Greens attack family centre contracts to Catholic agencies

Catholic Social Services has welcomed news that Centacare agencies will be involved in ten new Family Relationship Centres but Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says she is "concerned" at the Government's award of 25 contracts to "faith-based organisations".

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 65 family centres will eventually be created to help couples going through divorce or separation.

The centres - in which troubled couples can get a free three-hour counselling session - are part of major family law changes introduced last year.

The changes include a requirement for parents to attend dispute resolution and develop a parenting plan before going to court - except in exceptional circumstances.

According to a Catholic Social Services statement, Executive Director Mr Frank Quinlan says Catholic Centacare agencies will be involved in ten of the 25 new centres.

The agencies will provide services in Ballarat, Rockhampton, the Gold Coast, Port Augusta, Geraldton, Perth, Geelong, Nowra, Wagga and Melbourne.

Mr Quinlan says the Federal Government's announcement acknowledges Centacare's "long established track record for professional expertise in counselling and mediation".

"Our agencies are known and respected in their local communities and will continue to provide services in areas that larger providers often find less attractive," he said.

"These new centres are good news for families in need across Australia, particularly those families in regional centres who may not have access to the services taken for granted by many Australians."

But yesterday, Greens senator Rachel Siewert toild the Herald that "I think we need to be careful about the philosophy that may run through some of the faith-based centres".

"We need to be clear that people are getting independent, unbiased advice. I know groups like Centacare (which will run some centres on its own or as part of a consortium) do some excellent community work.

"But when it comes to things like this where you can cross that line into where people's faith starts to get involved, then you need to be sure that all the people providing advice are qualified practitioners."

A spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock dismissed Senator Siewert's concerns about faith-based organisations running the centres.

"These are all people who are suitable to run relationship services. Yes, there are some faith-based people, but the Government doesn't believe that should impede anyone from taking advantage of what has been a very popular service."

Family centre contract row (The Age, 24/1/07)
Family Relationship Centres Good News For Families (Catholic Social Services, Media Release, 24/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services Australia
Rachel Siewert website
Family Relationships Centres (Australian Government)

Federal Budget boosts family relationships (CathNews 11/5/05)

25 Jan 2007

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