Victim Support | In Safe Hands – How Victim Support’s 24-hour phone line switched to remote working in response to COVID-19
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In Safe Hands – How Victim Support’s 24-hour phone line switched to remote working in response to COVID-19

In Safe Hands – How Victim Support’s 24-hour phone line switched to remote working in response to COVID-19

Victim Support’s Contact Service operates around the clock, 7 days a week to answer some 130,000 phone calls every year, connecting those affected by crime and trauma with the right support in their moment of need.

Relying heavily on technology in their Wellington office, an abrupt move to remote working due to the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown posed a huge challenge for the close-knit team, but one they overcame without a minute’s downtime.

Contact Service Team Leader Kate Churchill says the team has already faced considerable challenges in the last year, working with victims of the Christchurch terror attacks and the White Island eruption. A seamless transition to working from home in response to COVID-19 means the team can continue to be there for victims.

“This COVID-19 situation is different again as it’s something that affects each of us professionally and personally. We’ve had to develop new ways of working as a team from our bubbles at home. Like many people at Victim Support, we realise how resilient we are when faced with big challenges,” says Kate.

Providing the first line of support for victims, and acting as the central contact point for Police referrals and liaising with Support Workers in the field, the Contact Service has a team of 14, led by Contact Service Manager, Sam Isa’ako.

A recent upgrade to phone systems meant all of the Centre’s applications are easily accessed remotely, but the physical relocation of equipment required some heavy lifting.

“I used a lot of petrol getting the team set up. I packed up the car and drove the laptops and screens out to them to make sure they were all connected,” says Sam.

At the core of Kate and Sam’s roles is this hands-on approach to supporting their team. Both spend time on the phones taking calls but they also ensure they are in close contact with team members to offer guidance. Recently, with the changes associated with the lockdown, they’ve adjusted their approach.

“When we’re working together as a team in the same physical space, we can keep track of what’s happening. As a team leader, in the ‘normal’ context I can hear what’s happening and keep in touch with the staff, being available for them to ask a question about an unusual situation or recognising when they may need to debrief. Lately, I have been calling staff and checking in at the beginning and end of shifts,” says Kate.

Overall, during the alert level-4 period, call volumes about crime have dropped, but the unique lockdown situation is reflected in an increase in family harm calls.

“All the whānau are together, and it’s an unusual situation,” says Kate.

Manager Sam has a strong background working within government and social development agencies and experience working with victims of sexual violence from a previous role with ACC. He joined the Victim Support Contact Service two years ago. He wanted to be able to help people. The role with Victim Support gave him what he was looking for and was something that he wanted to achieve out of life. Providing a professional service to support victims means ensuring the Contact Service provides a collaborative working environment and robust processes.

“We are here to support our victims, and I want to support my team to do that,” says Sam.

Team Leader Kate says working in the Contact Service requires a high level of emotional stability and maturity. Contact Service staff are the front line of support and are often the first person victims speak with when they approach Victim Support.

“Being on the phone requires an ability to work that little bit harder to build rapport with the caller, maintaining a balance between listening carefully to their needs and redirecting the call to get the best outcome,” says Kate.

Both Kate and Sam joined Victim Support out of a genuine desire to help others, and for Kate, who has been with the Contact Service since 2014, that meant checking out the organisation in advance.

“People wouldn’t enter into an organisation like this if they wanted to be a hero. For myself, I wanted to be someone who makes a difference. Before I applied, I arranged to meet with a staff member in the Wellington Victim Support office. I wanted to work for an organisation that had at its heart a mission to make a difference in people’s lives. There wasn’t a role at that time but when one came up, I jumped at the opportunity to apply.”

Like everyone in Aotearoa living and working in lockdown, the team are unsure how long they will need to operate under this ‘new normal’ but the close-knit team are confident they can adapt and maintain a seamless experience for the public, Police and support worker colleagues they liaise with.

Working with this highly-skilled and dedicated team has many rewards for Kate and Sam.

“I most enjoy working with the team and developing their resilience. They all have unique gifts to offer, and I like being able to develop those gifts,” says Kate.

“I see my job as encouraging the team to get the most out of this role as well as future roles,” says Sam.

The work of these two very committed and caring leaders at the helm of Victim Support’s Contact Service team means that victims of crime, and trauma who need support more than ever during the COVID-19 crisis are in very safe hands.