Creatures of the Night: Changing After-Hours Staffing

Good Jobs logo for printThis month’s Good Jobs blog post is by Emilie McLarnan, Assistant Director at Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse.

photo by darwin Bell
photo by darwin Bell

After-hours crisis response is a crucial service we provide to the community. Our agency is a tri-service (domestic violence, sexual assault and crime victims) agency, operating a confidential shelter and straddling state lines. We are fortunate in that we have a healthy roster of trained volunteers taking the hotline nightly, freeing staff to do the in-person response when needed.

Since our shelter operates at a separate location from our offices, we have typically had shelter staff members perform back-up (our agency term for on-call) duties for the shelter location including after hours intakes and responding to shelter emergencies. Office-based staff usually covers any non-shelter related response: forensic exams, DV calls to the ER, responding to the police department, etc. Oh, and the Executive Director or Assistant Director alternate weeks of being on back-up for those strange situations that might need extra guidance or insight. This system has worked fairly well in the past, but last year we started to take a closer look at how back-up was going.

When we first started discussing the idea of shifting from separate shelter and office back-up to a system where this is a shared duty amongst all staff, I must admit, I was very leery of the idea. After all, shelter staff knows the many ins and outs of shelter, and office staff is fluent in the ways of community advocacy. But we realized the idea was worth considering if making a simple change could decrease the number of staff on back-up from four every night to three. While we consider providing after hours services an important part of what we do at ATVP, we are also aware of the burden it can be for staff and the budget. This change would shift shelter staff from being on back-up several nights per week, to expanding our team and ensuring no more than 4 to 5 one week shifts per person, per year. That’s a big difference!

How did we get here? We realized that some careful analysis of our procedures and our data had the potential to inform wise changes that could benefit staff and not impact the survivors we serve. A major concern was what to do if there is more than one call out at the same time? So we started by analyzing our afterhours activity. When we looked we realized that in the past year we had no incidents of multiple callouts at once, and no middle-of-the-night shelter intakes. To be sure, there were a couple of weekends with 3 or 4 calls to the hospital, and of course there were times the shelter alarm went off and staff had to make sure everything was alright. But overall, our perception was worse than reality.

When we decided to make this change, we pulled together a small team to go over the essential paperwork and information that all our team would need. We went over this with staff, giving them plenty of time to think of questions and concerns. At a recent retreat we spent most of the day training each other on after-hours response. There was plenty of time to ask questions, share concerns, role play, and troubleshoot. By the end of the day, the general consensus was that people felt more secure in their abilities in this area. Office staff will all be trained at the shelter and shelter staff will follow up with lingering questions on forensic exams. July 1st is the starting point for this new venture- we will see how it goes!

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