8 Jun 2015

Counselling service worried for high-risk clients

5:16 pm on 8 June 2015

The Ministry of Social Development has admitted two of the five agencies tipped to take over the work of Relationships Aotearoa are no longer actively involved.

Therapist comforting patient: stock image.

Photo: 123RF

Relationships Aotearoa is closing tomorrow, after failing to secure crucial government contracts, and has serious concerns about what will happen to some of its clients.

Two weeks ago the ministry announced it had secured five agencies to take over its work.

But in a statement this afternoon, the Ministry said Barnados and Family Works were no longer actively involved, although they remained on hand if needed.

It said the other three - Stand, Lifeline and Vitae - were reputable and experienced providers who could deliver appropriate services, including family violence and trauma counselling.

It also said Relationships Aotearoa was being deliberately obstructive, and urged it to work with the new providers to transfer client files.

But a Relationships Aotearoa spokesperson said it had serious concerns about what would happen to some of its clients, and that there was a homicide risk with three people. A further 18 were suicidal.

Relationships Aotearoa strategic adviser Cary Hayward said the only organisation still at the negotiating table was Stand Children's Service.

He said the ministry had given an assurance that five providers were lined up but that was not the case.

Mr Hayward said the Ministry of Social Development had made no plans to deal with thousands of client files being held in offices nationwide.

"An estimated 100,000 files around the country - there'll be held in secure locations, but at this stage, there is no one in place to manage those files, going forward, and we are a day out from closing.

"This is something that we have repeatedly put on the table to MSD that is a critical issue that needs to be addressed."

More than half the counsellors currently working for Relationships Aotearoa have indicated they are prepared to switch to the replacement, Stand Children's Services.

Stand chief executive Fiona Inkpen said just over 40 of Relationship Aotearoa's 70 clinical staff had taken up the offer of a 12 month contract.

"We've got enough of a critical mass and working with other providers we will be able to meet the current client need."

Ms Inkpen said she expected counselling services to resume next week.

The Green Party is urging the Government to continue funding Relationships Aotearoa until those other providers can take over its work.

Greens' social development spokesperson Jan Logie said only one provider was bidding to take over the work and the Government was foolish not to have had this sorted out well in advance of the closure.

She said Relationships Aotearoa had provided counselling to couples on many fronts, including domestic violence, and she was concerned about what would happen without it.

However, the ministry said all five agencies were still working with the ministry.

Deputy chief executive of community investment Murray Edridge said Stand Children's Services had agreed to be the main provider. It would take on about 70 clinical staff, of which about 25 percent have transferred.

Mr Edridge told Morning Report the ministry did not have a contract with Stand but was working on a good faith basis.

"We have existing contract relationships with Stand and with the other providers that can provide services as we need them."

He said the ministry was still working with Relationships Aotearoa to ensure client data was transferred.

"The client data resides at the moment with Relationships Aotearoa. We have been seeking for some time to get access to that."

Relationships Aotearoa had been uncooperative, he said. "It has been a very difficult conversation over the past two weeks."

Mr Hayward said that was disingenuous. The agency gave the ministry all the client details it could more than a fortnight ago, he said, but could not provide specific client information because that would breach the Privacy Act.

He said they had been working to ensure clients, and particularly high-risk clients, were transferred to other providers.

Mr Hayward said 18 were identified as suicidal, for three there had been a homicide risk, there had been a domestic violence risk for 108, and for six clients there were sexual offending risks.

"What we want to do in anything that we do is minimise the risk, so where we can safely transition them to another provider we will do so.

"If we can't do that then the next step is to notify the relevant government services like mental health services, police, Child Youth and Family, and refer those clients into those services."

Mr Edridge said he had no worries about the clients.

"We believe we've put in place enough safeguards that these clients, particularly the ones who are particularly high needs or complex needs or particularly vulnerable are supported well and do have access to services on an ongoing basis."

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