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Defence Community Organisation

For ADF members and their families

1800 624 608

Coronavirus advice

DCO will continue to provide information, support and referral services to support the ADF community in managing and responding to the emerging coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

In line with the whole-of-Government response to COVID-19, Defence is currently reviewing leave and other arrangements to protect ADF members, families and the wider Defence community. This includes some temporary changes to leave and other arrangements.

If you would like to discuss any of these changes, have questions about support available, or just want someone to talk to, our Defence Family Helpline will continue to operate 24/7. Call 1800 624 608 or email defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au.

If you have any questions in relation to Defence entitlements or pay and conditions, contact 1800 DEFENCE (1800 333 362) or visit the PACMAN website: www.defence.gov.au/PayAndConditions/.

DCO is holding a webinar series, ‘From Surviving to thriving during COVID-19’. The webinar series covers a number of topics, such as maintaining healthy relationships, the DCO support available, education during and after COVID-19, communication and healthy connections and how to stay physically, mentally and emotionally strong.

There’s a Q&A session at the end of each webinar where families can ask questions or seek more information about the topics discussed or the DCO support available. If you are unable to join one of our webinar sessions and have a question about the topic, have a question after the webinar has finished, you can contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608 or defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au. If you’d like to catch up on the questions asked in a previous webinar, visit our webinar Q&A section below.

Follow us on social media for up-to-date information and links to get tickets for upcoming webinars in the series. Free webinar tickets are available through Eventbrite with links available from the calendar on the DCO website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Forcenet.

Your wellbeing

In addition to maintaining and looking after your physical health, it is important to continue to look after your and your family’s mental wellbeing. The Defence community is able to respond to different situations through our strengths by adapting to change, working together, and looking out for each other.

Whether you are isolated, continuing to monitor the situation or remaining vigilant with your health, there are some key things to remember to keep balance with your mental wellbeing:

  • Know the facts: In order to reduce any unnecessary panic or fear, it is important to access information from reliable sources. The Australian Department of Health has information about COVID-19 and how to respond appropriately.
  • Manage your content intake: Try to balance the need to be informed, with taking a break from media coverage, especially if it is adversely affecting you or your family. If you find yourself constantly checking media coverage, it can be helpful to limit your content intake to a set period of time and at a scheduled time of day, such as for 30 minutes after dinner.
  • Try to maintain routines: For your wellbeing it is essential to keep doing the basics and day-to-day activities, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, staying hydrated and doing the things you enjoy. If you are in self-isolation, it is just as important to re-establish routines where possible, as this can help you feel more in control of the situation.
  • Keep socially connected: Feeling connected to others is important for your wellbeing and can help you effectively cope with challenges. Try to keep in regular contact with family and friends, even with limited physical contact, by talking over the phone, email, or by using social media and video messaging. Staying connected will help in managing feelings of social isolation and assist in maintaining an important part of your life.
  • Make a plan: There are many things about coronavirus that we are unable to control, but planning can help you do your best to remain practical. Your plan can include things like keeping up-to-date with official advice, understanding where to get support, learning about hygiene guidelines and making a list of things you need to do or follow up.
  • Reach out: Not knowing how a situation will unfold can cause a range feelings at different times. However if you feel that you are struggling or are unable to perform basic activities of daily life, reach out for support in coping, such as by calling the 24/7 Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608.

More information

A range of national mental health helplines are available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. None of these helplines should be used as a substitute for Triple-Zero (000) emergency services.

For details see our Mental health and wellbeing page.

Reunion leave

From March 2020, Defence Force will temporarily cease ‘relief out of country leave’ (or ROCL) provisions for ADF members.

Careful consideration was given, weighing up the importance of families being able to spend time together, with the need to protect the health and wellbeing of the Defence and wider community, and the increasing travel restrictions.

Understandably, affected Defence families may feel upset or frustrated by this and have unanswered questions. Depending on your individual circumstances, a range of practical and emotional support services are available for Defence families.

