WELLINGTON COUNTY – Two things are going on at Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington.
First, while counselling services are still being offered, in response to COVID-19, sessions will be by phone only, including walk-in clients.
And two, the agency is moving its head office in Guelph to a new location at the Shelldale Centre. Phone lines and email connections will be down from 5pm on March 26 to 9am on March 31.
The timing couldn’t be worse, the executive director acknowledged in a phone interview on March 25.
“We always planned to move at this time, and up until earlier this week, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. But movers are deemed an essential service, so we’re moving,” Joanne Young Evans said.
In response to COVID-19, the service closed its doors to the public on March 18. Since then counsellors have been working remotely and talking to clients on the phone rather than meeting in person.
Young Evans said it hasn’t been too difficult a transition for existing clients, “but our new, walk-in clients aren’t used to that.”
“We understand that it’s hard to talk when it’s a stranger and now you can’t even see who you’re talking to. We hope it won’t be a barrier to keep people from seeking help if they need it.”
And the stress calls are “skyrocketing,” she added.
“People are so anxious, concerned and afraid,” she said.
“Sometimes they just need to hear an understanding, rational voice on the phone letting them know they are okay. And sometimes it takes more than that.”
She said the walk-in clinic in Guelph is already 500 per cent over target this year. The Mount Forest and Fergus clinics have only been open for a year so there’s no data to tell if there’s been a sharp spike in calls in the county.
“The calls are different though. There are not as many as Guelph, but clients in rural areas tend to stay on (as clients) longer. In any case, all our locations are full,” she said.
Young Evans said the agency explored video calls last year and there wasn’t a big uptake, but once settled in its new location, Family Counselling and Support Services will look at it again. It could be especially effective for children, who would be able to see the counsellor and know no one else is in the room.
“It would also give our counsellors a better idea of what that child’s living conditions are like,” she said.
Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington began as a a prevention-oriented program of the Children’s Aid Society (now called Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County).
As an independent agency, it has expanded its reach. It now provides counselling for couples, families and those dealing with trauma, grief, stress, anxiety, depression, and those suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It also supports people with developmental challenges and the people who care them.
Youth aged 12 and up can call for help on their own. Children under 12 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
In January this year, the agency took over the TeleConnect and Distress Line services. It also provides employee assistance programs in the area.
The numbers to call to speak to a counsellor are 519-824-2431 or 1-800-307-7078, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the website or Twitter (@familycounsGW) for more information.