We hope you are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. We are trying to be there for our clients when they need us most, and the need for social distancing has made CCS rethink how we deliver services.

As you can imagine, many newcomers, refugees, and immigrants are severely impacted by the current upheaval. Stay-at-home measures have exacerbated circumstances for many of our clients, in particular women affected by domestic violence. They now have less opportunities to leave or seek support, given they are now homebound with their partner in a lockdown. We are learning that contacting these clients requires more deliberate planning now to ensure their safety is not jeopardized. What used to take one attempt to connect safely now takes three or four tries. Safety protocols that establish a “safe word/phrase” for clients to use to alert a Violence Against Women (VAW) counsellor of a perceived change in the threat level are being relied on more frequently, with an emphasis on using very generic phrases, so as to not draw suspicion of the partner (“I wish we had oranges/ I am craving apples”, etc).

And while calls to counsellors have remained steady, the complexity of the issues they face has increased and the exchanges are longer and more intense. Mental health challenges have come into play too.

Many women are in a much more vulnerable position in a world of social isolation — harder to identify, engage, support, or refer to services. Our team is reaching out to places of worship, and food banks, to ensure women know we are there and ready to help.

Our counsellors are providing a lifeline in many instances — and we are proud of their commitment and agility in adapting to the “new normal”. And we’d like to do more, with key focus areas identified to build capacity and drive positive outcomes:

• Promote education and awareness to enable vulnerable women to identify signs, locate resources and deliver a continuum of cohesive mental health supports.
• Train more frontline staff, equipping them to recognize signs of abuse and keep the client safe, while coordinating referrals and further assistance.
• Deliver after-hours and weekend support to VAW clients.

Other CCS teams across Mississauga, Scarborough and Brampton and the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program and Local Immigration Partnership teams have been busy too, offering services virtually, in most cases, including:

• English classes and sector-specific language training for healthcare professionals and childminders.
• Assistance with government supports and online portals for critical resources
• Conversation circles for seniors and drop-ins for youth
• Help for families with school work and interactive activities.

We will continue to do our best for our clients and we hope you continue to stay safe as a once-in-a-lifetime event rolls on.