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1800RESPECT Set for an Overhaul with a Change in Service Providers

31 August 2017 at 3:41 pm
Luke Michael
Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) has withdrawn from the 1800RESPECT Trauma Counselling Service over sub-contract concerns, just as the hotline is set to increase its number of not-for-profit providers.

Luke Michael | 31 August 2017 at 3:41 pm


1800RESPECT Set for an Overhaul with a Change in Service Providers
31 August 2017 at 3:41 pm

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) has withdrawn from the 1800RESPECT Trauma Counselling Service over sub-contract concerns, just as the hotline is set to increase its number of not-for-profit providers.

1800RESPECT is a federal government initiative delivered by Medibank Health Services (MHS) that provides a national sexual assault and domestic violence counselling service.  

Since its launch in October 2010, the RDVSA has been providing trauma counselling for the hotline, but a recent overhaul of the service has left them “disillusioned”.

In a statement, the RDVSA said: “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.”

One of the the organisation’s main concerns is the new MHS model of service delivery, which will involve expanding the service from just the RDVSA to include four other providers.

A media release from Social Services Minister Christian Porter said an independent review of the service had made it clear that expansion was needed.

“MHS became concerned that a single service provider would not be able to cope with the increase in demand to the service. MHS then structured the trauma specialist counselling component to increase the number of providers delivering this service from one to four,” the release said.

“This change will see a significant increase in capacity for trauma specialist counselling.”

The RDVSA responded and said 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.”

But Diane Mangan, the CEO of one of the new providers DVConnect, told Pro Bono News she was disappointed with RDVSA’s withdrawal and said this new model was a positive step forward for service.

“We were really looking forward to working with them because naturally, all of us want to see our experienced practitioners around the country to come together. It would have been wonderful for all of us to share this responsibility collectively, so we’re disappointed,” she said.

“The fact is that Medibank is subcontracting and providing extra financial resources to services to set up this model, and we are running it ourselves.”

“It’s actually an interesting model where you have a for-profit and not for profits working together, and the RDVSA worked with Medibank for a number of years. The model they worked on is the same, it is just with more providers.”

The RDVSA has also voiced concerns about calls being recorded and having to share client information.

Jenny Aitchison, the NSW Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, told Pro Bono News this raised “ethical considerations.”

“I think it starts to really be a concern around patient confidentiality. Obviously these services have got their own understandings around privacy and confidentiality, and they’d be very professional,” she said.

“I don’t want to be casting my dispersions on them, but the reality is these people have given their information for their own therapeutic use.”

Mangan said however, that recording client calls was only done with permission and was a common practise.

“The women have to agree to be recorded and a lot of recording happens within the domestic violence sector now. We’ve actually been looking to introduce it on our crisis line for some time.

“The state-wide lines have been working collaboratively since 2008, so we all know each other and have worked together for many years.

“All of our services are creating a new service, so the counsellors currently working on our crisis line will not be taking calls between crisis calls, with new services being set up. And we will be employing people with the required qualifications and experience.”

This is not the first remodel of the service, with a new triage system put in place in August 2016 to dramatically increase response times for callers.

This meant that qualified counsellors would answer the initial call, and determine if the caller required specialist trauma counselling, in order to pass them on to the relevant person.

The Turnbull government said before this overhaul, the service had an average wait time of 10 minutes, with 67 per cent of calls going unanswered.

But during a three month period between April and June 2017, this had improved to 93 per cent of calls being answered, with an average call wait time of just 37 seconds.   

“The triage model was something that many of us on the state-wide lines had hoped would have been introduced a few years ago anyway, because you want people to access support as fast as possible,” Mangan said.

“So if we have a woman who just wants information, we don’t want her holding up the line when there’s someone who is in crisis and seeking safety.”

Now with the service set to broaden its capacity to offer trauma specialist counselling, MHS is confident 1800RESPECT will continue to thrive, even without the RDVSA.

In a statement provided to Pro Bono News, Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan said: “Our focus has always been on how we provide a world-class national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. Our new partners (not-for-profit specialist organisations DVConnect in Queensland, Women’s Safety Services in South Australia and Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre in Victoria) are committed to this goal and we are looking forward to working with them.

“With the expertise and commitment of our partners, together we will provide a service that is consistent, responsive and accessible for women 24 hours a day 365 days of the year,” Swan said.

“We respect RDVSA’s decision and wish them the very best. We appreciated the opportunity to have worked with them in the past, recognising the critical importance of addressing sexual assault and domestic and family violence in Australia.”

Further to this, Mangan emphasised that all of the providers functioned to help those in need, and that women’s access to these services was the important thing.

“We’ve all got track records and are feminist organisations in the same camp as RDVSA. We don’t want women out there hearing this being put off,” she said.

“We should be keeping our squabbles internal and not taking to the airwaves because this model is not a bad model. It’s a very good model.”

“And just because we don’t agree, we shouldn’t be standing in the way of women’s access to support.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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