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Post-COVID reality hitting social services

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  • July 30, 2021

COVID has been hard on families, but just how hard is only now coming to light, as society gradually opens up to a post-pandemic reality.

“Caseloads are up,” Catholic Family Services of Peel-Dufferin director of programs Shelina Jeshani told The Catholic Register.

This spring, referrals for family violence have jumped more than 160 per cent at CFS Peel-Dufferin in Brampton, Ont.. In large part, the increase is the result of a special unit of Peel Regional Police setting up operations inside the Hon. William G. Davis Centre for Families, where CFS Peel-Dufferin is the live-in landlord to a curated group of family-serving agencies. The police unit specializing in responding to family violence is feeding cases to their social worker neighbours.

“In the month of May there were 260 referrals (from police),” Jeshani said. “That’s a lot of people to support. We need more resources to be able to be responsive.”

Jeshani doesn’t expect a let-up. Violence against women constitutes more than half of the work CFS Peel-Dufferin does.

“During the heights of the pandemic our numbers had decreased,” she reports.

That is because women and their children were often trapped in their homes with their abusers. They couldn’t call for help.

“They were isolated. They didn’t even know about what services might be available to support them,” Jeshani said. “Then, when you’re homeschooling your children there’s not a lot of private time to be able to ask for this kind of help.”

As things get back to normal, women are coming out of the woodwork, looking for help, according to Jeshani.

At Toronto’s Covenant House, executive director Mark Aston is still waiting to see how much suppressed demand for youth shelter services may come to the surface as pandemic restrictions fall.

“It’s a question a lot of us are asking,” he said. “What should we expect as this pandemic fades.”

Covenant House’s numbers are directly tied to family violence and abuse. A 2016 report for the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness found that “63.1 per cent of youth who are homeless report experiencing childhood trauma, abuse, and/or neglect.”

It’s not that Covenant House has been able to slack off during the pandemic. Cases at Canada’s largest youth shelter are still up five to 10 per cent, but Aston sees signs his agency is about to see a lot more.

“We’re certainly concerned about what may happen as the pandemic ends — and what that exposes,” he said.

Aston’s concerns are based on what he’s already seeing — young people facing mental health challenges, a consequent increase in drug use, interruptions in school and work that have made a mess of the plans, hopes and dreams of young people.

“Demand for health and well-being, particularly mental health and addictions support for young people, are going to be substantial coming out of the pandemic,” Aston said.

There are things parishes can do to help families in crisis, said Jeshani.

“What we need is we need our parishes to support the ShareLife campaign. We rely heavily on the ShareLife campaign to help us do the work that we’re doing,” she said.

Jeshani also wants people in parishes looking out for each other.

“Family violence is not a family matter. It’s a community matter.”

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