This includes assistance and strategies to effectively manage isolation, problem solving to address issues that may arise, and tips to help you and your family maintain your mental wellbeing and resilience during this time of uncertainty.

Members have been notified through a message from the Chief of the Defence Force and will be advised when this restriction is lifted, in line with the whole-of-Government response to COVID-19.

The only exception to the current reunion leave restrictions that may be considered, is under the discretion of the member’s Chain of Command, in exceptional circumstances.

Self-isolation

As COVID-19 continues to unfold, Australians are increasingly being asked to take precautionary measures to protect themselves and the broader community. As a result, a number of ADF members and families who have recently returned from overseas will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Self-isolation is crucial to help stop the spread of the virus, but it can also be challenging. It means letting go of our normal routines and reducing contact with people we care about. It is completely normal for people to have a range of reactions and feelings in relation to self-isolation, such as worry, boredom, frustration, stress, or low mood.

As you would expect, self-isolation is restrictive and you may need to work out how you and your family will be able to access essential goods and services, such as food, medication or learning resources. If you or someone you know has to self-isolate, there are a number of things you can do to look after your overall wellbeing:

  • Make a plan - Making a plan can help you feel calmer and more in control of the situation. It’s a good time to involve the rest of the family so they understand and feel more in control of what’s happening too.

  • Lean on social networks – If possible, arrange for family or friends to pick up and drop off needed items at your door or use online shopping (major supermarkets are slowly implementing priority online access for vulnerable customers, such as those in mandatory isolation).

  • Use home delivery options – Use meal prep kits and services to order pre-made meals or order take-away and convenience food when needed. A lot of local small businesses, such as restaurants, are becoming innovative in how they deliver services to the community.

  • Get support – Several community groups are providing services to help people during this difficult time. Local Defence community groups, closed social media groups and established groups such as Rotary and other charities are there to support those in need.

More information

The Department of Health has a number of fact sheets with practical guidance on how to self-isolate and what is expected of you and others living in the shared home.

You can also see our detailed fact sheet on How to cope during self-isolation for more information on coping strategies or call the all-hours Defence Family Helpline for advice and connection to support in your area.

Supporting kids

During this uncertain time, it’s natural to want to protect your kids from what is happening. They’re probably already seeing and hearing a lot about COVID-19 and aspects of their usual daily routine may have already been affected. Be aware that children look to their parents and caregivers for reassurance and avoiding the topic may inadvertently cause them to feel more concerned or unsettled.

You can help your kids understand and cope with what is going on by providing extra comfort, clear facts and support during this difficult and unsettling period:

  • Talk to your child in an age-appropriate way about what is happening and check their understanding of the situation to make sure that they don’t have any mistaken ideas or facts. Stick to simple and clear information for younger children, whereas older children or teenagers can be provided with a more detailed explanation.

  • Monitor and limit media coverage as children may also feel overwhelmed or distressed if continually watching or hearing news about the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Listen to your child’s concerns or fears and validate their feelings. It’s also helpful to balance fears with hope, as many people have recovered from the virus and there are many people, such as doctors and scientists, who are working really hard to find a vaccine/ medicine to help make people better.

  • Provide clear guidance about how your child can better protect themselves and others from getting sick, such as maintaining good hygiene like washing our hands and coughing into our elbow. For younger children you can help them better understand and make it fun by singing the ‘washing your hands’ song; there’s even a new Baby Shark song that teaches kids how to wash their hands correctly on YouTube.

  • Re-establish routines and maintain as much normalcy as possible in daily routines. Children take comfort in routines and will feel more secure if bedtimes, mealtimes and other important rituals remain unchanged. For aspects that you’re unable to control, work together as a family recreate a new routine, such as incorporating opportunities for learning, play, exercise and relaxation. If you’re also trying to juggle working from home, write down or create a visual routine and place it in a spot where everyone can see and be on the same page.

