New guide launched for virtual delivery of domestic and sexual violence interventions

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A first of its kind handbook in Alberta is providing guidance on virtual delivery of domestic and sexual violence intervention.

Stephanie Montesanti at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health is one of the researchers behind the guidebook made in collaboration with IMPACT, a provincial collective initiative working with upwards of 400 groups and organizations offering anti-violence services.

Montesanti said as the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to move services online, many had to adapt quickly on how to safely and effectively provide care for those seeking help from violence.

“The handbook provides guidance on planning for and assessing whether virtual and remote based delivery of services and interventions are suitable for people and families experiencing or at risk of violence,” Montesanti said.

“It provides tips on and strategies for how to plan for virtual remote-based delivery of intervention, so things that organizations should be thinking about around resources.”

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It provides training for staff and providers so they feel comfortable offering services virtually and ensuring it is a safe platform for their clients.

“There’s been a lot of concerns in the sector particularly around how do we ensure that the virtual environment can really provide that human connection and that emotional support that the clients need, because there’s that element of impersonal in that virtual environment. It’s different from in-person care,” Montesanti said.

“There’s a lot of thinking and work that the sector is really trying to address to provide an optimal, virtual environment to deliver their services and supports.”

Montesanti said domestic violence rates across the country increased by 30 per cent at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Alberta, the first three to four months of the pandemic saw a 57 per cent increase in calls to domestic and sexual assault hotlines.

“It’s been steady pretty much or more or less at that number, and we’ve definitely seen that it’s been hovering around that 57 to 60 per cent during lockdowns and stricter public health measures when they’ve been in effect,” she said.

The general consensus, Montesanti said, is service providers view having the handbook as an opportunity to reach more clients in the future.

“It’s an opportunity to reduce no shows for services, it provides a bridge for patients who otherwise can’t leave their home to access the services, so it’s just another way to support access,” she said.

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