3 Mar 2015

ACC overhauls sexual abuse care service

8:42 am on 3 March 2015

The Accident Compensation Corporation has overhauled its sensitive claims service, with its minister saying it made big mistakes in the way it dealt with victims of sexual assaults.

Nikki Kaye.

Nikki Kaye. Photo: SUPPLIED

Before 2009, ACC accepted thousands of sensitive claims, but after changes to the system that number plummeted, and in 2011 just 135 claims were accepted.

Survivors' advocate Louise Nicholas said the impact when ACC clamped down on the numbers of claims it accepted was devastating and in some cases victims committed suicide. Support workers no longer wanted to be part of the system, she said.

"We lost hundreds upon hundreds of counsellors who refused to work in such an inhumane system," she said.

"We lost survivors, and I mean literally, lost survivors. So people just backed right off and said 'we don't want a part of this'. "

Ms Nicholas had been a member of a panel that worked to overhaul what she said was a highly bureaucratic process which re-traumatised sexual assault survivors and denied them the help they needed.

Many struggled with ACC forms asking them what kind of accident they had had - while constant assessments to qualify for assistance wore people down.

More support

Under the new service, that is set to change. There will be a support package for people who have suffered sexual abuse or assault, access to therapy is free and people are covered for longer. People are also able to enter and exit the system for support at any time.

As well as the person who was sexually assaulted or abused, family and whānau are also able to seek help free of charge. The form, too, has changed to reflect the sensitivities of the situation.

ACC strategy manager for sexual violence, Emma Powell, said the changes required a big re-think of how ACC dealt with clients.

"It's a tailored response and a tailored approach, trying to put as much control back into the hands of our clients."

The client is able to choose who they see and if things were not working out the Sensitive Claims team would arrange an alternative.

"We talk about the fact that the counsellor-and-client relationship is critical to success, so if it's not working we need to offer ways that people can seek other supports," she said.

The public issues Chair for the NZ Association of Psychotherapists, Kyle MacDonald, worked with sensitive claims clients and helped advise ACC on the changes.

He said the new system was much more sympathetic to a survivor's needs.

"I think that ACC have engaged really willingly in the process of recognising that actually the system wasn't working and that they needed to fix it," he said. "they have essentially redesigned a services which looks to address a lot of the concerns raised [in 2012]."

ACC Minister Nikki Kaye, said the old system was not working, and she wanted people to know it had changed.

"There's a lot of work to do, both around how do we prevent these things from happening, but then how do we make sure people are cared for right throughout government," she said.

The Minister said the changes were just the start of a much bigger process, which she hoped would provide better care for survivors and help prevent the violence from happening.

* If you, or someone you know, is affected by sexual violence you can find out more about these services at ACC [ www.findsupport.co.nz 'Find Support] site or call the ACC sensitive claims team on 0800 735 566.

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