Vital support for ‘long battle’

A GIPPSLAND agency is set to expand programs working with children displaying sexualised behaviour, after securing new State Government funds.

Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault has long battled resource shortages hampering its efforts to deliver a service to sex assault victims in the Latrobe Valley, but chief executive officer Fiona Boyle told The Express last week a recent funding injection meant it could now build on existing programs.

In March this year, GCASA was facing bursting waiting lists and heavy intake and counselling caseloads amid soaring rates of reports of abuse across Gippsland.

Last week Ms Boyle said although those lists had since “reduced significantly”, contact with clients who had “fallen off the list” in past months indicated people had been forced to wait so long for assistance they had “taken themselves off the list”.

“What has happened is that the demand has gotten so great and the waiting lists so long that we have ‘burst our banks’,” she said.

“For these people, over time, the priority to engage in counselling has diminished but at some stage we expect they will need the service again… so it is just a temporary lull at the moment.

“We are preparing ourselves for the next wave because the people tend to find their way back to us…they may be trying to get on with things for now but as time passes, because we lost that opportunity to try to effect change and make the quality of life better for these people when they needed it, they just survive with a diminished quality of life until another crisis triggers things for them and they present again – it is a cycle.”

While it expects a growth in demand for sexual assault response services, Ms Boyle said GCASA welcomed recent news it had secured several new funding allocations, including $60,000 from the government’s $8.4 million package aimed at addressing sexualised behaviours.

Given the Valley was recognised as a “hot spot” for sexual assaults, Ms Boyle said funds, which would allow GCASA to employ two new full-time workers and one part-timer to prevention and response services, would “make a huge difference” to the organisation’s capacity.

Adding staff, in regional areas particularly, to existing preventative programs as part of a systemic response to sexualised behaviours in children was vital Ms Boyle said, adding the government’s recognition of this was “quite forward thinking”.

The funding package represented a “significant investment” in an early intervention program “designed to keep kids on track and help prevent sex assaults happening in the future”.

“The work in this area is really challenging,” Ms Boyle said, “so having a mini team of clinicians able to support one another means we can grow in knowledge and clinical expertise and in our ability to effect change in (children’s) systems”.