St John Ambulance counselling supports for abuse survivors criticised

Voluntary paramedic organisation offered survivors six counselling sessions

Mick Finnegan said he felt the offer was ‘completely unacceptable’ and would not be adequate ‘in the context of childhood sexual abuse’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Mick Finnegan said he felt the offer was ‘completely unacceptable’ and would not be adequate ‘in the context of childhood sexual abuse’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse in St John Ambulance have criticised counselling supports offered by the voluntary paramedic organisation as “inadequate”.

The organisation had offered to provide survivors six counselling sessions with an online therapy provider.

Mick Finnegan, one of the abuse survivors, said he felt the offer was “completely unacceptable” and would not be adequate “in the context of childhood sexual abuse”.

The limited number of sessions “may cause more harm than good” for survivors, as “individuals may be at the beginning of opening up when the course of sessions ends”, he said.

St John Ambulance has been dealing with a historical child sexual abuse controversy for the past year, following allegations a number of men were abused as cadets in the organisation in the 1990s.

At least five men have alleged they were sexually abused by a former senior figure in the organisation’s Old Kilmainham division in Dublin.

The alleged abuser, now in his 80s, was a member of the organisation from the 1950s until at least 2000.

Tusla, the State child and family agency, previously investigated a number of the abuse allegations against the man and determined them to be founded.

An independent review was set up to investigate the historic abuse earlier this year, following a series of reports detailing the allegations in The Irish Times.

The review is being led by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, former special rapporteur on child protection and child law expert.

The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will include an extensive review of the organisation’s files and interviews.

The interviews with survivors, as well as current and former volunteers, are expected to be completed by the middle of October.

In a recent email to Mr Finnegan, Dr Shannon said the review team had been advised St John Ambulance “has an arrangement in place” with an online therapy provider, TherapyHub.

The paramedic organisation “has agreed to provide an initial consultation and up to six counselling sessions” with the service, he said.

“We are advised that the identity of those availing of the service will not be shared” with the organisation, Dr Shannon said.

The review team was not involved in the counselling, but Dr Shannon said he would be writing to all those who had made contact with the review to “advise them of this counselling service”.

In response, Mr Finnegan said the limits of the counselling to six sessions was “completely unacceptable”.

The number of sessions risked the counselling service being cut off as survivors began to open up, which would “re-traumatise” those involved, he said.

“If anything such provision should account for the needs of those impacted and should have been established in consultation with those affected,” Mr Finnegan said.

A spokesman for St John Ambulance said the organisation did not wish to comment on the matter.

Anyone with information related to historical child abuse in St John Ambulance has been asked to contact Dr Geoffrey Shannon and the independent review at: g.shannon@stjohnambulancereview.ie