WAITING GAME FOR CHILD VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE

Kath Kerin, manager for Upper Murray Family Care’s Child and Family Services, has concerns about the long waiting list for children in need of counselling. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

Kath Kerin, manager for Upper Murray Family Care’s Child and Family Services, has concerns about the long waiting list for children in need of counselling. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

NORTH East children who are victims of family violence are facing a 12-month public waiting list to receive vital counselling.

Other services that might be provided sooner are either inaccessible due to funding constraints or just too expensive for struggling families, said Upper Murray Family Care child and family services manager Kath Kerin.

While meeting the demand has “always been a challenge”, Ms Kerin said the number of families facinghardship — including family violence, poverty, bullying at school or mental health issues — was ever-increasing.

“The limited services and the demand just don’t match,” she said.

“The immediate risk is that the issues escalate to become more complex and the child more vulnerable.

“In the long-term, not having early intervention means young people risk repeating the cycle (of behaviour).”

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Upper Murray Family Care does not provide counselling but connects its clients with other services in the region for children’s and family counselling or behavioural programs.

Ms Kerin said the wait to get people into those services varied.

In some instances it was a year.

Part of Upper Murray’s network is Junction Support Services, which provides children’s family violence counselling for five to 18 year olds.

Client services manager Janine Lawler said they had a “lengthy” waiting list, but could not provide a figure.

In the meantime, they provided group work for the children until they could receive one-on-one treatment.

“It’s working really well but it’s not going to meet everyone’s needs,” Ms Lawler said.

“We’ve been noticing increased demands for it in the past two years, especially from child protection services.”

That increase could correlate with the increased reporting of family violence in recent years.

Victoria Police statistics show Wodonga recorded 241 family violence offences between March 2013-14, up from 211 the year before. Wangaratta recorded 376 offences, up from 290.

Gateway Health manager of counselling Donald Currie said its adolescent and children’s counselling wait list has been as high as 12 months, six months ago.

But it now sits at about 2½ months for 14 to 21 year olds and three months for the younger age bracket, which he credits to a redistribution of staff and a focus on “goal-orientated” counselling.

Gateway has two counsellors who see “up to and above 40 children” a month, Mr Currie said.

They try to keep several appointments open each day for emergency or priority cases, but sometimes even struggle to cater for them.

While Mr Currie and Ms Lawler both say their services are managing, more resources would not go astray.

“I don’t think any waiting list for children is acceptable, we need a lot more resources,” Mr Currie said.

The new headspace centre, due to open in October at Gateway, would help, he said.

Ms Kerin said there is some availability in other programs and services but not everyone could access them.

The private sector is “just too expensive”.

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