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Baptcare Victoria was finalist in PASCOP’s 2015 Pastoral and Spiritual Care awards for its Community Aged Care Pastoral Care program. The program has professional spiritual carers as well as 45 volunteer pastoral visitors spending time with older people in their own homes. The program reaches around 100 people a month, and has now been replicated by BaptistCare in New South Wales/ ACT and Western Australia.

Baptcare Victoria supports around 2,245 older people each month through its community aged care program. The organisation offers spiritual support to any and all of their clients, residents and families regardless of their background, through the attentive presence of qualified Chaplains and in some places, Volunteer Pastoral Visitors.

In 2009, Baptcare initiated an approach to spiritual care that included giving opportunities for relationships to develop between local communities and Baptcare’s clients.

The program includes recruiting, training and supervising local pastoral care volunteers. They function as ‘pastoral visitors’ to clients, offering first level pastoral support to clients and referring back to the regional Chaplain if required.

After successful piloting including a detailed evaluation, Baptcare’s Community Aged Care Chaplains rolled out the model over 2012/2013. The organisation now has 45 volunteer pastoral visitors spending time attentively listening to clients in their homes across Victoria. The volunteers are offered reflective supervision by the Chaplains each month, as well as opportunities to connect with each other.

Building relationships

The programs works with clients who have a community aged care package and are living at home. Some are in metro Melbourne, others are in regional areas large and small. Most are isolated, many are housebound and have experienced losses in relation to their connectedness with self, others, creation/creativity and/or God.

The clients enjoy getting to know someone from their local community who cares about them –and who is free to listen to their stories without having to rush off to the next visit. In most cases the relationships are long term and so trust develops.

Many of the pastoral visitor volunteers are 65 plus, and for them it is a positive experience of being able to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. For example, the volunteers are able to visit clients when they are in hospital. This support then sometimes extends to families who may be present during the hospital visit and have their own struggles with their loved one’s health difficulty or even diagnosis of terminal illness and need someone to talk to who knows their parent.

 Evaluation highlights

 As part of the pilot, clients were asked which aspect of the Chaplain’s role was of most value to them. Clients participating in the survey ranked ‘Pastoral support’ as most important. Pastoral support was explained as companioning you, hearing your story and/or responding to your need for the relief of distress and the need for emotional support. This became the basis for BaptCare’s pastoral volunteer training.

 The evaluation revealed that Baptcare’s clients do see themselves as spiritual. A focus group with an external consultant explored what clients want from a pastoral conversation. Their replies included being able to talk about the difficult things and big questions, such as family relationships, and death.

The feedback about the training was very positive, showing that the volunteers were surprised by how much they gained from participating. In the process of implementation, Baptcare learnt that faith communities are not necessarily open to giving them access to their congregations; rather it depended on individual relationships with leaders across various denominations.

Making a difference

To date, the program has shown a marked difference for clients who were isolated, housebound, and on community aged care packages. Before the program started, only 20 clients in each region of Baptcare Victoria had access to pastoral care through its Chaplains.

The program is being replicated by BaptistCare NSW/ACT and BaptistCare WA.