28 May 2015

Knock-on effects from counselling service closure

9:19 pm on 28 May 2015

Relationships Aotearoa says the suddenness of its closure is causing confusion for whānau from Kaitaia to Gisborne.

The country's oldest counselling service closes next month, after funding negotiations with the Government broke down.

Relationships Aotearoa said it had 12 qualified Māori counsellors, who have been working with Māori clients from the Far North to the east coast. A number of those clients are in the midst of working through abuse and family violence issues.

The agency's head of Māori Services, Manu Sione, said an abrupt end to counselling for those whanau was hugely risky and the news had left people stunned and fearful.

"They're just really anxious about what this means for them," he said. "And some of them haven't been back to see their counsellors.

"Our counsellors are trying to touch base with people to let them know what's been put in place, but stressed, anxious, angry - those are all things that they're feeling."

Mr Sione said Relationships Aotearoa was working frantically to place as many clients as possible with other agencies.

He said it was also trying to arrange for staff to move across to those agencies, with their clients, because not all those agencies offered the in-depth counselling available from Relationships Aotearoa.

"Some of those issues have been going on for a long time, and are in many cases inter-generational."

He said in some rural areas Relationships Aotearoa was the only agency offering that sort of help to Māori.

But a Māori Women's Refuge educator, Stacey Pepene, said other organisations should be able to pick up the pieces in the north, at least.

Ms Pepene, from Te Puna o Te Aroha Refuge in Whangarei, said recent changes to Ministry of Justice contracts had boosted the funding for agencies like Refuge, so it could run comprehensive programmes, and offer real practical help to women who have taken out protection orders against abusive partners.

She said groups like Man Alive were active in helping men change, and there were now a number of organisations in the north helping people to end abuse and family violence.

"Obviously, it could mean an increase in workload for any agency willing to take on those clients that have been filtered through from Relationship Services.

"But I think it's entirely possible up here, in terms of the organisations that exist, to be able to pick up that workload," she said.

However, Ms Pepene said the closure of Relationship Services is disappointing.

"Not everyone wants to approach Refuge, or those other agencies, and for those people there is now less choice. "

The manager of the Manaia Primary Health organisation, Chris Farrelly, agrees.

He said the Whangarei-based PHO had referred many people to Relationships Aotearoa over the years, and had found it to be an excellent service, and very accountable.

"Relationships Aotearoa was always concerned with outcomes, " he said. "It uses an internationally recognised system to keep a check on its results - and they are effective."

Mr Farrelly said Relationships Aotearoa was providing counselling that dealt with a range of mental health issues which he said had become endemic in the north, because of poverty and family stress.

He said the loss of the organisation would leave a gap in health services in the region.

After more than 60 years of counselling New Zealanders, Relationships Services closes its doors on 9 June.

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