During 2020, SMLC surveyed Limestone Coast agencies, including government and non-government, to understand the impacts of Covid-19 upon their operations, staff and client base.

The results were released in May, 2021 and the data will be used to inform SMLC’s understanding of the current issues for our local sector and what the future needs may be for our community.

Key insights can be found in our media release and agencies can request a full copy of the survey report by contacting SMLC Project Officer Sophie Bourchier at

Government Sector

Respondents to the Government category ranged from the fields of education, allied and community health services and youth services. Each service provider has a particular area of specialisation and their knowledge and understanding of impacts is strong. However, some providers only see clients initially and then refer onto an alternative service, resulting in little in-depth knowledge of the severity or continuity of the client’s issues. Any future surveys should factor this in by allowing respondents to indicate where they have detailed knowledge or if they in fact do not.

For example, Schools mostly refer clients to other services and may not know the immediate demands for issues such as housing, AOD services or changes in AOD uptake.  They may be aware of domestic violence in the home but may not know the current risks or the severity of offences.  They may see changes in behaviour but not the magnitude.  Most questions would be challenging for them to provide an accurate response.  This is also true for other service providers in the sector, where clients undergo initial or emergency assessments, but are then referred on to other services for ongoing support.

Broadly speaking, the Government sector saw an increase in behavioural responses regarding AOD use and COVID-19. Largely, they saw the following trends increase by up to 25%:

  • Suicidal presentations and mental health presentations
  • Cannabis, Opiate, Methamphetamine and GHB use
  • Domestic violence

Whereas Alcohol use reportedly increased by 25-50%, as shown in the reported data

Non-Government Sector

Respondents to the Non-Government services category ranged from the fields of Domestic Violence and Housing Services, AOD Service Providers and then ‘Other’ services such as counselling, suicide support, legal services and aid agencies.  If the respondents are grouped into these categories, the following general trends were observed:

NGO Domestic Violence and Housing Services (n=8)

Up to 25% increase in:       

  • Demand for service and number of clients
  • Demand for housing and demand for motel accommodation
  • Reports of DV and severity of DV
  • Slight increase in suicide ideation

NGO AOD Services (n=3)

Up to25% increase in:

  • Demand for service
  • Demand for AOD Rehabilitation
  • More missed appointments
  • Alcohol, cannabis, methamphetamine, GHB and opiate use
  • Demand for housing and motel accommodation
  • Financial stress
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Reports of DV and severity of DV

However, mental health presentations saw a 25 – 50% increase.  More generally the following was reported across this category:

  • A decrease in opiates, possibly due to the challenges in sourcing
  • Inability to access drug of choice
  • Changes in client profile (age & gender) and changed income.
  • Gaps include housing distress and homelessness and mental health service waiting times.

NGO Other services (n=5)

These services do not provide AOD counselling and would not assess for changes in use. They may however see changes in housing needs and financial stress.  Overall,  the following was reported:

  • An Increase in mental health presentations by up to 25%
  • Marked decrease in active clients from the period of February 2020 – June 2020
  • Longer retention in treatment, fewer missed appointments

When investigated a little further the following was also noted. Youth Services, generally saw more missed appointments, an increase in financial stress by up to 25% of clients and an increase in mental health presentations by up to 50%.  There were reported gaps in the mental health services available, a higher rate of school absences and casual workers getting less or no shifts.

Financial Counselling Services largely saw increases of up to 25% in the following areas:

  • Demand for service
  • Changing profile of client – change of income, job loss
  • Financial stress
  • Mental health presentations

Private Sector

Private Sector respondents ranged from counselling services to medical services and facilities. Though sample sizes were small, and caution should be used applying these results in a broader context, the following was noted for this sector, particularly in relation to counselling services, an increase of up to 25% in:

  • Demand for AOD services
  • Housing needs
  • Suicide expressions
  • Cannabis use
  • Opiate use

There was an indication that alcohol use may have increased upwards of 50%, however none of the respondents indicated they had noted a change in methamphetamine, GHB, or polydrug use. 

Broadly speaking responses indicated boredom, ruminating and anxiety as contributing factors to increased use. Other changes were explained due to isolating, accessibility to drug of choice, job loss, decreased money and increased money as contributing factors to changing behaviours.

Private Sector respondents noted changes in enquiries a result of COVID-19, with some minor changes to demographic of client, and client profile.


Overall, the survey highlighted the range of services and knowledge available across the sector is highly variable.  It would be worthwhile considering further surveys customised to each sector to delve deeper into responses, providing greater accuracy and depth of understanding.  An alternative approach would be to develop surveys based on the distinction of type of providers (e.g., AOD, Financial Counselling, Medical Services etc), regardless of the sector they belong to, as a means of providing greater insights.

A follow-up survey would also assist in ascertaining the on-going impacts of COVID-19 as opposed to initial ‘emergency response’.  It may also provide an opportunity for an improved response rate due to services heading back towards the ‘new normal', or to even ascertain what this ‘new normal’ is looking like for service providers.