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State Govt looks to protect community services as shutdown looms

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Domestic violence, disability, child protection and community health services will not close, the State Government vows, amid tightened coronavirus restrictions and fears of a volunteer shortage.

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It comes after federal Social Services Minister Anne Ruston wrote to sector organisations yesterday afternoon saying she was “working hard to ensure that social services are considered an ‘essential service’” in the event of a nation-wide lockdown.

“The advice I have received is that this is a decision for each jurisdiction,” she wrote in the letter, seen by InDaily.

“I have written to my counterparts in each state and territory requesting that organisations that provide social services to vulnerable Australians are to be considered an ‘essential service’.”

After questions from InDaily, SA Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said she was “committed to maintaining essential service delivery”.

“Continuing vital services such as 24/7 domestic violence support to women and children at risk, ensuring we have staff to care for people living with disability and supporting non- government organisations to help them deliver essential services to South Australians is our priority at this unprecedented time,” she said.

“We’re also working together with our non-government service delivery partners to ensure they can tailor the way they deliver their services.

“The Department has already met with a number of NGOs to discuss their plans and needs during this time and will continue to do so.”

Staff at the Department for Human Services with relevant skills have been asked to consider applying for frontline, management and administration jobs at State Government-run disability accommodation facilities.

The State Government said it is also working with Volunteering SA&NT “to support the volunteer workforce”, as well as food relief charities such as Foodbank to “support their important activities”, however it did not specify how.

SA Council of Social Service CEO Ross Womersley said it was “really crucial” that frontline community services continued operating as the number of coronavirus cases in South Australia spikes.

“They (social services) are the backline to our health services in many instances,” he said.

“We’re really conscious that, if they do shut, that will create enormous hardship for so many vulnerable South Australians at a point in time where so many people’s vulnerability is going up because they’re losing work and their jobs are drying up.

“There is heightened vulnerability for people across the community and they are going to be calling on community services to respond.”

Womersley said he had met with Premier Steven Marshall to discuss the need to keep community services open, and for government departments to work more closely with SACOSS to ensure the requirements of frontline non-government organisations were being met.

“It’s about bringing us into the high-level discussions about plans and what needs to happen and what’s going on so that there is representation from the non-government sector in those discussions,” he said.

Calls to self-isolate have left charities across the state without volunteers, forcing some to close or scale back operations.

InDaily reported last week that food relief charity Foodbank was forced to temporarily shut its food hub at Bowden after volunteers chose to stay home amid coronavirus fears.

Other food charities including Heart and Soul and the People’s Pantry have also shut after volunteers decided to stop work.

Meanwhile, Volunteering SA &NT has suspended some of its volunteering programs in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“These measures are in the interest of the health, safety and wellbeing of our workforce and stakeholders,” CEO Evelyn O’Loughlin said in a public letter.

Lensink said the State Government would hold a second online forum with community service stakeholders tomorrow.

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