The most significant achievement by Individual & Family Support Services for the year was the effectiveness and speed with which the division was able to set up to service Jewish Care’s COVID-19 Helpline in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the launch of the Helpline in March this year, 4,385 individuals and families have been assisted with urgent and most demanding needs supporting them to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Another key highlight was the successful completion of a $3 million refurbishment project comprising 36 transitional housing units in St Kilda to those most vulnerable in the community.

Our seamless transition from the Kraus Building to the new Hannah & Daryl Cohen Family Building located in the Holckner Family Senior Living & Community Precinct was another important milestone in continuing to achieve better outcomes for our clients and the team through better collaboration, joint practice, easy access to services and cross program communication. The new environment has been both transformative in the way we offer services to our clients and innovative in the use of online platforms, particularly those programs and activities engaging youth during COVID-19.

Front Door – Information and Access

Our Front Door is one of the main channels that the community uses to engage with Jewish Care. We continued to provide a response to incoming callers seeking information or referrals alongside walk-ins on behalf of the organisation, whilst servicing the newly established COVID-19 Helpline.

The three most common referral pathways from the Front Door were to Empower Interest Free loans, service coordination and financial aid. In reflecting on the impact of COVID-19, referrals from March to June showed some movement in ranking, with financial aid becoming the primary referral pathway.

Service Coordination

Our Service Coordination team responded to a total of 502 referrals this year making a significant leap from last year. This increase has led to more people understanding our complex services and consulting with our social workers around best practice and how to work with individuals to best meet their needs. The most common reasons to seek support were for financial need, mental health and housing.

One theme that emerged is that single, middle-aged women were at risk of homelessness, and we were able to find suitable accommodation options for many through multi-agency collaborations with a range of housing providers including our own. The Service Coordination team also supported several men with significant mental health conditions, who were struggling with daily living activities such as cooking, cleaning or living in shared living environments.

In addition, our workers provided access to meals, advocated for clients whose tenancy might be at risk due to various reasons and assisted clients to apply for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The team also supported Jewish Care and other external organisations and community members with formal secondary consultations in the areas of mental health issues for both adults and children, child protection and child wellbeing.

The Service Coordination program received funding from the DHHS for the provision of Integrated Family Services, targeted at high risk families who required parenting support and assistance or those who experienced family violence.

Increased familiarity about the work of Service Coordination and increases in reports of child abuse or neglect from families including those identified as Jewish contributed to more clients accessing our services this year.

We were also successful in receiving a grant to purchase web cameras for those with limited capacity on their devices to sight vulnerable children, as well as establish and maintain strong connections with clients who would otherwise have come into our office or visit at home during COVID-19.

Through Jewish Care’s partnerships with food providers such as C-Care and Our Village Kitchen, we were able to connect community members with volunteers for meal and pantry box deliveries. These boxes contained essentials such as toilet paper, nappies and healthy snacks for children who were at home all day. We were also able to purchase devices for children, particularly for large religious families to enable remote learning.

Thanks to our generous supporters, quality, second-hand furniture and white goods were delivered to several families impacted by family violence, mental health conditions and separation during the outbreak.

Housing Support

The Housing program continued to target the most vulnerable in the community with those homeless or experiencing imminent homelessness occupying the highest priority group. The team also focused on keeping our tenants in shared disability accommodation safe and protected during COVID-19 by offering rental reductions. In addition, several properties within our housing portfolio were renovated with improvements to external lighting, bathrooms, laundry fit-outs and gardens.

We were also delighted to welcome our tenants back into their homes in East St Kilda following a successful $3 million upgrade. Thirty-six units were completely refurbished with repairs and maintenance to internal and external facets of the building, including fencing, landscaping, larger spaces and laundry facilities.

Our team continued to assess housing needs and collaborated with external housing agencies to offer appropriate housing to people most disadvantaged in the community experiencing mental health issues, physical health limitations, isolation, relationship breakdown, substance abuse issues, cognitive impairments and unemployment.

Healthy Communities

The Healthy Communities team was expanded to include the Youth Mentoring programs, alongside the ongoing work to deliver community education, awareness raising and capacity building activities in the areas of mental health, family violence and financial literacy.

