When the infection rate of COVID-19 began to drastically rise in March 2020, HAWC had to quickly adjust to offering our services in new, unfamiliar ways. Our Domestic Violence Support Groups are traditionally held in person at each of our Community-Based Offices with the intention of providing psychoeducational support to survivors and to build a sense of community among our clients. Closing our offices to the public meant needing to overhaul our Support Group curriculum and move to a virtual service delivery model.
Navigating this new virtual platform proved to be both challenging and a learning experience for our team. All of our Advocates worked together to adjust our existing Support Group curriculum for this new facilitation model. Advocates Rebecca Pinedo and Jessica Vindel from our Salem and Lynn Offices, respectively, led the first of several virtual groups.
“In some ways, we found that offering our Support Groups virtually made them much more accessible for clients,” Rebecca said. “We have many clients who don’t have the time or capacity to come into the office for a group because of needing childcare, having to work, living with a disability, and other barriers. With virtual meetings, all they needed to be able to do was click a Zoom link to participate.”
Jessica recalls an initial challenge of ensuring each client had the necessary equipment, such as a computer to participate and headphones for their kids to use so as not to overhear what was discussed. HAWC developed a “How-To” Guide to assist survivors who hadn’t used a platform like Zoom before.
“I think it made some clients more comfortable that they didn’t necessarily need to have their camera on to participate. This level of confidentiality encouraged some people to participate who might not otherwise have felt comfortable attending in person.”
Types of Support Groups include:
Domestic Violence 101, which aims to educate clients about the signs, myths and stigmas associated with abuse to help them understand their trauma and identify potential red flags in future relationships. Clients also have the opportunity to interact with one another, share experiences, and build a sense of camaraderie. The groups spend time exploring how to co-parent with someone who has been abusive, something many of our clients must navigate.
Drop-in Groups, a newer venture for HAWC, are also offered virtually as an open forum for survivors to connect and share their feelings in a more casual format. HAWC offers several Support Groups throughout the year with varying combinations of our Advocates serving as facilitators; this ensures clients have access to our Advocates’ vast individual skill sets and differing facilitation styles. The goal of our Support Groups and all of HAWC’s programming is to meet clients’ needs in relation to their unique circumstances.
“Everyone who participates in our support groups is at a different place in their healing journey. Some are still in an unhealthy relationship, some have just left and others have been out of it for years,” Rebecca said. “We spend time acknowledging that survivors don’t enter into a relationship expecting to be abused. It starts off slowly. They are allowed to still love the person and mourn for the relationship. This was their partner, someone they wanted to build a life with. We can’t expect those feelings to go away overnight.”
While Virtual Support Groups worked great for some survivors, we expect other clients will prefer in-person groups again when we are able to accommodate them. The goal is to be able to offer Support Groups both in-person and virtually when we reopen our office spaces in July.
“For some clients, doing a group at home feels safe. They can be in the comfort of their own home with a blanket, wearing comfortable clothes. For others, they find real value in connecting with others in person,” Rebecca said.
We have learned so much in the past 15 months, and HAWC is stronger for it. We were able to use the health crisis as a moment of opportunity to engage in innovation. As a result, we have expanded our service models to better support all survivors.