Royal Commission reflections: Healing and support for victims and survivors (Week 4)

What more needs to be done to meet the healing and support needs of survivors 

Throughout November we have been reflecting on how the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) has changed how we understand and respond to survivor’s healing and support needs. 

In Week 3, we reflected on what has changed as a result of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to improve service systems to better respond to survivors’ needs and help them towards recovery.In this final week, we share our views on some of the other changes that are needed to ensure the service system can meet the healing and support needs of all survivors of child sexual abuse.  

One of the most significant outcomes of the Royal Commission is that we now have a much better understanding of the experiences of victims and survivors, and the profound and lifelong impacts childhood sexual abuse and trauma can have on their lives. There is also more understanding and acknowledgment of survivors’ diverse and often complex healing and support needs.  

While some positive steps have been taken since the Royal Commission to improve how service systems respond to survivors, we believe much more still needs to be done to make sure that all survivors can access the support they need. We ask all Australian governments to commit to significant and ongoing improvements to achieve the Royal Commission’s vision for a truly responsive service system that is made up of available, accessible, acceptable and high-quality services. What we consider to be some of the most important areas for change are highlighted below. 

Increasing access to healing and support services throughout a survivor’s life  

knowmore believes significant improvements need to be made to the service system to make sure that all survivors can access support services, including counselling and therapeutic treatment services, throughout their lives, whenever they need them.  

“It shouldn’t be hard to get help that you need, through the course of your life. Recovery is not a linear process, you need to maybe move… in and out of healing and support. That still feels quite hard for people to navigate, and it shouldn’t be.” — Amanda Whelan, Director of Client Services at knowmore 

Through our work with survivors, we know the support they need is not always available. We have especially seen inconsistencies across the states and territories in relation to which survivors can access funded support, how much support survivors can access, and for how long survivors can access support.  

For many survivors, whether they can access support depends on the outcome of justice processes, such as applications to the National Redress Scheme or state- and territory-based victims support schemes. However, not all survivors can access these schemes, and those who can access them are usually only given a limited number of hours of counselling and therapeutic support. In our view, improvements to these schemes are needed to make sure they are survivor-centred, and that survivors can access support throughout their lives like the Royal Commission recommended.  

While some survivors can access healing and support services outside of these justice processes, there is high demand for both specialist services and mainstream services such as counsellors and psychologists. This high demand limits the number of survivors who can access these services and the level of support available. Many survivors face long wait times and are unable to get the support they need when they need it. We would like to see significant and continued government investment in these services to make sure they are available to as many survivors as possible.  

Improving healing and support services to respond to the diverse needs of survivors 

We believe there needs to be a stronger focus from governments on funding services that meet the diverse healing and support needs of survivors. 

“There’s nowhere near the amount of flexibility that there should be for different ways of healing, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors.” — Amanda Whelan, Director of Client Services at knowmore 

We would especially like to see all Australian governments prioritise working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to develop and fund healing programs that respond to the cultural healing needs of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander survivors. We think it is important for governments to give the same recognition that the Royal Commission did to the benefits of cultural healing practices such as healing circles, healing approaches that focus on connection to community and culture, and healing programs that take place on Country. 

We would also like to see all Australian governments prioritise funding for support services for survivors living with disability. Again, we think it is important for governments to give greater recognition to the healing and support needs of these survivors. This is particularly true for survivors living with disability who continue to live in institutional settings.  

While the Royal Commission’s recommendations for tailored support services focused on these two groups of survivors, we believe governments should also do more to increase recognition of and funding for services that meet the unique and diverse needs of other groups of survivors, including:  

  • Survivors from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds 
  • LGBTQIA+ survivors 
  • Survivors living in rural, regional and remote communities 
  • Survivors in the youth justice system and adult corrections system. 

Addressing other significant barriers to survivors accessing healing and support  

As we discussed in Week 1, some of the major barriers to survivors accessing the support they need come from the complexity of the service system and the difficulties survivors face navigating it. We believe more consideration needs to be given to delivering services in a collaborative, coordinated and holistic way, to help survivors access the right support at the right time.  

“Some of the recommendations that the Royal Commission made in Volume 9 and other places… [were] really saying that what people most needed… was proper wrapround services that were holistic in nature, and I’m not sure necessarily that we’re quite there. Asking people to navigate the silos of how things are set up and run is really hard.” — Amanda Whelan, Director of Client Services at knowmore 

Join us in December as we honour the victims and survivors who came forward to share their experiences with the Royal Commission and to reflect on the lasting impact they have made on Australian society.