Support options

It’s important to monitor how your child is reacting to the constantly evolving situation and to be aware that children can also be adversely affected, but may express their emotions differently. Sometimes children can show stress by behaving differently like clinging, withdrawing or having more tantrums.

At any stage, if you begin to feel overwhelmed or unsure about your, or your kids’, ability to cope the Defence Family Helpline is available 24/7 to provide support on 1800 624 608.

More information

There are a number of additional resources available online, including:

Healthy relationships

COVID-19 is drastically changing the way we live our everyday lives. Our relationships may suddenly be under new kinds of pressure due to financial strain, being confined to home, working remotely, home-schooling children, or having less physical contact with family, friends or colleagues.

Our relationships will be a crucial aspect in helping us get through this difficult time, but may need extra time and attention to remain healthy.

Broadly, a healthy relationship is when two people mutually respect, support, and value each other. An unhealthy relationship is where one person hurts another or makes them feel threatened or unsafe.

Tips for helping your relationships to remain healthy

Communicate respectfully: During a stressful experience, tensions can be raised and arguments may become more frequent or intensified. It is important when resolving issues to treat each other as equals and to communicate respectfully, such as by taking turns to talk, listening even when angry, and not blaming or putting down the other person.

You should only settle disagreements when you are feeling calm and in control. If you find yourself becoming angry, annoyed or upset you could try counting to ten and taking some deep breaths or you may even need to take a small break from each other before trying to resolve the argument.

Regardless of the circumstances, it is never okay for someone to be violent during an argument or to make someone else feel fearful or scared. Healthy relationships are where each person should be able to express themselves respectfully without fear of consequences.

Quality time together and apart: Relationships often thrive with a mixture of quality time spent together and time alone. Our relationships can be strengthened by making most of the opportunity to spend time together without the usual distractions of a busy pace of life. This could mean cooking a new recipe, completing a puzzle, or learning a new language together. It is also helpful to have daily conversations about topics that aren’t about COVID-19, such as checking in with each other about how we are feeling and managing.

In order to ensure that your relationship with others you have to self-isolate with doesn’t become strained, find ways to spend time alone. For example, you could spread out to different areas of the house, read a book or go for walk in your local neighbourhood.

Connecting with others: It is essential to also prioritise maintaining social connections and relationships with others outside of our intimate relationships, such as with family, friends or neighbours. You could do this by calling, using video chat or writing emails. Where necessary, you could also debrief and gain perspective from a trusted friend about any difficulties you may have been experiencing lately.

Shared decision-making: It is likely that most of the usual household routines have been disrupted and may need a refresh to suit the current circumstances. It’s a good idea to have a discussion and, where possible, to equally divide the household responsibilities (unless you both decide and agree otherwise), such as deciding how you can both work from and home and look after the children’s school work and so forth.

The use of ‘I’ statements can help to diffuse a conflict and is helpful way to express how they are feeling without judgement of the other person, such as ‘I have been feeling overwhelmed with the household cleaning. Would you please help me with some of the tasks’.

More information

All relationships can experience complicated and challenging periods, especially during the current unprecedented times. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or need someone to talk to there are a range of services and resources available that can provide support during these times.

Defence Family Helpline: The Defence Family Helpline is part of the Defence Community Organisation, and is staffed by human services professionals including social workers and psychologists. They are available 24 hours a day to provide advice, information and support, and can also refer you to other support agencies.

1800 624 608 or defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au

1800RESPECT: A professional telephone and online crisis and trauma counselling service for anyone impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. Confidential support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact can be anonymous.

1800 737 732 or www.1800respect.org.au/

Open Arms: Veterans and Family Counselling: Open Arms offers individual, couples and family counselling, as well as group programs to help current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families.

1800 011 046 or www.openarms.gov.au/

Relationships Australia: Relationships Australia offers counselling, family dispute resolution, mediation, and a range of family and community support and education programs.

