Recovery, Renewal, Resilience

Lessons for Resilience

Consider ways to celebrate the efforts of volunteers
Voluntary, community and social enterprise sector

This week (1-7th June 2021) marks Volunteers Week in the UK, an opportunity to celebrate and thank volunteers and recognise their significant contributions to communities. Volunteers make an immense difference to their communities and have played a key role throughout the pandemic. There are many ways to celebrate and show appreciation for the work of volunteers, consider:

  • Say thank you by recognising their impact in local communities, by:
    • A thank you email or through social media (you can use the hashtag #VolunteersWeek to join the online community celebrating volunteers this week)
    • Community funded gift baskets which could include vouchers or discounts from local businesses
  • Collect stories from volunteers and those that they supported during the pandemic and share them through local newspapers, local radio, social media etc.
  • Setting up virtual online gathering of local volunteers and:
    • Distribute awards to volunteers to recognise their efforts
    • Create a space for volunteers to share their experiences of volunteering during the pandemic. This type of event can also introduce local volunteers to each other and create an greater sense of being part of a local volunteer communit
  • Create public displays of recognition (e.g. a park bench dedicated to local volunteers)
  • Encourage community involvement e.g. “The Big Lunch” which is being held on Sunday 6th June
  • Allocate a day to celebrate volunteers annually e.g. "Power of Youth Day" which celebrates the contributions of young people to communities
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Consider the role of young people in reducing and responding to disaster risk

A recent study found that the Canadian disaster news media framed young people in five different ways: “1. the vulnerable status of youth; 2. youth as passive bystanders; 3. children as a burden on adults; 4. youth as active agents; and 5. youth as a ‘legitimizing criteria’ in disaster response” (where certain response and recovery resources/actions are prioritized to enable young people to “bounce back” following crisis). The findings of this research highlight a need to shift the narrative and change how young people are framed in emergencies, to recognise their assets and potential roles in disaster risk reduction, emergency response and recovery efforts. Consider:

  • Meaningful, inclusive, collaborative and creative strategies to engage young people in all stages of disaster risk and risk management, e.g. Colombia: The school of our dreams where young people create music videos to teach others about the value of protective and protected schools:
    • Enable “Self-driven participation” (youth-owned and led engagement) where young people take ownership and identify risks, and manage the process and outcomes, supported by adults when necessary
    • Establish “Collaborative participation” (adult-owned and youth-led engagement) where adults establish collaboration and invite young people to support the identification of issues. Partnerships are established between adults and young people in a form of “inter-generational collaboration”, a partnership which allows young people to increase their levels of self-directed action over time
  • In the Philippines, children are participating in “school-watching programmes” where they gather information about risks that can be addressed by local school authorities. The children create hazard maps which can be shared to educate other students on risk and safety information
  • Recognise the role of young people in creating resilience in communities, e.g. Injuv (The National Youth Institute in Chile) who focus on ways in which young people can be involved, activated and mobilised in emergency response during crisis. They have been working to establish and ecosystem of permanent local youth volunteers, and connect young volunteers directly with voluntary organisations through an online volunteer platform (Transform Country Network)
  • Utilize the media to amplify the voices and efforts of young people as catalysts for change in their communities, to create a platform through which young people can share their ideas, opinions and concerns
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Consider incentive programmes for volunteers

Retention and continued engagement of those who have offered their time, knowledge and skills to support response efforts will be crucial to ensure the valuable resources and capabilities are available for recovery and renewal activities. Recognising the enormous efforts of volunteers over the last year is integral to their retention. Consider:

  • Recognise and thank volunteers for their efforts through personal letters or less personal approaches such as via social media
  • Develop accredited certification programmes to officially recognise volunteer skills and knowledge
  • Establish a service awards programme for volunteers based on length of service
  • Introduce a tax credit programme for volunteers. E.g. The Search and Rescue Volunteers Tax Credit (SRVTC) represents "federal recognition" of the important role played by search and rescue volunteers in Canada. There are conditions and criteria that are required to be met in order for volunteers to qualify for tax credit (e.g. volunteers who perform in excess of 200 "eligible hours" in a year). Appropriate recruiting, screening and management of volunteers helps to ensure people are not joining for the wrong reasons
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Consider supporting children with autism and their parents during COVID-19
Vulnerable people

