COVID-19 drives Inspire to take all services online

A radical changeover from physical services to digital could be one to watch for other non-profit and profit-driven entities

The biggest shift was the introduction of home programmes, which are prepared by the foundation’s team and are personalised weekly for each service-user, depending on their abilities and requirements
The biggest shift was the introduction of home programmes, which are prepared by the foundation’s team and are personalised weekly for each service-user, depending on their abilities and requirements

One of Malta’s major institutions assisting the disabled has shifted its services completely online due to the soft lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a radical transformation for Inspire Foundation, which had to suspend its in-person services and close its premises in Bulebel, Marsascala and Gozo.

But the foundation’s online services were up and running just weeks after the 13 March public health instruction, for some 250 adults and children currently enrolled in the foundation’s programmes.

“Our mission is to assist persons with a disability to achieve their full potential in life, even if it means shifting ways to do this. We had to not only ensure that our service-users are still getting the assistance they need, but also help families overcome the challenges and the overwhelming scenario they were suddenly faced with,” Therese Bonnici, Inspire marketing executive, said.

The sudden change in routine can be particularly overwhelming, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Bonnici said it was important for the foundation to continue to support parents in creating a structure at home, that ensured children remained stimulated, motivated and physically active.

“We’ve found that during this uncertain period, more people have been reaching out to Inspire and we are doing our utmost to support them through consultations, which involve sharing our online services, webinars and video clips that are available to the general public,” Bonnici said.

The biggest shift was the introduction of home programmes, which are prepared by the foundation’s team and are personalised weekly for each service-user, depending on their abilities and requirements. This may include activities that help with cognitive and motor skills, sensory processing, communications and independent living. Tutors and specialists are also available to support parents and guardians in carrying out these activities through a range of online communications platforms.

So far, Bonnici said the response has been positive,
So far, Bonnici said the response has been positive,

The foundation’s Parent Relations Manager holds regular online calls with parents to advise families and deal with social concerns when necessary and answer any questions they might have.

The foundation has also been hosting webinars with professionals, covering a wide range of topics, including emotional awareness and regulation, and principles of learning and structure, which are also free and open to the public.

Bonnici said that the success of the online service depended on the parents’ and guardians’ ability to follow through with the activity plans sent by the team.

“Ultimately, when a child attends a session at Inspire, for the skills we are working towards to be consolidated and transferred into different contexts, it requires regular practice with the parents, otherwise progress would be slow, so parents always play a significant role in working with their children to achieve their goals,” she said.

By having regular calls with the parents, the foundation has been able to guide them through the provision of specific strategies and approaches, ensuring that the service user is still benefitting as much as possible from their online service. “Of course, we also need to take into consideration the commitments that parents have to home-school their children, and some are also trying to work full-time from home, all the while caring for their family and all that entails.”

So far, Bonnici said the response has been positive, adding that parents have expressed their gratitude for the continuity of care for the support they are receiving throughout these challenging times.

“Members of the team took the bull by its horns and made the shift in the quickest and most efficient manner. Our priority is and will remain our service-users. The situation did not only have an impact on the way we work but also on our income channels, which help to sustain the service, our charity shops and fitness centre had to close, while fundraising events were put on hold and this has inevitably, caused financial strains,” she said.

For those families that may not have access to the internet, the foundation ensured that they received hard copies of session plans and resources by means of home delivery.

However, Bonnici said that individuals with a complete lack of internet access were very few in number. “For some parents the issue was access to an email account or their technical skills, when it comes to online sessions, and in such cases, we went with the means of communication and submission of the home programmes that are most convenient to them,” she said.

Ultimately, Bonnici said it was important for the foundation to remain as flexible as possible in their approach, to ensure that each and every service user received support. “Even for those individuals who live in residential settings, we have been working with the homes concerned to ensure that the programme is still being followed.”

Those wanting to help Inspire during this uncertain time can do so by visiting the foundation's donation page https://inspire.org.mt/give/donations/one-time-donation

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