SSAFA: a case study of third sector support during Covid -19

Living with lockdown
Last updated on August 21, 2020

With vulnerable people of all walks of life shielding from Covid-19, the challenges have been great for individuals and families. The effect has been more so because much of the support they may have received through the Third Sector was impacted on and, in most instances, shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Just as our shops, care homes, and even public parks have had to adjust to the new safety requirements and distancing required by public health, so too has the Third Sector. This is no small challenge to overcome, as most organisations supporting vulnerable people will espouse, their role is generally to reduce social distance, not to increase it.

A case in point SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, has a tremendous operation utilising caseworkers and volunteers to reach people at any stage of their military career and support them in crisis. It is hard to imagine that support being cut off when people most need it, but delivering vital support to people at all ages has completely changed almost at a moment’s notice. Add to that the needs of a veteran who is living with dementia and trying to maintain a connection to that person during lockdown conditions becomes a daunting undertaking.

For instance, as the outbreak took hold all face-to-face contact with clients was suspended with casework being undertaken by telephone and email. This at least ensured some support was possible, but there is no doubt a big difference in a case-worker’s ability to assess need via written correspondence as compared to seeing someone in person. This connection helps to build rapport and trust, take account of information that goes beyond the written or spoken word and even to consider environmental factors relating to the neighbourhood where that person comes from to get a sense of their daily living experiences.

With easing of lockdown, critical cases can now be visited, but only where no suitable alternative is available. However, with that comes additional distancing. All visits are subject to volunteers adhering to strict protocols including wearing full PPE. Whilst now that means face-to-face is possible, it is only with a range of social barriers in place that staff and volunteers will naturally be working hard to overcome through great communication and positive energy.

Spread kindness, not virus. Image created by Margaret To. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives - help stop the spread of COVID-19

It is no surprise that joblessness, isolation and disconnection from routine are all having a significant impact on our population as a whole and with that comes an increase in anxiety, depression, substance misuse and more rapid deterioration for people living with conditions like dementia. We will increasingly see more critical cases for support and have to factor supporting people more efficiently and creatively, whilst recognising that either we need to increase resources and capacity to meet critical demand, or unfortunately find ourselves in further crisis as a community.

SSAFA of course is meeting that challenge head-on. Work has been underway and additional volunteers have been recruited and specifically trained to undertake and process cases remotely. In addition a Crisis Fund has been established using money from both SSAFA and a multinational company. The aim of the fund is to offer immediate support to enable beneficiaries to maintain a minimum standard of living whilst their situation is assessed in terms of longer-term support. Typically, support may include food or clothing vouchers, help with utility bills or top-up fees for mobile phones to ensure essential contact is maintained with family and friends.

Along with other Our Connected Neighbourhoods partners, SSAFA is coming together as part of virtual peer mentoring action learning set coordinated with researchers at the University of Stirling, who have been funded by the Chief Scientist Office to explore the experiences of staff and volunteers providing frontline care and support to older people in Scotland during COVID-19. This group will work over the next few months to share the challenges they are facing as a result of the pandemic, working together to find practical, actionable solutions.

Where SSAFA is leading the way for people who are connected to our Armed Forces, so too are the wider sector of organisations supporting people living with dementia. The Third Sector is resilient, resourceful and driven and prepared to come together to bridge the gap and reach vulnerable people including people living with dementia and their unpaid carers with the same quality of communication and support as they were able to before the start of this global challenge.

Written by OCN volunteers and participants.

This is the latest in a series of blog posts reflecting on the experiences of people living with dementia, their carers and neighbourhoods during the coronavirus pandemic. The posts are a synthesis of perspectives gathered with people living with dementia in Central Scotland over the course of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. These have been collected by OCN volunteers and drafted collaboratively in order to build a larger picture of the impact of Covid-19 and what the changes around it have meant for people living with dementia and their carers. It is important to highlight that in most instances these are people who will have been shielding for a significant period of time. It is clear, therefore, that more must be done to improve their access to support, community and to reduce loneliness. We hope these articles will widen understanding of the issues and draw attention to what can be a hidden problem for many people.