1300 364 277 or www.relationships.org.au

Family Relationships Online: Family Relationships Online provides all families with access to information about family relationship issues, ranging from building better relationships to dispute resolution. The Family Relationships Online website provides a range of information, resources and advice for families.

www.familyrelationships.gov.au

Family violence during COVID-19

For anyone experiencing family and domestic violence, having to self-isolate at home may not be the safest option. There is a range of support that can provide assistance even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Australian’s are being asked to stay at home where possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). However, for some people this could increase their risk of harm, as they have to spend increased time with an abusive partner or family member and may have limited access to support networks

Family violence is never justified, regardless of the situation or how ‘stressed’ someone may be feeling.

What is family and domestic violence?

Family and domestic violence is where one person in the relationship exerts power and control to hurt the other person, frighten them or to make them feel unsafe. It can include physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, psychological, legal, spiritual or financial abuse. For example, the perpetrator may verbally put you down or restrict access to communication with others or prevent you from receiving medical or essential services.

Anyone can be a victim of family and domestic violence. It is not confined to any single gender or cultural group. However, women and children are often the victims of such abuse.

Are you feeling unsafe or need support?

Everyone has the right to live free from violence and the threat of violence. If you are feeling threatened or unsafe then there are a range of supports and services that can provide support.

Specialist family violence services and emergency services, including crisis accommodation, police and courts, will continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, though the mode of service delivery may change slightly. Despite the current social distancing policies, it is also important to remember that anyone is able to leave their house if it is an emergency, such as fleeing family and domestic violence.

The support services listed below can help you develop a safety plan for yourself and your children, which will include personalised and practical ways to increase your safety whether you are still in the relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave.

Support services

It might be harder than usual to reach out for support during the COVID-19 crisis, so another option is to ask a trusted friend to make contact on your behalf. It might also be useful to also create a safe word, so that when the situation at home reaches crisis point, someone else you trust can urgently contact emergency services.

If you or someone you know is in imminent danger contact emergency services on 000 (triple zero) immediately.

The Special Accommodation for Emergencies (SAFE) scheme provides accommodation for ADF members, and the dependants of ADF members, in situations where they can’t remain in their home due to threat of or actual domestic crisis. SAFE and other Defence entitlements and support can be accessed through the Defence Family Helpline.

Defence Family Helpline 1800 624 608

Operated by Defence Community Organisation, the Helpline offers advice, intervention and referrals to people who are experiencing family and domestic violence. Contact can be made anonymously.

1800RESPECT 1800 737 732

A national telephone and online crisis and trauma counselling service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact can be anonymous. 1800 RESPECT is also able to link callers to local family violence services.

MensLine Australia 1300 789 978

A professional telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way.

Lifeline 13 11 14

A free, private and confidential 24-hour telephone counselling service.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people up until the age of 25.

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling 1800 011 046

Open Arms offers individual, couples and family counselling, as well as group programs to help current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families.

More information

There are a number of additional resources available online, including:

DCO Webinar series Q&A

Q: Do you have any advice for people dealing with PTSD or depression who are having to isolate?

A: Self-isolation, whilst crucial to help stop the spread of the virus, can also be challenging. It is completely normal for people to have a range of reactions and feelings in relation to self-isolation, such as worry, boredom, frustration, stress, or low mood; however, people with pre-existing anxiety and mental health conditions may experience heightened distress or may find the current conditions triggering.

Now is the time to prioritise self-care strategies into your daily routine, in order to look after yourself and to help you manage during this uncertain time. Firstly, try and focus on what you can control, such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and sleep regime. Another great strategy is to program enjoyable activities into your day – this is highly individual, but may include reconnecting with nature, watching a movie or reading a book. If you begin to feel overwhelmed then try some stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or grounding exercises (i.e. to look around the room and describe what you see or count backwards). Social connection is also important for our wellbeing and can help us effectively cope with challenges. But, it is acknowledged that isolation may increase feelings of depression or unhealthy avoidance behaviours, so try small incremental steps, like sending a text, making a phone call or using video technology to connect with family, friends and usual community groups.

