8 Dec 2021

Sexual violence support organisation says funding to work with children limited

9:45 am on 8 December 2021

A service helping children recover from sexual violence says there is little sign of extra help coming under a new national strategy.

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HELP executive director Kathryn McPhillips. Photo: Photo / Sarah Robson

The government yesterday launched a 25-year national strategy to combat family and sexual violence, promising it would make a difference on the ground.

The joint venture that implements it is already three years old, and was told in June by the Auditor-General it must improve: "The joint venture's work to transform government agencies' approach to family violence and sexual violence is still not being prioritised" and "is not yet operating as effectively as it needs to".

Oranga Tamariki leads two programmes that come under the joint venture; services for children and young people who are victims of sexual violence, and services for those who display concerning or harmful sexual behaviours.

HELP Auckland says so far it has had 18 months of funding from Oranga Tamariki for a single worker.

"I could do with about 10 times that amount," said executive director Kathryn McPhillips. HELP also services Northland.

"It's difficult when we know that there's people who need our help, and what difference that could make, and we're not able to provide it."

By contrast, it is funded for 21 FTE positions to help adults, from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

Oranga Tamariki knew they needed more workers for children but HELP had no idea if it meant to fund more, she said.

"To be frank, we're not out there advertising it because we are, you know, fully taken up with all of those people who ... find their way to us."

Nothing for courts

There was zero funding for the organisation to help child victims through the courts, despite her repeatedly raising this with Oranga Tamariki, McPhillips said.

"It is surprising, because we do expect that we treat children well in this country.

"But there are all sorts of gaps there.

"Some of those gaps have come about because MSD has been proactive in establishing services for adults.

"And we have seen less kind of capability, I guess, from Oranga Tamariki to do the same thing for children."

The Auditor-General in June said some of the 10 joint venture government agencies were not freeing up staff or resources from their core work, to apply to joint venture work - though it did not name names, so it is difficult for the public to know which agencies.

Under the national strategy, officials are developing guidelines to support participants through the new Sexual Violence Court.

But there had never been funding to support children through the courts, even though "the research shows that children need support through that process," McPhillips said.

The new strategy lists 40 actions that include, "Develop a plan to fill the service gaps for sexual violence".

"This is essential to address the intergenerational trauma of childhood exposure to family violence," it says.

Other actions are: "Build the specialist workforces for children", "Develop social and emotional learning for children", and "Develop and implement trauma-informed family violence and sexual violence capability frameworks for specialist workforces".

The funding for this would primarily come from existing sources, the government said.

As for the joint venture itself, the unit that oversees it has been lacking money. The auditor-general said the unit's initial funding in Budget 2019-20 was "significantly less" than it sought and this resulted in a "much smaller" unit being set up to run the joint venture than was planned for.

Child sexual violence was "not a strong theme" in the new national strategy, McPhillips said, though she held out hope it might come up at subsequent hui.

"It should be a strong thing."

A lot of abuse and violence happened to children under 12, "so if we really want to, you know, break these cycles and change this, we need to stop child sexual abuse".

RNZ has asked Oranga Tamariki how much of its multi-million-dollar budget to deliver its two joint venture child sexual violence programmes it spent last financial year.

The agency says that information is not readily available and it will find out.

When RNZ asked why this information was not in its annual report - which does not talk about the sexual violence joint venture work at all - it said: "Oranga Tamariki does not have an appropriation for sexual violence therefore there is no requirement to report on financial performance in the annual report."

By contrast, "The Ministry of Justice does have an appropriation for family and sexual violence hence why the financials are readily available in their annual report."

The Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis, said in a statement that briefings and Cabinet papers do not mention any concerns about Oranga Tamariki not spending all it budgeted on its two child sexual violence programmes.

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