I invited the Chair of this charity, Steve Livings, to describe the vital work it does. I have also been a Trustee of the Green House for several years.
The Green House (Bristol) formerly the Avon Sexual Abuse Centre has been in existence for over 30 years initially counselling adult victims of rape and sexual abuse. Today we are providing free counselling for a minimum of 24 sessions on a one to one basis to adults, children and young people. We also offer emotional support sessions for parents whose children have been abused and work alongside the police and social services teams on criminal proceedings.
A few months ago I took over as Chair of the Trustees and felt very humble to lead a charity at the forefront of helping victims and survivors. I was in a very fortunate position having taken over from a Chair, James Wetz, who had taken the Green House from a very low point some 9 years ago to a professional organisation where we are today counselling some 75 people every month. Michelle Windle, the Director, leads a very committed and passionate staff group whose work is truly inspiring.
I have been a Trustee for some 7 years and joined after a very full career in the Police where I headed the Child Protection Teams and had been the police member of 5 unitary authority multi agency child protection panels. I have always had a passion for this work mainly because I had witnessed at first hand in other areas of my police work the outcomes of abused victims who had turned to substance abuse and crime. It was with this experience and background that I willingly became a trustee of the Green House where I know that all of our resources go into helping those victims and survivors.
In order to survive any charity must be business like and our current business plan sets out clearly the road map to ensure we continue to do the vital work that we have done well for so many years. That is to embrace change and demonstrate our values through impact and to explore developments and improvements so we are ready for future requirements.
We have felt the effects of national attention following high profile investigations into sexual abuse, which does not seem to abate. The positive outcome is that the shift has started to move from sexual abuse being a taboo subject and a ‘hidden’ activity to one which can now be shared with a recognition of not only the scale of the abuse but to highlight the sheer anxiety and mental distress that has dominated so many people’s lives. This has seen an increase of about 30% in referral to our services.
However,despite the prominence of these cases, the majority of sexual abuse is experienced much closer to home and in families.
Our service in Bristol has grown but we know there is still a need to raise the awareness of our service especially amongst young men, BME communities and people with substance abuse or self-harm issues. We find ourselves providing a specialised service with complex counselling for highly vulnerable adults, many of whom have experienced years of trauma, mental illness and self-harm.
At the Green House we believe it vital that, if we are to survive, we continually review our work and gain feedback from our clients who have completed counselling. This confirms the significant, positive outcomes of their engagement with the Green House by helping their psychological and physical well being.
With regard to our Children’s service we are seeing an increased complexity with well over a third of children we see at the Green House being in the care system as ‘Looked After’ children or in ‘Kinship’ care. The challenges in these cases are many as the young people are not only damaged by the abuse that they experienced but are also often dealing with the breakdown of the family unit and then having to cope with different care placements. This means that our staff are required to liaise more with multiple stakeholders to ensure the right support for those young people.
We have also seen an increase in the number of cases where young people view domestic violence, or are children on the ‘At Risk ‘ register or are one of the many young carers. We found that just under a quarter of our clients have court cases pending or current which causes yet more anxiety for them and their families and that needs such sensitive handling by our staff.
A great concern to any charity these days is securing longer term funding. I note recent research by the Guardian has found that none of the Rape Crisis organisations in England and Wales have secured funding beyond March 2016. This is despite a 50 per cent increase in victims and survivors receiving ongoing support since 2014. We know that calls to Rape Crisis help lines has soared to 164,000 – an average of 3,000 a week.
The funding crisis is partly to do with cuts to voluntary sector grants provided by local authorities. But the bigger impact is probably due to the devolution by the Ministry of Justice to the 41 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales last October, which has worsened the situation.
The Ministry of Justice awarded some £31.55 million to Police and Crime Commissioners to provide victims’ support services from 1 October 2014 in their local area. The MOJ had allocated the funding using a simple and transparent population based formula.
It would seem that Local Authorities are looking to a strong, thriving voluntary sector when setting their budgets to providing high quality, good value services to their residents. But this is patchy and certainly not the case everywhere especially in the mental health arena.
Many charities have seen their funding cut by half while others have lost entire budgets. Looking across the sector it seems children’s and young-people charities are hardest hit. I am not sure about the future as the deep cuts to voluntary groups across the country show that government claims that charities can replace direct services currently provided by central or local government cannot be entirely true. I believe that is certainly the case in the mental health sphere.
I firmly believe that the way forward for charities, especially those dealing with mental health issues is to work in partnership, to network and not to be insular and work in competition against others who provide for victims and survivors. Partnership working provides strength and all can share their experience and skills.
We now seem to have waited a long time for the Government to open an inquiry but will probably not see any outcome for five years. This seems to be the view of Justice Lowell Goddard who also outlined the possibility that one in every 20 children in the UK has been abused.
Her remit seems wide ranging from institutional abuse in children’s homes, the grooming of underage girls in different parts of the UK, the so called celebrity abuse to the historical allegations of abuse by senior politicians and other public officials.
I do wonder if this is realistic and whether the five-year prediction is at all realistic. One cannot estimate the cost of this enquiry and I personally try not to see this as a Government sop to what is a national disgrace but to carry on with our work with victims and survivors in an attempt to make a little part of their lives better with a hope that we can find the funding to continue.
To make a referral to our children and young people’s service, telephone 0117 935 0033 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org