Kristina Brenner, Manager of Bankstown Child Sexual Assault Service and Bankstown Women’s Health Centre, asked if I would reprint her Telegraph article on my blog. I am happy to do so. If you’d like to join the campaign against possible cut backs to these vital services, please contact Kristina, email: Kristina.Brenner@sswahs.nsw.gov.au
PLEASE note: This article contains references to child sexual assault that may disturb some readers.
Where can child sexual assault victims go to for help if no organisations can take them in? This is the question on everyone’s lips as the rumour grows that the funding of 11 specialist child sexual assault services in NSW may be at risk.
Because of proposed state budget cuts, at least one of these essential services, Wollongong West St Centre, has been allegedly recommended for de-funding. The fate of 10 other child sexual assault services, including four in western Sydney, is also unclear.
If you take funding away from these services, there will be nowhere for many victims of child sexual assault to go. The consequences for children, families and whole communities will be incalculable.
Since the government is now enjoying an unexpected $680 million budget surplus, do we really want to risk going down that path?
There are 11 non-government organisations in NSW that provide child sexual assault services under an umbrella called Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Counsellors (CASAC).
They provide free services that are a lifeline for victims and their families, funded by the Department of Family and Community Services. CASACs offer counselling, court advocacy, professional development, community education and family support to the most vulnerable people in our community. Statistics estimate up to one in three girls and one in four boys will experience child sexual assault.
Many children, adolescents and adults use CASAC services because they have no other alternatives.
Recovery from complex trauma requires a long-term and flexible therapeutic response. However, Medicare-funded psychology provides just a handful of sessions, and private therapists are unaffordable for many.
Government services such as NSW Health have rigid eligibility criteria that many victims do not fit within. In contrast, CASAC services can accept almost anyone who has experienced child sexual assault but this means some CASACs have huge waiting lists.
Those who make it through CASAC’s doors are the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, a large number of child sexual assault victims miss out.
CASAC services are remarkably cost-effective. The combined cost of funding all 11 CASACs is less than $1.5 million per year, which enables specialists to assist hundreds of children, teens and adults across the state.
The CASAC service I manage, Bankstown Child Sexual Assault Service, receives annual funding of $81,234. This allows one full-time staff to provide holistic child sexual assault services 35 hours per week.
In the past 12 months, we were able to use these funds to provide counselling and support services to 116 children, adolescents and adults affected by child sexual assault. Most of these clients become success stories. After receiving professional support, many clients become active participants in the workforce, passionate community volunteers, or take on important family roles.
Sarah* was an isolated and severely depressed adult survivor of child sexual assault whose three children were sexually abused by a family friend. Sarah came to Wollongong West St Centre after having been turned away from other organisations who could not fit her in to their strict eligibility criteria.
After counselling and family support at West St, Sarah’s children stopped self-harming and started achieving great results at school.
Sarah gained a respected position at a medical practice and her deep depression finally lifted.
The brilliant thing about many CASAC services is that they see adult survivors as well as children and teens. This increases the effectiveness of these unique organisations. Providing counselling to adults who have experienced child sexual abuse is at the very core of child protection work.
It can break the cycle of abuse and prevent the vulnerable children of these victims from becoming sexually abused by predators.
The horrors of child sexual abuse can impact on every part of a person’s life. Long-term effects can include psychiatric disability, imprisonment, drug abuse, chronic disadvantage, dependence on government benefits, and suicide.
Support from skilled CASAC professionals can be a buffer against these possible outcomes. If we take CASAC services away, there is a huge risk that child sexual assault victims will be more vulnerable to these crippling social problems. This only creates more strain and hardship for individuals, families and communities.
Continuing to fund essential child sexual assault services such as Wollongong West Street Centre and the 10 other CASAC services makes good sense socially and financially.
Here are the approximate cost savings to the government if Wollongong West St Centre helped to prevent just one child sexual assault victim from experiencing the following:
ONE year incarceration in a NSW prison: $150,000;
RELIANCE on a disability support pension for 10 years: $185,120;
A TWO-week stay in an in-patient psychiatric unit: $9030; and a 60-day stay in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre: $7020.
Up until recently, some decision-makers have argued that cost savings needed to be made in the Department of Family and Community Services to make up for the state’s budget deficit.
Surely now that the government’s financial situation has changed, they should reconsider this idea. CASAC has only been able to play its key role in child abuse prevention and trauma recovery due to ongoing government funding since the 1970s.
Child sexual assault is a crime. I call on the government to guarantee the continuation of funding to all 11 CASAC services in NSW.
Did you know that the waiting list for some CASACs is more than two years, and that some people travel hundreds of kilometres just to use these services? Perhaps instead of talking about funding cuts, we should be starting a discussion about the social and economic benefits of providing more funding to these vital community services.
*Names have been changed
If you have been affected by this article and would like someone to talk to, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit casac.org.au
The weblink for our brand new online petition.