State of care in Christchurch

It is no surprise that mental health services in Christchurch have been under pressure, and I recently spent a day in Christchurch talking with groups. I used to work in a Women’s Refuge, and have concerns about strain on services that cater to women seeking help around Christchurch. A stressed population is more vulnerable, and it is important that people are able to access the help that they need for domestic violence, sexual violence, and specialist services.

There has been an increased need in Christchurch for services to help women. Over the summer break the Christchurch Women’s Centre had 40 women on their waiting list for counselling and within the first three weeks after returning they had 52 more women go on the list. I understand the list is now closed, despite demand significantly increasing.

They have also noticed a significant change in the profile of people coming to them for help. Prior to the quakes, a significant number of people coming for help had previously had mental health issues. Now it is increasingly middle class women who are struggling with relationships under stress, their children’s stress, and financial pressures. The Women’s Centre have four months left of funding and no certainty in moving forward.

They were concerned that services they used to refer to including Women’s Health Information Centre, Supergrans, Pillars, Mental health Advocacy and Peer Support, Eating Awareness Team, Rata Counselling, and the Monarch Centre’s sexual abuse support service have all closed or reduced their services significantly. There were financial and contractual reasons for these closures but the end result is still reduced options for women in Christchurch.  This also means that there is more call on their counselling services as either wait lists expand or there is no-one to provide the service.

START and Aviva are both respected organisations in Christchurch and together they run Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) which is the local specialist 24/7 sexual assault crisis service. A sexual assault crisis service was previously run by Monarch and when that organisation closed suddenly in 2014 many people thought that crisis services were lost altogether. SASSC was established immediately to respond to the loss of Monarch’s crisis services and continues to provide a thriving service. So if you need help do contact SASSC (03) 377 5402.

START is Christchurch’s specialist sexual violence counselling and consultation service for children, young people adults and their whanau. They have a 3-5 month waiting list for services. They do actively support people while they’re waiting but the waiting time is less than ideal and directly reflects resources available to them.

A service specialising in ethnic women’s support, Shakti, is being challenged to meet the ever-increasing need in the community while funding continues to remain static over the years. The Government has chosen to rely on migrant workers in the rebuilding of Christchurch. They’ve done little to support family members of these workers. Shakti sees too many women who are in situations of abuse and violence and too scared to call the police because it may result in them being sent back to their home countries where they may be killed or ostracised for leaving their husband. If their husband is a permanent resident or citizen there is a pathway for residency to protect these women. This does not exist if he is on a work permit – as thousands are in Christchurch. If New Zealand is going to bring in workers for the rebuild, then basic protections need to be in place.

At the end of the day in Christchurch, I am left with increased admiration for the staff working on the ground. Staff are working extra unpaid hours and are overburdened because they can’t ignore the need. It is difficult to keep going when the ongoing support for services is not guaranteed, and funding is so uncertain. We all know that Christchurch has gone through a lot, and services for women are particularly under strain. The social fabric is wearing to an untenable extent. None of these are easy issues, but women should be safe in their community. When things go awry, it is important that the support that women need is available.

Your donations to the work of these groups are very warmly welcomed

-Direct Deposit: Shakti Community Council Inc (Donations)
Account Number: 01-0183-0243434-03