several Staff and clients being tested, SYFS had not recorded one case of COVID-19 amongst Staff or clients at the time of writing and continues to remain vigilant around maintaining best-practice during this challenging time. What an amazing, caring and positive group of individuals! While they have proved extremely adaptable and in many cases quite selfless in their approach, the SYFS Staff certainly appreciate and have benefited from the CEO and Board in making them feel safe, supported and an integral part of the Organisation’s overall management strategy.