The Mental Health Promotion program continued to deliver activities aimed at strengthening awareness of and responsiveness to mental health issues and positive mental wellbeing. Engagement with youth audiences was particularly strong in the year with a focus on supporting young people to manage the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

The Raising Healthy Families series continued to be a popular offering for parents, carers, teachers and other professionals. A significant proportion of attendees at each forum continue to be new participants and positive feedback was received on maintaining parenting activities during COVID-19.

Our collaboration with Men’s Haven in support of Men’s Health Week saw the delivery of a postcard campaign on men’s mental health, a short video and a topical parenting forum. The team also delivered Youth Mental Health First Aid courses to Community Security Group and the Australian Zionist Youth Council.

Family Violence

The Family Violence Prevention program focused primarily on the implementation of the Shivyon project funded by the Department of Premier and Cabinet Multicultural Affairs and Social Cohesion Division, and its success asserted Jewish Care’s role as a leader in the ethno-specific family violence prevention sector.

A similar success was the coordination of Preventing Violence Together Family Violence Breakfast delivered in partnership with Unchain My Heart and Glen Eira City Council. The event featured keynote speaker Naomi Tucker of Shalom Bayit (US) and engaged 300 attendees from across the Jewish community and family violence sector.

Other key highlights include the coordination of Preventing Violence Together professional development activities for Progressive Judaism Victoria and Rabbinical Council of Victoria, development of two videos on capacity building and family violence awareness, coordination of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women activities, leading 12 communal organisations at the Walk Against Family Violence and participating in the City of Glen Eira footpath stickers campaign.

Jewish Care was also invited to speak at forums on a range of topics including child protection, preventing family violence, domestic violence and gender equity.

Youth Mentoring

Both, Young Achievers and Youth Aspire programs grew exponentially this year and continued to maintain strong engagement with mentors and mentees, despite COVID-19, through the delivery of additional supports such as a COVID-19 specific support workshop and special online group workshops.

Mentees’ participation in workshops throughout COVID-19 increased to 85% compared to 65% at the same time in 2019.

Both these programs were successfully concluded with 30 young achievers and 25 youth aspire participants graduating from their programs. 2020 saw 31 students enrolling for Young Achievers Program and 10 students joining the Youth Aspire Program, and a total of 23 mentors recruited to both programs.

The Young Achievers Program was founded 18 years ago as part of Philip Brass’s vision for supporting young people in our community through the gift of mentoring. We extend our sincere thanks to Philip for his ongoing contribution and commitment to the Young Achievers Program.

Empower Interest Free Loans

This year saw a reduction in loan applications affecting total lend, approved loans and number of active loans, with restrictions on small business operations and Jewish identity loans obtained for large weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs during COVID-19. The team continued to assist those requiring loans for various other reasons from vehicle loans to debt consolidation. The team also set up a COVID-19 Emergency Hardship Loan program offering loans valued between $1,000 and $3,000 to provide immediate relief, in addition to a special no-interest loan scheme established in partnership with Good Shepherd Microfinance. Overall, business loans were impacted by 60% and other loans by 20%.

Financial Counselling

This year saw a significant rise in representing clients re-engaging with counsellors on housing matters relating to rent and other supports, although new clients were less. But, as COVID-19 hit our shores, more funds were committed to meet the unprecedented demand for financial aid supporting our vulnerable members in the community.

Employment Centre

The Employment Centre remained focused on making people more independent as job seekers in securing employment. They were offered a range of additional guidance and training supports as well as guidance across the entire employment pathway, including brokering jobs with employees and post placement assistance. Beyond one-on-one assistance, training sessions and workshops were facilitated to enhance people’s individual capacity.

Volunteers attached to the Mentor Coaching program were fully engaged and committed and enjoyed the opportunity to provide support to job seekers. While in operation, pre-COVID-19, the Mentor Coaching program provided job seekers with 487 hours of supports – 285 hours via phone, email and face-to-face and 202 hours of administrative support.

Our team also conducted workshops to people with disability to secure employment and delivered training sessions to women on small business entrepreneurship.