Conferences and visits from experts during the years 1974 to 1976 led to concern about preventing child abuse within the Canberra community. This was the motivation for the formation of our service. The plan was to set up a telephone counselling service to be manned by volunteers working from their own homes. Setting up took fourteen months. Volunteers were selected and trained, a back up system of professional consultants was organised, procedures developed and legal issues clarified. Strong sponsorship from Life Line and the regional Community Services was a vital component of success.
In June 1977 the service was introduced to Canberra on television following a programme on child abuse. There was no money, no staff and no office. Clients made their first contact through LifeLine.
The nature of the service had been established. Volunteers were trained, clients were referred to them, they called the clients on a regular basis from their homes, they were supervised by volunteer professional consultants, they received on going training three or four times a year, and attempts were made to have them provide statistics. This basic package has stood the test of time, and in its essentials has not changed.
The First Years
In June 1978 the Department of Social Security under the Family Support Service Scheme gave a grant of $15,000. The service obtained a room in the Health Promotion Centre at Childers Street and adopted a constitution. In that first year there were fourteen volunteers, who spoke to 63 clients. By January 1979 the first co-ordinator was appointed, working weekday mornings. As Parent Support Service it was incorporated in 1979. The service commissioned an independent survey into its effectiveness, with positive results. Clients tended to be parents of young children who were under stress but not necessarily abusive. Canberra was growing very rapidly. In the new suburbs there were many young families newly arrived and poorly equipped to find friends and support networks. Shortage of infrastructure, such as telephones and public transport meant that young mothers were stuck at home feeling completely isolated.
In February 1980 a think tank focussed on future directions. This was the first of many such meetings held at significant points in the history of PSS. By October 1980 office hours were extended from 9am to 3pm, and a second co-ordinator was appointed to job share. There was an increase of contacts by parents of older children and teenagers. PSS began running groups, including a Parents Skills Group, a group for isolated parents and a seminar on Child Sexual Abuse. In 1982 a pilot project for children in separated families was run. It was so successful that it formed the basis for the After Separation Programme. This programme, organised by a co-operative of organisations, but with infrastructure supplied by PSS, ran from 1984 to 1996. It helped hundreds of separated parents and their children aged from 2 to 16. It formed the subject of talks given in Australia and at an international conference in Europe. It was a particularly successful pioneer in the field of assisting families with separation.
In April 1990 the service was able to move to newly built premises of the Northside Community Service in Dickson. They received a grant to buy new furniture, and the service now had three small rooms and the use of a large meeting room when required. The greatest challenge was to meet the increasing client demand with no increase in resources. Reviews were made of the sort of relationships which should exist between co-ordinators, consultants and volunteers, roles and responsibilities were discussed and clarified. Paid supervision was introduced for co-ordinators, and pay scales were now pegged to AS04 Public Service positions. Publicity had to be kept to a minimum, because any mention of the service by the media brought about an increase in client calls which could not be adequately met.
During the years 1990 -1995 client calls per year ranged from 800 to 900. There were more crisis calls, with violence, family complexity and separation causing concern. The co-ordinators, under pressure from the management to limit face to face work, were aware of clients who could not be adequately assisted on the phone. There were less volunteers recruited as changing social conditions meant that women were now seeking education and paid work. Consultants were scarce so co-ordinators were debriefing volunteers more frequently. Funding agencies were requiring agencies to put in place more formal structures. Compulsory superannuation and adequate insurance led to further revision. All these factors led to the organisation just keeping afloat. However, they managed to purchase a fax machine and an answering machine. A second hand photocopier and computer were donated. They successfully obtained funding to establish a Network of community agencies dealing with families, allowing coordination of efforts and training opportunities. Research by a student from the University of Canberra looked at the effect of one-off calls on client’s anxiety at the completion of the call and six weeks after. This research indicated that relief of anxiety was significant and was sustained well over the six week period. This was a welcome boost for morale of the co-ordinator and the Management Committee.
In 1997 the Northside Community Service needed the space PSS occupied and rooms were found at Kippax Health Centre. These rooms consisted of three good sized rooms, a waiting area and the use of meeting rooms when required. Resources were still very limited to meet the needs of parents and the service still found it impossible to advertise, so that there was anxiety that many parents did not know of the help being offered. Co-ordinators and management were working heavy voluntary hours in order to keep afloat. This was the 20th year of the service and a mission statement was adopted. “To provide a free and accessible service to parents who are in crisis or who need ongoing support.”
In 2002 the move was made to a suite of rooms which had been the infant health centre, next to Duffy Primary School. This was self contained and had two large rooms, two reasonably sized rooms, a waiting area, and facilities. There was a sense of relief that the rooms were self contained and large enough. At the same time workers were anxious that the funding for Parentline was in doubt. It was to their great credit and that of the managers that morale remained high. After an anxious wait, funding was assured, however, for both PSS and Parentline funds were granted on a yearly basis.
We are currently partnering with Marymead. This has enabled us to continue to operate after our funding cuts. At present the only change this makes to our service to you is that we are required to ask for more personal details. You are free to remain anonymous, offer a pseudonym, or give us your full information. All information is put into the Department of Social Services web based portal where it is de-identified. All session notes are put into Marymead's secure database where other program members may see that you accessed Parentline's services, but cannot access any notes. For more information see our Service Charter.