30 August 2017
I write with great sadness to inform you that Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia has decided to withdraw from the 1800RESPECT Trauma Counselling Service.
This decision was not taken lightly. Only after considerable negotiation with the lead agency, Medibank Health Solutions (MHS), did the Board of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia come to the conclusion that accepting the sub contract and the new MHS service model would be inconsistent with the values, ethics, quality counselling practices and work place relations that are foundational to our organisation and culture.
Specifically the key concerns are:
- the sub contract required Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia to hand all existing 1800RESPECT client files to MHS. It is the view of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia that the trust and confidence clients have placed in our organisation over the past six years could not be disrespected and undermined in this way,
- that future file notes were to be recorded on the MHS system which also voice records all interactions. These records may be subjected to subpoena without challenge and would be accessed by any number of staff across five organisations,
- counselling staff were to work to a counselling model that was not available for review prior to signing the sub contract. Staff would be subject to coaching by MHS and orientation and training was to be outsourced, again with no detail of the content,
- the new model of service delivery offered by MHS propose four providers. While these providers are all quality women’s services the experience of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia of service coordination under the current model of two providers, one being MHS, has been problematic. It is the view of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia that increasing the number of providers to five, one continuing to be MHS, presents a considerable risk that 1800RESPECT will become an information and referral service which will no longer seek to provide high quality evidence based client centered trauma counselling to those who have a right to expect nothing less,
- poor alignment of values between Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia and MHS has become increasingly apparent over the six years of engagement which is perhaps summarised by a recent media statement by a MHS Director who said that that a strategic direction of MHS is to double its profit from sexual assault and domestic violence over the next five years.
The new model of service being proposed by MHS does not include the re-contacts service. This service, developed by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, specifically works with those who are experiencing complex trauma commonly resulting from sexual assault in childhood and further sexual and domestic violence in adolescence and adulthood. Currently 600 clients are engaged with this service with 200 being current users. This is a service for some of Australia's most violently treated and vulnerable people. It will no longer exist.
The experience of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia in providing a service and now deciding that there is no option but to withdraw from being a service provider is a growing story in the NGO health, welfare and community services sector. The open tendering of services has brought in providers where profit is the primary motive. This economic rationalist approach views competition as a driver of efficiencies. The outcome is most commonly:
- quality is equated to numbers,
- outcomes for clients or any commitment to flexible client driven and client centred practice is labelled inefficient, and
- systems advocacy ceases.
This loss of systems advocacy is a considerable concern.
NGOs have many roles and responsibilities, one being to represent the voices of those made vulnerable by their circumstances in the democratic process. If NGO voices are silenced through privatisation or contracts that ‘gag’ systems advocacy, the only voice that will be heard will be those of the powerful. Such an imbalance will undermine many of the values we know are critical to a thriving democracy such as human rights, social justice, equity and a reduction in violence against women to name but a few.
As a result of this decision by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia that it can no longer ethically engage with MHS in the provision of the 1800RESPECT Trauma Specialist Counselling Service the organisation will cease taking 1800RESPECT calls on 28.10.17.
The decision to withdraw will also mean about 70 of our highly committed and skilled staff will be made redundant. (Note: acceptance of the sub contract would have resulted in 50 redundancies as the sub contract offer was considerably smaller than the previous sub contract.) It is of enormous credit to staff that they overwhelmingly support the decision to withdraw based on ethical, clinical and protection of client file note grounds.
Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia will continue to provide high quality trauma counselling to those whose lives have been impacted by sexual assault, domestic and family violence. The organisation will continue to work with the sector, governments and the community to prevent this violence and it will continue to seek to represent the voices of those who trust us with their stories in democratic processes. Together we can and will achieve a world without rape and violence.
Letter to Department of Social Services Minister Christian Porter regarding the 1800RESPECT Service