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Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —I now welcome representatives from the Aftercare Resource Centre. Do you have anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Mrs Holt —I am a permanent part-time counsellor at the ARC Support Service.

CHAIR —You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. Either or both of you may make an opening statement, and then we will get to questions.

Ms Scollay —We would like to say thank you very much for inviting us to come along today. As the Coordinator of the ARC, I thought it might be valuable for you to hear from Julie, who is a very experienced counsellor with the Aftercare Support Service and works directly with this clientele. Julie has a statement to read out to you today.

Mrs Holt —Thank you very much for allowing us to come along and speak before you today. I would like to provide you with some background information. Relationships Australia in New South Wales was funded by the New South Wales Department of Community Services during the Wood royal commission in 1996 to operate a helpline to respond to the many people who came forward with their experiences of abuse whilst in institutional care in New South Wales. The Aftercare Helpline, now known as the ARC Support Service, is a specialist counselling service of Relationships Australia for people over 25 who have been in care in New South Wales. Initially the Aftercare Helpline received funding to employ an experienced counsellor for two days per week. This has been increased to a three-day position to provide counselling, to assist with file reading, to support family reunion and to act as an information and referral service. Money is provided for brokered counselling. That means that we can access counsellors outside of the metropolitan area or interstate if people are living elsewhere.

CHAIR —Can you explain how you do that, as well? We heard evidence about the brokered counselling in Queensland yesterday.

Mrs Holt —Yes. What usually happens with that is a client will contact the service and give us a bit of their background in care. We might assist them to get their files if they were in care in New South Wales. Then when they get their files, or sometimes prior to that, we like to support them around that file reading. We will generally go onto the APS—the Australian Psychological Society—website or the social work website, find people with experience working with trauma and track them down. Sometimes it can be quite difficult because people live in remote areas and it is also difficult for them to travel into various areas. In those cases, we will often do telephone support.

Since the ARC was established, the demand on the service has grown exponentially, and in response to this we have successfully lobbied the Department of Community Services to increase our staffing levels and brokered funding. That happened quite recently, and in the 2009-10 financial year we will operate as a full-time service, which is a great relief to all of us.

In regard to the client needs, we feel it is up to the care leavers themselves to best articulate what it is they want and need. However, having said that, from our perspective as a specialist counselling service provider we feel that there are several issues that continuously raise their head with us that need to be addressed. Firstly, we believe care leavers require long-term counselling. The childhood trauma they have experienced cannot be addressed with short-term work and any counselling funding needs to recognise this.

We have also identified a need for the provision of casework services. As mentioned by Leonie previously, clients can really struggle to advocate on their own behalf and become disempowered in accessing some of the services they need, such as health, education and housing. They really do struggle, trying to deal with these government departments. It takes them straight back to the past and where they were previously.

In our work, we regularly see clients’ traumatic childhood experiences impacting on their own children and families. Many issues from the past inform present day ideas of parenting and relationships. We strongly support the provision of support services to the children of care leavers. Often many of the elderly care leavers are struggling with these intergenerational problems that just keep perpetuating themselves.

Also, we have identified group work as a powerful modality to address the needs of this client population. Groups assist clients to validate their experiences. It reduces isolation and helps them to establish informal support networks. We believe that group work facilitated by suitably qualified professionals with experience of working with trauma would greatly enhance the existing service provision.

Finally, we fully support the establishment of a reparation fund for people who were in care in the state of New South Wales. We are continuously contacted by clients—and this would happen every day—who want to know why they are not eligible for compensation when care leavers in other states are. ‘When am I going to get my money? When am I going to get my apology?’ is something that we hear on a regular basis.

We have also seen firsthand the devastating impact of clients attempting to seek acknowledgement and reparation through the legal system. This is a really bitter struggle for many clients and one that we have not seen the end of yet for a lot of people who are already entrenched in that system. We believe that acknowledgement and reparation would make a huge difference to the quality of life of care leavers.

That is basically what we came along to say in regard to the work that we do and that is what has really stood out for us. We would like to thank the committee for inviting us to come along and speak, and thank you for your ongoing commitment to the needs and rights of the forgotten Australians.