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, especially in trying to adjust to new routines and living and working environments. This may be particularly true for children with autism and their parents, as children with autism have trouble adjusting to, coping with, and understanding change. To help with this, help parents to explain the current situation in clear and simple ways and can help children with autism to adjust to the 'new normal'. One way of doing this is to provide parents with access to materials that frame COVID-19 as a germ that can make people sick, so it is important to stay away from others and not touch things.

Advise parents to reiterate important rules to children with autism is also important to help them cope, such as:

  • Washing hands well and often (for at least 20 seconds)
  • Not touching their nose, mouth, and eyes
  • Keeping at least 6 feet away from other people
  • Wearing a cloth face covering or face mask in public places

Face coverings may be difficult for autistic children, some parents have had successes in attaching the ear loops on masks to their child's favourite hat with buttons to reduce sensitivity. Make authorities (such as transport providers, Police) aware of "Facemask Exemption Cards" that have been produced by organisations for parents to print out for those who cannot wear a mask. Local government can support parents of children with autism by working with respected specialist organisations to advise parents e.g. one encouraging mask wearing

  • Demonstrate using the face mask on a preferred object or person, such as a stuffed animal, a doll, or a family member
  • Allow the person to choose among different types of fabric face masks to find one that is most comfortable
  • Start by practicing wearing the face mask for short durations of time, allowing for breaks when needed
  • Plan initial outings in low-demand environments that are quiet and calm, so that the individual can experience success wearing the face mask
  • Use a printed photo or digital photo of the individual wearing a face mask as a visual cue to wear the mask before outings

In addition to these changes, losing the daily routine that going school provides adds an additional layer of complexity for children with autism, and outs them at risk of not receiving the social care and support they require. While, some children may have found home schooling difficult, the time spent away from school may have resulted in the development of a new routine at home where they feel safe. As such, returning to school may cause anxiety and distress. Local government should inform teachers that some ways of reducing these anxieties include:

  • Providing a visit to the school before it reopens if possible, to help children familiarise themselves with their environment and staff again
  • Encouraging homes to introduce changes that are made in school at home e.g. explain social distancing measures, ask for photos of new classroom layouts to show children
  • Asking parents for information about your child during COVID-19 so they have an understanding of their needs and how these may have changed due to COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 has also been a challenging time for parents of children with autism. One parent in the UK stated that support for them and their child had been reduced to occasional phone calls and they felt like they had been "left to struggle alone". They also stated that they were repeating the same or similar activities with their child from before lockdown and that it felt like their child's development had stalled. They stated that increased resources from their child's support worker such as a timetable of activities and development would have helped and made the experience of self-isolation and lockdown "less distressing".

Providing specialised phone lines and centralised hubs with resources for parents is vital, to ensure their well-being and that of their children, via reliable information and support. Local government can help employers to realise that parents also need to find ways to balance work and childcare responsibilities this can include:

  • Arrange to work from home to ensure supervision, or childcare sharing arrangements with friends and family
  • Prepare information about the child's support needs and successful learning and behaviour strategies for anyone caring for the child
  • Develop an emergency contact list, and discuss it with friends and family. Include names and numbers of your personal autism support network, as well as medical providers
  • Contact local organizations who may be able to offer support.
  • Look through the child's medical records or evaluations related to autism as these may have recommendations on areas to focus on and can help you with making learning plans while schools are closed
  • Reach out to others to maintain social support for the whole family e.g. social media, social media groups for autistic people and their families, and other virtual support groups that provide online resources for finding empathy and ideas while self-isolating or in lockdown

To read this case study in its original format (including references) follow the source link below to TMB Issue 16 (p.19-20).

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