A Canberra community organisation that supports women and children fleeing from domestic violence has pleaded with the ACT government for funds to help "anxious and scared" children.
But Toora Women Inc. has been knocked back twice by the territory government for funding for two specialist child trauma counsellors, despite having more than 80 children in its care at any one time.
Toora Women Inc. executive director Susan Clarke-Lindfield said the organisation has experienced a large uptick in the number of women and children needing its service.
This has especially been the case since the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, about 50 per cent of their clients were escaping domestic violence but this jumped to 80 per cent in the past year.
The organisation provides homelessness, domestic violence and drug and alcohol treatment services to women and children.
While there is money targeted at helping the women, Ms Clarke-Lindfield said the organisation needed the specialist funding for children who were often as traumatised as their mothers.
"There are external services that provide children's counselling but there are long waiting lists and there is strict entry criteria," she said.
"By providing in-house therapeutic counselling right from the first entry into Toora it will ensure really timely support to them in an environment they consider safe.
"We do know that the sooner you address trauma the better of course.
"It is so important for children that have suffered from domestic violence and family violence or child abuse to really get the support they need early on."
Ms Clarke-Lindfield said the organisation has lobbied for the funding for the past three years and has made two budget submissions but both had been rejected.
"We never heard back at all," she said.
The submissions asked for three years of funding. It would start at $350,000 a year and increase to $398,000 by the end of the three years.
The Toora funding was the subject of one of the most heated debates in estimates hearings held by the ACT government over the past two weeks.
Liberal MLA Elizabeth Kikkert probed Minister for Women Yvette Berry and officials from the Community Services Directorate on the matter in a hearing on Wednesday morning.
Mrs Kikkert, who did not name the organisation in estimates, told Ms Berry and the officials the kids had been "starving" to receive the money.
"What happens to these children, they don't get treated, they don't get the support they need," she said.
"These are high level traumatised children and you have denied them, I don't understand why."
Mrs Kikkert called for the money to come from the Safer Families Levy, which is funded by taxpayers through a $30 addition to rates bills.
"For over 39 years, Toora have been a firm cornerstone of our community's response to domestic violence," she said.
"Their hands-on experience with women and children fleeing domestic violence makes them a specialist in this sector. This is the exact kind of organisation that Canberrans expect their Safer Families Levy to support."
Ms Berry was asked by The Canberra Times on Friday morning why the organisation had not received funding and if she was aware of the submission. An ACT government spokeswoman responded late on Friday evening.
The spokeswoman did not directly address why Toora did not receive funding for trauma counsellors. Instead, she said government invested "significantly" in family violence homelessness services, including $6.32 million in 2019-20. Toora was given $100,000 of that.
The government was aware of Toora's submission, the spokeswoman said. The government did not commit to future funding for Toora, saying the budget was a matter for cabinet.
In response to a question as to why Toora had not received a response from the government, the spokeswoman said: "The 2020-21 ACT budget process was significantly altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic; this resulted in a change to the budget submissions process for external stakeholders".
"All proposals were considered, and the government has now reached out to Toora Women Inc."
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