THE region’s Centre Against Sexual Assault is seeing more than three times the number of children and young people it’s funded to help for problem sexual behaviour or sexually abusive behaviour.
The figures come as the Department of Health and Human Services reports a 70 per cent increase in children accessing Sexually Abusive Behaviours Treatment Services in the past four years.
Loddon Campaspe CASA chief executive officer Kate Wright said the centre was funded to provide services to 26 children and young people in the past financial year.
They saw more than 80.
“We’ve got a waiting list, as well,” Ms Wright said.
The agency will be one of 11 statewide to receive a share of $5.7 million from the state government in the next three years for the SABTS program.
The initiative assists children and young people aged up to 17 years who display problem sexual behaviour or sexually abusive behaviour.
More than 1500 people accessed the service statewide in the past financial year – 621 more than the 2013/14 financial year.
The state government expects its investment to create 535 additional placements over three years, and to support the continuation of the SABTS program.
“It's terrific that the fund is expanding and the government is being responsive to an ongoing and increasing demand,” Ms Wright said.
The $300,000 the Loddon Campaspe CASA will receive will add an additional member to the team.
“We’ll create a role that will have a primary focus on the SABTS program,” Ms Wright said.
“At the moment all of the workers in the children, youth and families team do some of this work.”
She expects the new role will make the service more responsive and reduce the waiting list.
People can be involved in the SABTS program for up to two years – the statewide average is a year.
Participants range from as young as four years old to 17.
“We see the full age range,” Ms Wright said.
Children and families are really willing to engage to resolve the behaviour and seek help for it, and so are all the other agencies around that child.
She said the program was developed to be holistic and included the family and agencies working with the children and young people.
“There are two elements to the program,” Ms Wright said.
“One is children under 10, and then once they’re over 10, they could potentially end up with a therapeutic treatment order.”
The therapeutic treatment order is imposed by the justice system.
“Instead of being charged, the order says you must engage in this program,” Ms Wright said.
“We don’t see many therapeutic treatment orders.”
She said young people and their families were generally willing to engage in the program, to resolve the behaviour and seek help for it.
SABTS is open to referrals from parents and carers, community organisations, police, health professionals, government departments and statutory authorities.
“We have a lot of referrals from child protection, police and schools,” Ms Wright said.
Statewide, child protection is responsible for the vast majority of referrals to SABTS.
Police, courts and family members are other major sources of referrals.
The program starts with a formal assessment and can include a range of specialist therapeutic work.
Both the child, or young person, and the people in their lives are involved in the services.
Ms Wright believed that was part of what made the initiative so effective.
“It’s a really successful early intervention program,” she said.
“Nationally and internationally it has really low recidivist rates.”
Factors contributing to problem sexual behaviour or sexually abusive behaviour could include exposure to pornography or other inappropriate sexual materials, family and domestic violence, and sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behaviours, Ms Wright said.
She encouraged people to contact Loddon Campaspe CASA on 5441 0430 to learn more about what those behaviours constituted.
Statewide, 36 per cent of the 1502 SABTS clients in the past financial year had a background of family violence.
The state government believes it’s likely the figure is under-reported.
Disability might also be a factor, an analysis by the Royal Commission into Family Violence found.
A quarter of the SABTS clients involved in the analysis had disabilities.
Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, said the SABTS investment was linked to a broader reform of the children and family services system.
She said the $168 million reform was shifting the emphasis from crisis response to prevention and early intervention.
“This is about addressing destructive behaviour from an early age, to ensure we are rehabilitating young people and setting them on the right path,” Ms Mikakos said.
Other agencies that will receive funding include the Royal Children’s Hospital, Monash Health, the Children’s Protection Society, and the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Fellow regional Victorian recipients include Ballarat Health Services; Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault; the Centre Against Violence, in West Wodonga; Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault; the Mallee Sexual Assault Unit; and South West Healthcare, in Warrnambool.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, phone the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292, or contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, dial 000