ARAFMI programs in jeopardy as redefined services go to tender

Guests at the ARAFMI Community Forum Photo: Central Coast ARAFMI

Mental health service provider, Central Coast ARAFMI, say they are at risk of losing vital funding for their youth and family support programs and are calling on Central Coast residents to back a campaign to secure it.

ARAFMI CEO, Rhonda Wilson, said the non-government organisation is at risk of losing contracts with Central Coast Local Health District Mental Health Services (CCLHDMHS) and NSW Health that fund its Young ARAFMI and family support programs for children and young people caring for a family member with mental illness.

According to Wilson, ARAFMI were informed in May that CCLHDMHS funding for Young ARAFMI was not being renewed and that CCLHDMHS would be recommending that NSW Health put the funding for the family support programs out to tender.

If both contracts are lost, Wilson said it would be a crippling blow to ARAFMI and the diversity of mental health services available on the Coast.

“ARAFMI offers adult and children carers a sense of belonging in a soft-landing, mental health community that is unavailable elsewhere on the Central Coast, reducing stigmatisation and traumatisation that can occur in clinical environments,” Wilson explained.

“Our programs complement clinical and traditional mental health support services by providing practical wrap around support to carers and family members such as counselling, education, information and advocacy.

“ARAFMI also facilitates preventative measures in its approach to mental health, reducing the rate of entry into clinical health systems.

“This sudden announcement raises many questions around why ARAFMI and other peak bodies and stakeholders weren’t involved or consulted in this re-evaluation of children, youth, carer and family health priorities in our community,” Wilson said.

With the uncertainty to stretch into the new financial year, ARAFMI has launched a campaign to save the programs at risk.

The two pronged campaign consists of advocacy, with residents asked to send an email or letter to local and state politicians urging them to stop the cessation of contracts, and to share and sign the Invisible Carers petition (available on Change.org).

Launched on June 24, the petition has already achieved over 600 signatures.

The campaign has also already gained the support of local Labor MPs, Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, and Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, who spoke of their support at the organisation’s Lerida House community forum on June 25.

However, the validity of the campaign has been called into question, with critics arguing that ARAFMI should accept that it must go through a tendering process like other service providers.

The organisation has also been accused of fearmongering funding cuts that opponents say do not apply to the sector, but rather just to ARAFMI, and only if they fail to secure the tenders.

“There have been no cuts to youth mental health funding on the Central Coast,” said Central Coast Local Health District (CCLHD) CEO, Dr Andrew Montague.

“CCLHD is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people with a mental illness.

“This includes working with our community partners to respond to the needs of our local community.

“To ensure some of the most vulnerable people in our community and their carers have access to services, we regularly review the effectiveness of our programs.

“As part of this review, CCLHD has decided to issue an expression of interest to community managed organisations with experience in the delivery of specialist family intervention programs that provide access to clinical therapy services for clients and their carers/families with the aim of supporting recovery for children and young people with a mental illness.

“ARAFMI are welcome to respond to the expression of interest when released,” Dr Montague said.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Adam Crouch, has also acknowledged his support for the tendering process.

“The Central Coast community has a very broad spectrum of mental health needs stretching from mental wellbeing through to acute mental crisis support.

“Each of these needs is being financially supported by the NSW and Federal Governments.

“ARAFMI has received NSW Government funding for specialist family mental health intervention programs for a number of years.

“With the new financial year beginning shortly, ARAFMI has been invited to submit an expression of interest to perform this work on behalf of CCLHD.

“This is the normal process and I absolutely have faith in the ability of Dr Montague and his team to make decisions that put our region’s health care needs first,” Crouch said.

However, Wilson has dismissed naysayers, and maintains that the tendering process will spell the death of ARAFMI’s programs.

She said this is because the premise of the tenders was changed under the re-evaluation, with Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to now focus on supporting children and young people with mental illness as opposed to child and young adult carers, the primary focus of ARAFMI’s services.

With Young ARAFMI receiving approximately $160,000 in funding and the family support program approximately $150,000, Wilson said there’s no way ARAFMI will be able to continue either program once the contracts cease.

“The CCLHD has recommended going to tender despite 43 years of contracts with ARAFMI.

“With KPI focus changing, there is no way that we’ll secure the tenders, so young carers are going to lose the unique and targeted support programs they need.

“We don’t know how the CCLHD reached this decision, but we know that if they actually sat down and talked with the people in our service network, they’d know why we’re fighting this.

“Our reputation speaks for itself and I am certain that no other provider can offer the range of services that our programs do for the amount funded.

“That is why we can’t let a service developed by the community to meet its needs be snatched away like this.

“At ARAFMI we become part of these young people’s families to try and make their lives less chaotic and it’s the actual practicality of a child’s life that’s getting lost in all this,” Wilson said.

With details of the tendering process yet to be confirmed, Wilson said ARAFMI was now relying on community backing to secure its future.

“Since all of this came to light, we’ve just simply been trying to be heard.

“ARAFMI is not saying that we’re the end all be all

“We’re saying mental health services can’t be a one size fits all approach.

“We’re saying that the recognition of the young carer role in mental health services is at risk.

“And at this point we need someone to hear us,” Wilson said.

Source:
Media statements, Jun 25-26
Rhonda Wilson, CC ARAFMI
Andrew Montague, CCLHD
Adam Crouch MP
Website, Jun 26
CC ARAFMI
Interview, Jun 29
Rhonda Wilson, CC ARAFMI
Reporter: Dilon Luke

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