Senator FIFIELD —Thank you, Mrs Holt. Could you take us through the group work that you mentioned? I think it might be something that the Healing Way touched on before, but could you take us through the range of activities and help which is rendered through the group work?

Mrs Holt —Initially, I was one of the people instrumental in setting up a retreat when I first became employed as secretary of the Institute of Group Leaders in New South Wales. I thought it would be a great way to reach as many clients as possible, so that is one of the great benefits. We set up a retreat program, which was very useful. It brought people together so they could share their experiences in a safe, supported environment. We covered areas that were informed by a focus group that we had run to find out what it was they felt they needed as care leavers, and that is something that came out of that. We were looking at issues around grief and loss, self-esteem, seeking services, telling your story, writing your story, and looking at the legal aspects and how they might impact on you. Basically, they came up with the headings of what it was they wanted.

After that, we applied for more funding so that we could replicate the retreat. We did not receive that, simply because we became a bit adventurous and thought, ‘Let’s get the people from interstate, try to get the people who are really isolated, to come together.’ We then ran a series of workshops at the ARC but, unfortunately, we were limited because that was just in Parramatta and our clients are all over Australia. Although we intend to continue with that, we can really reach only a small percentage of our client population.

Senator FIFIELD —Did the funding come only from the New South Wales government and was it only for that one project?

Mrs Holt —That was a one-off. We worked creatively within our means to run the workshops.

Senator FIFIELD —Is there any chance of receiving funding from institutions where the people you help may have once resided?

Mrs Holt —That would be wonderful. We are not too concerned about where the funding comes from; we would just like to be able to run the services.

Senator FIFIELD —I was just curious as to whether those institutions or church organisations had been approached to say, ‘Here’s a practical way to help.’

Mrs Holt —From our perspective they have not been because we are funded through DoCS, which is the governing body we have mainly worked with.

Ms Scollay —Primarily, we have targeted only the Department of Community Services for groups under the umbrella of Relationships Australia.

Senator FIFIELD —Would they mind where you got other sources of funding from?

Ms Scollay —I do not know. It might be an avenue to explore further down the track. We just targeted the department to get the support for that retreat, and then we went back and asked for more funding for another retreat and were rejected.

Senator FIFIELD —I just wondered, given that the department is not coming to the party.

Mrs Holt —I am sure that it is something that we could look into.

CHAIR —How much did it cost? What was the funding for that particular project? Would you take the question on notice

Mrs Holt —Yes.

CHAIR —If we are talking about the kinds of services you provide and the kinds of funding you require—from the feedback you have given and the feedback that previous witnesses gave this was something that worked well and was a very successful and fulfilling process.

Ms Scollay —I think it was a very rewarding experience for the people who attended. It was held up in the Blue Mountains and it was a trip out for people. It was very well coordinated, but there was minimal funding so it was only for a couple of days.

CHAIR —What is your funding cycle? You said that you have just been re-funded. For what period of time have you been re-funded?

Mrs Holt —We have been given $193,729 for the next 12 months.

CHAIR —I sometimes wonder where those figures come from—$729. Are you in a 12-month by 12-month cycle?

Mrs Holt —Yes. It is per financial year.

CHAIR —Which would be very difficult in terms of organisation and planning.

Mrs Holt —It is very difficult. We do the broker counselling and we organise X number of people, but we do not know how many clients will approach us. We have had to establish waiting lists because the funding is getting very close to the bone.

Ms Scollay —And that is for one full-time position. Julie shares that position with another worker, so it is actually one position. The rest of the funds are used on brokerage—that is, trying to find a counselling service closest to the client to help with file reading and to help with support and things like that. It is limited.

CHAIR —Is there any formal relationship between the ARC services here and the ARC services elsewhere? We had submissions yesterday from ARC in Queensland, and I take it there are ARCs elsewhere.

Ms Scollay —No.

CHAIR —There are only two places?

Ms Scollay —Yes.

CHAIR —Are they both under the auspices of Relationships Australia?

Ms Scollay —Yes.

Mrs Holt —They are far more well funded than we are.

Ms Scollay —It is totally different funding. We have met with them. They came down to New South Wales, and we met with them and sussed out how they work things. It was very interesting for all of us to meet, and that is probably how the relationship ended.

