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Funding Reforms Hit Most Vulnerable

10 July 2014 at 10:41 am
Staff Reporter
Mental health funding reforms will impact the most vulnerable members of the community while losing years of hard earned innovation and wisdom within the Not for Profit sector, writes Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

Staff Reporter | 10 July 2014 at 10:41 am


Funding Reforms Hit Most Vulnerable
10 July 2014 at 10:41 am

Mental health funding reforms will impact the most vulnerable members of the community while losing years of hard earned innovation and wisdom within the Not for Profit sector, writes Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

It was abundantly clear from the recent Federal Budget that the country’s most marginalised groups were the ones disadvantaged the most. Its impact on young jobseekers, indigenous Australians, low income earners and people with disabilities will, more than ever, allow our Government to grow the number of vulnerable people and then largely abandon them to their own devices.

Australia, which has always cherished our belief in the fair go, is heading further down the path of individual responsibility, indifference to suffering and a focus on ‘us against them’.

Yet at the same time as an increasing number of Australians face marginalisation, here in Victoria, more than 25 community mental health organisations have been stripped of funding as a result of recent funding reforms.

This process has seen what was admittedly a complex service system radically simplified by removing funding from organisations with decades of experience standing in solidarity with some of the most vulnerable members of our community. As a result, the Victorian Government will now deal with centralised service providers in many areas, which on paper may look neater but in reality will have significant impacts on the people these organisations work with.

Disappointingly, missing from the reform process were key elements that should have been considered in a genuine co-design process including utilising the existing profiles and community connections of these small organisations, how partnerships between organisations could be promoted and the need to develop expert capacity for working with particular groups of people.

Among the organisations impacted are those with particular expertise working with homeless people (St Mary’s House of Welcome) to victims of family violence (Bethlehem Community, McAuley Community Services for Women) and vulnerable young people (Jesuit Social Services).  Around 60 per cent of these specialised services across the state, which provide support ranging from long-term accommodation to drop-in centres, have been stripped of funding.

These services have been effective over decades because they offer holistic, tailored support in accessible and non-judgemental surrounds – not to mention providing exceptional value for money. St Mary’s House of Welcome, for example, estimates that it generates $3 of value through fundraising and volunteer hours for every single dollar of Government investment.

Jesuit Social Services’ two programs affected by the reforms are Connexions and Artful Dodgers Studios, both established in 1996. Connexions was Victoria’s first dual diagnosis service for young people dealing with concurrent issues of mental illness and substance abuse and a key player in pioneering dual diagnosis practice and policy throughout Australia. Before the program existed, young people found themselves ping ponged from one service to another, told by one to go away and deal with their mental illness first, only to be sent back by the second to deal first with the drug problem.

Artful Dodgers Studios was established as a safe space where young people can spend time engaging in creative interests alongside professional artists and musicians while making connections, developing skills and exploring opportunities for further training. We can refer to counselling and other relevant services when we need to but our focus is to provide personalised and relationship-based care for people who don’t fit into mainstream mental health services. If you will, it is mental health care without the white coat.

Over the 18-year lifespans of these two programs, we have walked with thousands of troubled young people with mental health problems, accompanying them from the abyss to some form of meaningful life. Their path has turned from self-harm, police cells and emergency departments to reconnecting with family, finishing school and finding work. It is not hyperbole to suggest that these programs have saved literally hundreds of young lives.

The new service delivery model is something the majority of the young people we work with do not have in their chaotic lives. We know from our experience that these young people simply do not possess the capabilities to engage with traditional appointment-based services, which is what the new model demands. These young people typically don’t seek help and often don’t keep appointments. Many of them do not even recognise that they have mental health problems.

By losing these services, we are losing years of hard earned innovation and wisdom gained through accompanying vulnerable young people and careful collaborations with Government, philanthropic partners, other community sector organisations and supporters.

But it is the people whom we work with who will suffer the greatest. With the removal of the safe places they can develop self-confidence from, and that they have grown comfortable with, many of these vulnerable young people will end up placing further strain on our state’s police resources, emergency departments and housing services.

At the same time as our Federal Government continues to make dents in our nation’s social fabric, our State Government’s recent measures ensure the people who rely on support and solidarity will only find themselves further in limbo. And all for what? Streamlined services at the expense of those whom, as a community, we seem to care less and less about.

About the Author: Julie Edwards joined Jesuit Social Services in 2001 and was appointed as CEO in 2004. She has more than 35 years experience engaging with marginalised people and families experiencing breakdown and trauma. Edwards has a Masters in Social Work and in 2010 became a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. As a member of a number of national and international Jesuit commissions and working groups, Edwards has expertise across areas of justice, education, social ministry and ecology.

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