Stopping Abuse During COVID-19

ECF grant helps St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families Society move programs online during pandemic

In late 2019, the St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families Society (SAIFS) was in the early stages of offering some of its counselling and support services online. As a second-stage trauma organization that deals primarily with people suffering familial abuse who are either unable or currently unwilling to leave their situation, they knew that digital offerings were becoming a necessity. But serious questions of security and privacy arise for people still living with an abuser, and they were going to take time and resources to resolve.

“We knew we needed to be able to offer these online tools, because people were reaching out in those ways,” Areni Kelleppan, Executive Director of the Society, explains. “We just thought we had time. It turns out we did not have time.“

When COVID-19 shut down their services in March, their online system was still in the planning stages. SAIFS was forced into a world where the phone was their only means of keeping in touch with clients. To make matters worse, the pressures and issues that came with the lockdown only increased demand for their services — often from people with whom they didn’t have any existing relationship to build off.

For people whose main source of connection is being used against them, trust and comfort are doubly essential — any interruption in support can send them back to square one, or worse. So when SAIFS received $15,000 from the Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to help them finish building out their online services, it wasn’t just the money that helped, but the speed.

“It allowed us to take the work we’d done and mobilize it in time for the pandemic,” Kelleppan explains. “They let us know we had the grant within a week, and we had our platform deployed within the month.”

Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy says that projects like this are what the Rapid Response Fund (RRF) was designed for. “We knew that SAIFS clients couldn’t wait any longer than necessary to access these crucial services. The RRF allowed us to support SAIFS quickly and continue making a difference in these people’s lives.”

Though SAIFS has since been able to see clients who wish to do so in person, the capacity they have built now isn’t going away. They’ll be able to be there for their clients not just through whatever else COVID-19 has to throw at us, but for whatever comes after.

“Many of our clients, they don’t see what’s happening to them as a crisis — it’s just the way they live,” Kelleppan says. “I think people are immensely resilient, and I think they survive more than we give them credit for. And when they come back, we’re here.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.