Thursday, April 29, 2010

This woman didn't have to die

You may well already know about this news story in the New Zealand Herald on 27 April. (It's already on The Hand Mirror.) But just in case you don't, I am discussing it here, because I want you to know about it. It does not seem to have been picked up by any TV news programme.

It concerns a woman who was sexually abused as a child, and whose counsellor sought assistance from ACC, on the woman's behalf, for the cost of counselling.

"Counselling Services Centre manager Emma Castle said the mother-of-three's claim for counselling for sexual abuse she had suffered as a child was rejected by ACC two months ago on the grounds that she had not suffered 'a significant mental injury'."

But as several people, including me, pointed out when the rules were changed last year, the main aim of counselling is to prevent such injury occurring as a consequence of the abuse. If only those who are deemed to already have such an injury can get counselling - for a strictly limited number of sessions - then there is no hope of achieving this aim, and helping the abuse survivor regain health becomes much more difficult.

The experts feared the dire consequences of this change. On 9 December last year, the Association of Counsellors stated that it was "worried suicide rates may rise among sexual abuse victims refused ACC-funded counselling because of cutbacks" and said that anonymous details released of 54 cases showed "longer delays and more rejections since new rules, known as the Sensitive Claims Pathway, took effect in October."

In any case, it's hard to understand why this particular claim was turned down, since the woman in question seems to have already suffered "signifcant mental injury" - she had "had suicidal ideation and was self-harming". The counsellor who submitted the claim "made it very clear that sexual abuse was the reason".

But as Emma Castle pointed out, "It took them six months to make that decision. Four days after receiving notification that the ACC claim was denied, the client passed away."

Shortly before this report appeared, it emerged that ACC had approved just 32 claims for assistance with counselling because of sexual abuse in the first two months of this year, compared with 472 for the same period last year. At the time, counsellors asked what was happening to the presumably large number of people being turned down.

This case provides one shockingly clear answer to that question.

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