2021-2022 has been a year that SHFPACT’s steady, determined, and persistent commitment to its purpose and mission of improving reproductive and sexual health of the Canberra community, advocacy for public policy and resourcing to address the needs of priority populations, and building for the long-term through the recent years of uncertainty and constraint, resulted suddenly in a flurry of new opportunities and growth in its work.
The year started strongly — continuing the long period of relative stability in the public health response to the pandemic — but with an abrupt return to lockdown in August 2021 in response to growing COVID-19 transmission in the ACT community. This had an immediate impact on the delivery of SHFPACT’s education and training services, especially as schools navigated a second return to online learning, and teaching staff and community workers focused on immediate needs.
SHFPACT’s clinical services were ready, however, having built on the prior year’s experience, and pivoted seamlessly to a combination of telehealth and in-person consultations, and continued providing essential face-to-face services throughout the lockdown period to mid-October 2021. It is a tribute to the commitment and flexibility of SHFPACT’s clinicians and its senior clinical leadership team in particular that constant monitoring and changes to our service settings was managed almost invisibly to our service users and clients, and that there has been no disruption to clinical services delivery since the first lockdown in early 2020.
Cancelled and deferred activity in term 3 of 2021 for community and schools education services gave the Education, Health Promotion & Training (EHPT) team some space for program planning and review. Throughout this year, the EHPT team has embarked on a range of quality improvement activities, including the design and trial of new health education materials, the ongoing policy and suite of information resources review for our NDIS services and NDIS registration quality action plan, and the review and update of ACT Teacher Quality Institute (TQI) accredited training courses for teachers. One of the legacies of the demands for school communities to move their education settings so significantly in short periods of time has been a continuing suppressed demand for all school-focused professional development training offered by SHFPACT well into 2022.
A major change in the way public health management of pandemic-related risks occurred during the 2021-22 summer, and the SHFPACT management team returned early to review and update our COVID-safe policy and protocols in light of a significant shift from close ACT Health management of COVID exposure, isolation and quarantine requirements, to much greater individual and organisation responsibility for assessing and responding to risk. This shift proved a risk management challenge across the ACT non-government organisations sector who serve Canberra’s communities who experience high marginalisation and are additionally vulnerable to poor health outcomes.
SHFPACT staff collaborated and communicated closely with other health, education and community services providers during this period to both assess and mitigate these risks.
From January 2022, SHFPACT commenced activity for direct ACT Government funding for sexual health education and other supports for people with disabilities. This funding was a 2020 election commitment of the incoming ACT Government, and was announced in the 2021 ACT Budget. The renewed program has four focus areas: accessible sexual and reproductive health information, supporting schools based health education for students with disabilities, capacity building training for the disability support services sector, and supporting SHFPACT’s ability to engage with complex needs and community members who do not have NDIS packages in their health and support needs planning. Many of these had been significantly curtailed after the NDIS transitions in 2016, and the organisation is grateful for restored ACT Government funding support to address these unmet needs.
In early 2022, SHFPACT signed a three-year funding agreement with the Department of Social Services (DSS) for delivery of a national project as part of Australian Government policy and funding commitments to reduce violence against women and girls with disability.
The project builds on SHFPACT’s SoSAFE! Framework, and will resource implementation projects across the country using SoSAFE! Framework, as well as facilitating a health and disability support sector-development project to document good practice guidelines in the role that respectful relationships and health education programs can play in sexual violence prevention and response with women and girls with disability. SHFPACT is particularly pleased to commence its initial implementation project in Tasmania’s north-west with our longstanding SoSAFE! Training Partner, Family Planning Tasmania. And SHFPACT was successful in a multi-year Healthy Canberra Grants (ACT Health Promotion Grants program) application for a collaborative project with Hepatitis ACT to engage and support young people, with a focus on the cultural diversity of Canberra’s community, as peer advocates, educators and champions on sexual health and blood-borne virus needs. The project runs over two years.
All of these wonderful new project opportunities, combined with our ongoing service delivery commitments, have provided SHFPACT with the benefits and challenge of growing our staff team and organisation again after several years of close, conservative financial management. We have welcomed many new staff to our growing team, leased new office premises to support the Safer Girls Safer Women Project (DSS), and engaged a second Senior Director position to navigate our organisation and services development over the next years. This development includes the review and update of our strategic directions, navigating the uncertainties and opportunities of a major reform in ACT Health funding to non-government organisations through an evolving commissioning approach to health services planning and resourcing, continuing to contribute to good public policy for reproductive and sexual health outcomes, and pursuing new registration and accreditation processes in line with our current and evolving services offer in the Canberra community. On the advocacy and public policy front, SHFPACT contributed heavily to the work of the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response project through the second half of 2021, with the final Steering Committee Report being submitted to ACT Government in December 2021.
In June 2022, the ACT Government response was received, assenting to the vast majority of recommendations. SHFPACT joined with other civil society actors to publicly call for ACT Government to back its policy support with funding commitments in ACT Budget 2022, and a range of immediate priority actions and resources were announced. SHFPACT will play an ongoing role in the prevention agenda for sexual violence, in keeping with the organisation’s longstanding work in health promotion and health education. ACT Budget 2022 also announced new ACT Government financial commitments to fund abortion access and long-acting reversible contraception for Canberrans, and SHFPACT looks forward to contributing to the design and roll out of the service system to deliver on this commitment in the coming year.