19 May Peter Guest – Pride and professionalism of the Deep South
Victim Support Southern Area Manager Peter Guest acknowledges these are challenging times but speaks with obvious pride about the professionalism and dedication his teams have shown during the current COVID-19 crisis.
“Our Support Workers do prefer face to face engagement, but remote support has been working well and victims and their families have been really appreciative. It’s been pretty much business as usual. There’s a steady flow of work and we’ve been able to respond to all the referrals that have been made,” says Peter.
Support for those who lose loved ones to COVID-19 overlaps with Victim Support’s existing role as the main agency supporting those bereaved by the sudden loss of a family member or loved one. In 2019 the organisation supported around 4000 people who had lost someone close to them unexpectedly through a medical event, with the bulk of these referrals coming from police.
“For privacy reasons I won’t comment on COVID-19 cases specifically, but we respond to sudden death referrals quite frequently. In some instances, families are well supported and don’t need our help, but in almost every case they are appreciative of our making contact and checking on their wellbeing,” says Peter.
“Other people find themselves in very isolated positions at the time of a loved one dying and so they really value the hand that’s reached out to support and assist them during this time.”
As grief impacts everyone differently and at different times the critical support provided by Victim Support workers will often be needed later.
“We know grief can come in waves so around the time you have to be at your most practical you are possibly not experiencing it so much but when the pressure of organising everything comes off it can really be felt,” explains Peter.
“We also find that some people have family and others gather around at the time of the death and up to shortly after the funeral, so we have the volunteers arrange to call them back in a week or two to check on their welfare and wellbeing. That’s sometimes when the person most needs the support.”
Family dynamics can be another factor that can complicate the grieving process.
“It can be helpful for the key people involved who are holding it all together for the family to talk to someone outside of the family. In this way our Support Workers can be really valuable as someone who is independent, can listen and have an understanding of the processes and the grief they are going through,” says Peter.
Along with providing emotional support for as long as it may be needed, Support Workers are also trained in the practicalities they may require such as the coronial process, contacting funeral homes along with other agencies such as ACC and Work and Income.
As Southern Area Manager, Peter has overall responsibility for ensuring people are getting the best possible care within a wide geographical area that stretches from Ashburton to Stewart Island. Four Service Coordinators run the volunteer programmes at a local level with around 90 volunteers between them. Southern has always enjoyed healthy volunteer numbers and Peter is delighted with the new recruits who have recently joined the volunteer programme.
Peter says, “the people coming on board are bringing a good skill base and it’s really helpful. We’ve also been well serviced by volunteers who’ve been with us many years and whose loyalty to us and to the community is incredible.”
“It’s a strength across the country, but certainly one of the strengths of Southern is our relationship with local police and the respect and appreciation they have for what we do and with other agencies and the courts. What it shows is we have a very valuable part to play in our society.”