Adapting to Covid-19 with appointments

How DASH successfully moved to an appointment based service delivery model.

Organisation Profile

We found out more about how DASH are delivering COVID-19 support

What have you learnt during the lockdown about the delivery of your services and the needs and capabilities of your service users? 

Lockdown has brought home that as a drop-in service we were fairly reactive, in the sense that clients have to come to us. In early lockdown, that remained the case with clients contacting us with their needs. As lockdown has continued, we’ve become more proactive in contacting clients for services such as welfare checks and telephone ESOL, which highlights needs that would have gone unreported. 

Our client numbers are increasing week on week. We’re now up to the same numbers as for our ‘big’ Thursday drop-in. Bearing in mind that at drop-ins, a percentage of clients were coming for the social aspect (rather than any specific DASH assistance). This suggests that we’re actually seeing more clients for active support services now than we were pre-lockdown. 

Outreach is a new development for us. The biggest hindrances to clients accessing our service now are language barriers and connectivity (phone credit / data). We’ve also learnt how much we’re able to do remotely - more than anticipated - aided in part by the Home Office winding down activity.

How did you deliver your advice services before lock-down? 

Two open drop-ins a week, the larger of the two including hot meals, donations, destitution payments, welfare support and asylum casework. Client contact was kept strictly to the drop-in hours with follow up work happening on other days. Clients at drop-ins basically had to queue to see the caseworker.

How have you adapted your advice service delivery now?

We’ve moved to a telephone only service. Our phone line is now open Mon-Fri 9-5 but this is only to triage clients so telephone appointments can be booked (for what were our drop-in days). Our two strands of work fall roughly into two categories: Asylum Casework (OISC regulated) and Welfare Support. 

However, the triage has refined that distinction. We’re buying phone credit for clients for better connectivity, running telephone ESOL and welfare checks with a set of standard questions (do you have a GP, do you need food etc). Voluntary activity has increased gradually. Local partnership work with the Strategic Migration staff at Kirklees Council has also been strengthened making referral pathways easier.

What benefits have you seen or learning have you gained from delivering advice in this way? 

Moving to appointments has enabled us to meet demand more effectively. At drop-ins, the caseworker didn’t know who was coming and with what needs, and so time was spent establishing existing facts. Now it’s an appointment system, she can read a client’s file and case-notes before the appointment which improves communication quality and time efficiency.

This system has also given the core team of 6 (3 staff/3 volunteers) much better oversight over what’s happening because we’re working from a shared diary, and communicating a lot more about the clients we’re seeing. We use a WhatAapp group chat like a virtual office - on drop-in days, we’re messaging throughout the day to assist each other (adhering to strict anonymisation rules). This level of cohesion was missing from the rush of the drop-in model, where it was hard to keep a handle on what everyone was doing in a busy hall of up to 100 people. 

What challenges have you encountered?

Gaining the appropriate client consents can prove challenging when electronic options aren’t available to clients. We’ve had a staff change during lockdown, which has made induction tricky. 

Everything takes a bit longer. At a drop-in, a volunteer might have made a food bank referral in one phone-call and then logged it. Now, that task has to be delegated and passed remotely between DASH and the volunteer, such that sometimes the task passes through 3 different people before it gets done. 

Arranging interpreters can also slow things down. At drop-ins, we had interpreters in the hall. The biggest challenge for the asylum caseworker is being able to see essential papers. We were looking into a card system for destitution payments but because the circumstances for those payees were changing rapidly (section 4s being approved), in the end we found the only way to deliver destitution payments was to do it physically. For clients, trying to communicate their needs over the phone exacerbates their stress. 

What feedback have you got from clients?

This is a good question because it’s made me realise that we haven’t elicited client feedback in any formal sense. However, we’re seeing numbers of new clients increase (29 in the last 5 weeks), much through word-of-mouth. There’s hope it’s an endorsement of sorts. 

We have had individual feedback from clients who’ve been helped by the welfare checks and ESOL lessons. We’ve also delivered 22 radio sets, which went down well. One anxious client reported that being able to listen to classical music made her feel much calmer. For Refugee Week, we asked clients for Lockdown Reflections that we could tweet. Many praised DASH for making them feel less alone. 

Will you maintain any of this approach in the future? 

Yes. Although we miss the liveliness of drop-ins, we don’t want to return to the exact same model. It’s a balance because the atmosphere was friendly and sociable but we’ve questioned whether it could also have been intimidating for more vulnerable clients. We’re looking at the possibility of offering different sessions away from the main drop-in, including women only sessions. 

We’ll keep the appointment system for the asylum caseworker, and are looking at ways of refining how we deliver the welfare support work. We want the initial needs assessment to be carried out in a quieter environment. The meal and the donations room have contributed to the drop-in liveliness, but we’ve realised that these shouldn’t take priority or set the tone every week. 

We may rotate how and when these different services happen. It’s hard to confirm these plans though because we don’t yet know when drop-ins will resume. 

What practical advice would you give to other organisations?

Every organisation is different but we would have struggled to maintain our level of work without 3 core volunteers. They’ve been central to our delivery and so it’s been crucial that they’ve also been central to our decision-making. Regular team contact/meetings would be my main bit of advice. 

It makes a big difference if you can strengthen partnerships, particularly with the local authority. We’re lucky too with our trustees who bid for the funds to provide more staff hours, which will help embed and improve these changes.