CHAIR —So there is a body of skill that knows this area and has the expertise?

Ms Scollay —Yes.

CHAIR —Do you have anything else you think we should know?

Mrs Holt —As previously mentioned, I think it is for the care leavers themselves to really say what it is they want and need. From our perspective, we have highlighted the things that we thought were worth bringing to the table.

Ms Scollay —As Leonie Sheedy mentioned earlier, there is a huge transgenerational issue which there is no research into. I have worked with young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who have just come out of the state care system. Again we see their children being removed at that point in time, so it is happening. There is a need for more research into that to support care leavers—even with their intergenerational issues, the care cycle would be such. It is needed very much; I cannot stress that enough.

CHAIR —One of the recommendations of the previous inquiry was to have that research, and we know that has not been done.

Ms Scollay —Nothing has been done.

CHAIR —On record, you think that is an important recommendation.

Ms Scollay —Absolutely. I know ARC was speaking a lot about that as well, and we talked a lot about that after the Wood report came out. That was a highlight, even just for the group of young people I work with.

CHAIR —ARC, who we heard from yesterday, is collocated with other services in the Lotus centre in Queensland. Is there a move to have a similar kind of arrangement in New South Wales, a focused collocated one-stop shop service?

Ms Scollay —We share premises with an adolescent family therapy service, but that is for a younger care group. The ARC Support Service and the ARC are together in our premises in North Parramatta. Because we are an outreach service, we will go out to the clients as well. Then there is telephone counselling and support around that.

Mrs Holt —I think there are pros and cons of a one-stop shop. I think on some level some clients do not particularly want to identify as care leavers, but they require the services and they like to come to a service that is separate and under a different auspice, under a different heading. I think there is some benefit in that. At the same time, a one-stop shop could be a great fit for some other clients. So it is hard to say, really.

CHAIR —In the feedback you get from your clients, do they tell you the services they need?

Mrs Holt —Yes, they do. That has basically been outlined in what we have come with today. This is what we hear.

CHAIR —The health, the education, the housing.

Ms Scollay —Housing is a huge issue.

Mrs Holt —Housing is massive. A lot of our clients live in poverty. They struggle from pension cheque to pension cheque, and we hear it every week. That is why we think some kind of reparation would be really helpful and just help people to get on their feet.

CHAIR —The whole issue of housing we have heard about in a couple of areas. It has always been a major issue. Has it been getting access to public housing, or that the hope of having permanent housing is a long way away?

Ms Scollay —It is public housing waiting lists, it is priority housing waiting lists. All our clients go straight to a priority housing list, but that is 12 months, ideally.

Mrs Holt —I have two homeless care leavers at the moment that are just bunking on people’s floors, that are in their 40s.

CHAIR —In the inner city?

Mrs Holt —Outer west.

CHAIR —Which is also a difficult area for housing.

Ms Scollay —Extremely. High needs.

CHAIR —The other issue that was put on record around housing was that in the national homeless planning that has been done there has not been mention of care leavers. There is really great work and a whole list of people who are priorities in that, but care leavers do not get a go.

Ms Scollay —They seem to fall.

CHAIR —That would be one of the things you would be recommending?

Ms Scollay —Absolutely.

CHAIR —That care leavers are identified as a group with special needs?

Ms Scollay —Yes. To put into the application for housing ‘Are you a previous care leaver?’ would be a recommendation.

Mrs Holt —That would be really useful.

Ms Scollay —As support leaders we are constantly saying who we are, sitting down with the department of housing. But there is a 12-month minimal wait, if you are lucky, depending what area you want to go into.

Mrs Holt —One more issue that we did not highlight was the fact that in our funding there is not a lot of time to do case work. We do the counselling with the clients, but actually writing these support letters et cetera takes another chunk of time, which there really is not a lot of provision for.

CHAIR —And that is not part of your service?

Mrs Holt —It is—

CHAIR —In one way it is, in providing support, but in terms of your core work and core funding it is not provided for?

Mrs Holt —No.

Ms Scollay —It is extremely difficult for Julie in a two-day-a-week position, with balancing clients as well.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We deeply appreciate it.

Mrs Holt —Thank you for inviting us.

 [3.09 pm]