Family Violence

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Learnings from Respectful Relationships Education during COVID-19

Reflecting on 2020

Approaching the end of any year provides a chance to reflect, take stock and use our learnings to improve our work moving forward. It goes without saying that 2020 has presented some unique challenges for our work in Gender Equity (GE) and the Prevention of Violence Against Women (PVAW).

Schools have experienced particularly significant disruptions this year. Primary prevention programs such as Respectful Relationships Education (RRE) have taken a backseat to more pressing issues such as the health and wellbeing of staff and students.

We know that incidents of family violence have increased during the pandemic and, while the reasons for this are complex, a major contributing factor is the tendency to revert to strict gender norms during times of uncertainty, reinforcing gender inequality. Despite RRE being more relevant and timely than ever, maintaining momentum has been difficult.

Swings and roundabouts

Challenges for schools to engage with RRE during the pandemic have been many and varied. Reduced capacity from staff as they mastered remote teaching, an increased focus on wellbeing of students and staff, and the prioritisation of curriculum essentials have all had an impact on how schools are able to engage with RRE.

Despite these hurdles, COVID-19 provided opportunities for new and innovative ways of working, with regular meetings, communities of practice (CoPs) and even training programs being delivered online. While there was initial trepidation about moving meetings and training to an online forum, the shift has been welcomed as possibly a more viable option as we transition to COVID-normal – a positive and unexpected outcome of this period. Several school staff expressed a preference for online delivery, given it removed the need to rush from the classroom to an offsite meeting, and made attendance more convenient. While participant numbers were not collected, learnings from our work in other settings highlights the potential of online training to increase participation. For example, regular gender equity training for early years educators, previously held in-person, hosted up to 20 participants. When this was moved online, 65 participants attended.

Regarding RRE student outcomes, some teachers were able to utilise the program to engage in social and emotional learning online, and found that this wellbeing approach deepened their relationships and connections with their students.

What helped?

A strong partnership between Access Health and Community and Link Health and Community was a key enabler of what was achieved this year, supporting the pooling of expertise, skills and resources, and the promotion of shared evaluation and learning. Our agencies also worked in close partnership with the Department of Education and Training (DET), which provided valuable insight into the impact of the pandemic on school communities, and helped shape our approach in engaging with school staff.

An understanding of the pressures faced by schools meant we could frame our engagement accordingly and maintain rapport. Regular attendance at virtual CoPs acted as a reminder that we were available to provide support and helped to keep RRE visible.

Moving forward

Reflecting on our learnings from this year has led to some preliminary ideas about how we will approach RRE in 2021. To build on what we have learnt this year and adapt our approach to keep primary prevention on the agenda, we will:

  • Recalibrate our ideas of what progress looks like and support schools to take small, achievable steps for sustainable progress.
  • Find new ways to celebrate wins to continue to build momentum.
  • Promote greater collaboration between lead and partner schools, to increase accountability and strengthen support networks.
  • Provide greater flexibility with the way we engage with schools. For example, offering both in-person and online support.
  • Ensure our ongoing presence at CoPs, to promote partnerships with community agencies and remain front-of-mind.
  • Continue to strengthen our partnership with DET through regular communication and assist in delivery of capacity building activities to schools.

Organisations: Access Health & Community, Link Health and Community

Contacts: Louisa Mitchell, Health Promotion Officer, Link Health and Community or Angela Ryan, Health Promotion Practitioner, Access Health & Community.