South West Counselling service at risk

South West Counselling community development officer Bev Atkinson, Vasse MP and board member Libby Mettam and chief executive officer Karen Sommerville face an uncertain future.
South West Counselling community development officer Bev Atkinson, Vasse MP and board member Libby Mettam and chief executive officer Karen Sommerville face an uncertain future.

After 35 years in the community, South West Counselling could be facing closure if they do not receive funding to continue their service next year.

The organisation provides a low-fee or no-fee counselling service to people in the community who otherwise may not be able to access professional services, including those aged under 18 years.

They are a generic counselling service supporting people affected by a broad range of issues including family breakdown, domestic violence, suicidal ideation, self-harming behaviour, mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse, relationship problems, depression and anxiety and many other issues.

Last financial year the organisation supported 720 individuals in South West communities and there has been a 46 per cent increase in new client referrals this year.

A review of program funding within the Department of Communities Child Protection and Family Support means funding for South West Counselling could cease from March 31.

South West Counselling chief executive officer Karen Sommerville said unfortunately if this occurred people who need support would potentially fall through the cracks.

“I would say the majority of services in the South West are working at capacity,” she said.

According to the last Census, Ms Sommerville said the greater Busselton population had increased by 20 per cent in the last five years and budget constraints meant there were no increases in funding.

“We try and be responsive to the populations needs so if there is a bushfire or a house fire, or a suicide we usually know about it and we usually know someone involved and we can offer support,” she said.

“My greatest concern is if we close the service, the real local connection would disappear. 

“I am sure there are other services which could do the job but it is potentially that local connection that would be lost, I feel this is imperative in regional areas.

“We know our community and we work closely with people in the community."

Child Protection and Family Support acting assistant director general Jackie Tang said the Department of Communities was undertaking reviews of a number of these types of funding arrangements across WA. 

Ms Tang said there had been a number of extensions to the current agreement with South West Counselling to ensure the service continued to operate while the reviews were conducted.

While the Department of Communities does not fund other similar service providers in Busselton, Ms Teng said Bunbury Counselling and Family Support services was funded to also provide counselling services in the greater South West region.

“The Department remains committed to providing support services to families in the South West region and intends to discuss future funding again with South West Counselling by the end of 2017,” she said.

Vasse MP Libby Mettam said as a board member and local member representing the community she was concerned about the uncertainty around the future of this service beyond March.

Ms Mettam said not only was she concerned what this would mean for the community as a whole, but also in relation to the anxiety this brought to the valuable staff who provide this service.

“I have written to the Minister for Child Protection and Community Services to ensure the future funding, beyond March 2018, for this vital community service,” she said.