If you are experiencing severe distress or are feeling overwhelmed then you should speak to your GP or mental health professional for specialised mental health support. There are also a number of other resources:

Another great tool to help manage your symptoms is the PTSD Coach Australia app or the Head to Health website.

If you would like to discuss any of the above, have questions, or just want someone to talk to, then DCO is here throughout it all 24/7 and you can contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608 or defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au.

Q: Can we post items to people in hotel isolation?

A: Sending care packages are a great way to remind our loved ones that we are thinking of them from afar. It is generally okay to post items to people in hotel isolation, but will depend on state and territory restrictions. Arrangements may also differ from hotel to hotel. It is advisable to contact the hotel directly to determine any specific requirements and processes to send a care package to your loved one.

Q: Can Defence School Mentors help during COVID-19?

A: Defence School Mentors are a great resource for children of Defence families, especially during the recent changes surrounding schooling and COVID-19. If you would like to link in with your child’s Defence School Mentor, visit the Kids' Education page. If your child’s school doesn’t have a Defence School Mentor then you can still receive support from our knowledgeable Education Liaison Officers – contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608 or email defencefamilyhelpline@defence.gov.au to be put in contact.

Q: How can I help support my child in Year 12 to manage their education requirements with all the COVID-19 changes?

A: Year 12 is a critical and often stressful school year for both students and their families, and this is without the added complexity that the coronavirus pandemic has introduced. It can be helpful to reassure your teenager that they are not alone and that everyone in their year is also trying to cope with the same challenges and that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. You could also point out that while they were learning online and are now transitioning back to classroom learning that they have displayed strength and perseverance, which are great attributes to have in both their academic and personal lives. If you have any specific concerns in relation to your child’s academic progress then you should contact your child’s teacher or school. Alternatively, you can also make contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608 to get in touch with your local Education Liaison Officer who can provide advice on education issues and Defence student wellbeing.

Q: My child’s tutoring approval will run out soon, but tutoring has been interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions. Will the approval timeframes be extended?

A: Tutoring support time frames will be extended as students were unable to undertake face-to-face tutoring during COVID-19. Families currently approved to receive tutoring support for their child may, depending on their circumstances, choose from the following options:

  • Face-to-face tuition, including tutoring sessions provided via on-line video conferencing applications such as skype, zoom etc.

  • Face-to-face tutoring time limits can be extended. If a member’s 18 month period from the date their child commenced at the new school is due to expire within the next 3 months, a 6 month extension is available.

  • Families currently approved to receive face-to face tuition are able to switch to web-based tuition, however any amounts paid for face-to-face sessions already undertaken are subtracted from the maximum limits that may be reimbursed for web-based tutoring. You may be paid for the cost of a subscription to a web-based tutoring service but may not be paid for computer software or hardware costs or internet access costs.

To request an extension; for more information on web-based tutoring or to enquire about Education Assistance Scheme entitlements, please contact education.supportprograms@defence.gov.au. For more information about the Education Assistance Scheme, visit the ‘Financial assistance’ section on the Kids' education page.

Q: Defence School Mentors are wonderful, but unfortunately they aren’t in every school. Might DCO consider arranging sessions where kids can come together and debrief/process their COVID-19 experiences with other Defence kids? This would be especially useful in larger cities where many Defence kids are spread out and at schools without a mentor.

A: DCO is currently reviewing its support programs for children, with an independent study being conducted in the first half of 2020. Once the report and recommendations are delivered DCO will be in a position to assess how it can provide more support to children, including those students who are not in a school with a Defence School Mentor. As students return to schools across the country DCO’s Education Support Team will work with its Education Liaison Officers and the Defence School Mentor network on ways services and support can be delivered in line with COVID-19 restrictions across the different states and territories, also taking advantage of online platforms.