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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House)

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House)

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House) is a specialist refugee trauma service supporting survivors of torture and other traumatic events. It has a diverse client base and supports people arriving in Australia through the Humanitarian Program or as asylum seekers. On average, Foundation House assists more than 4,000 clients from around 40 different countries and ethnicities each year.

Paris Aristotle AO, the CEO of Foundation House, said the agency has developed an integrated trauma recovery service model that captures the principles of trauma‑informed care. It presents the recovery goals for clients that guide the agency’s work as being to restore:

  • safety and enhance agency and control
  • secure attachments, promote connections to others and enhance the sense of belonging
  • meaning and purpose to life, rebuild identity and promote justice
  • dignity and value and reduce excessive shame and guilt.

Mr Aristotle said the agency also uses a trauma‑informed approach to help refugees to recover from torture and other traumatic events by providing treatment, care and support to reduce symptoms characteristic of post‑traumatic stress disorder and other common disorders such as anxiety and depression.

We provide a wide range of psychosocial services including mental health services in the form of trauma counselling and psychotherapy, psychiatric care, natural and tactile therapies and community capacity building programs.

Mr Aristotle noted a trauma‑informed approach is also about supporting staff within the organisation who hear the traumatic stories of their clients.

We need to support how our staff manage and deal with the content of the work and the impact it can have on them personally because to connect is to feel. It is not simply a matter of them switching that off at some point at the end of the day. Organisations need to be focused and respectful and have clear frameworks for their clients, and the communities that they are engaging with, as well as for the people within the agency.

Mr Aristotle said Foundation House leads several programs designed to improve the capacity and responsiveness of other sectors and systems, such as primary health and mental health services. This work is performed through the ‘Foundation House framework’.

Externally, the Foundation House framework is used to support other organisations and service providers to develop their capacity to work with survivors of torture and other traumatic events in a trauma‑informed way. This is achieved through our professional development, secondary consultation and consultancy services and other collaborative approaches, and production of resources such as a guide to working with refugee young people and guides for GPs and other primary health workers.

Kylie Scoullar, General Manager, Direct Services at Foundation House, said the organisation works to foster partnerships with different service providers. Ms Scoullar said that collaborative approaches can facilitate better outcomes for consumers.

Collaboration between Foundation House and mental health providers (such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Victoria (CAMHS)) has helped some of our clients to overcome stigma and receive treatment. That has been achieved by, for example, arranging for the client to attend CAMHS sessions at Foundation House (along with their trusted Foundation House counsellor), which is an environment they are comfortable with.

Source: Witness Statement of Paris Aristotle, 30 June 2020; Witness Statement of Kylie Scoullar, 16 July 2019; Foundation House, Webinar Recording: Online Launch of “Rebuilding Shattered Lives 2nd Ed.” by Dr Ida Kaplan, [accessed 14 December 2020].

Photo credit: Annette Ruzicka Photography, courtesy of Foundation House, 2018