Opening address at the 30th CURA annual conference by CURA National Coordinator Louise Graham

24 Feb 2007

Opening address at the 30th CURA Annual Conference by Louise Graham, CURA National Coordinator Corrib Heights Hotel in Renmore, Co Galway

Friday 23 February 2007 – Embargoed 7:30pm

“CURA: 30 Years on, Celebrating the Past and Looking to the Future”

I am proud and honoured to stand before you this evening as National Coordinator of CURA on this very special occasion of the annual conference on the 30th anniversary CURA.

On behalf of National Office I would like to add to the welcomes already extended by Bishop Drennan and Anne Murphy and to extend a special welcome to our new counsellors attending annual conference for the first time. I hope you will have many fruitful and enjoyable years of service with CURA.

Celebrating the Past

The ethos and aims of the work of CURA remain unchanged from when it was set up by the Irish Bishops’ Conference, 30 years ago, to ensure the provision of services to people facing a crisis pregnancy situation.

This year is the 30th Anniversary of CURA and a time to reflect on, and celebrate, the history of the work done, the volunteers who have delivered these services.

Society was very different in 1977 and an unplanned pregnancy was commonly associated with the ‘unmarried’ mother label which was typically frowned upon in society. There was very little support for the woman with little opportunity to contemplate her options and make an informed decision. The woman often experienced rejection, stigmatisation and trauma. The need for services offering support was real.

Responding to this need a total of seven CURA centres were set up initially: Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, Waterford, Derry, Sligo, Belfast and Dublin. Since then ten other centres have been established: Letterkenny, Dundalk, Athlone, Wexford, Ennis, Kerry, Belfast, Castlebar, Thurles and Monaghan. Two centres, Belfast and Derry, are no longer operational.

30 years of history and service delivery encompasses an enormous amount of work and dedication and the key contributors in this regard has been the following:

* The workers who were there at the start, social workers, sisters and priests who ensured the provision of the initial phone line and drop in services.
* The volunteers who have been part of this organisation over the last 30 years without whom, quite simply, CURA would not have continued and grown to how it is today. The history of volunteering in CURA is a unique story and the ongoing involvement of new volunteers is an indication of a key strength for the future.
* The members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference who have supported the work over the years and continue to support the work in so many ways: funding, providing premises, administration and secretarial facilities, spiritual support and their personal support to local volunteers
* The contributions of the Presidents of CURA; Bishop O’Mahony, Bishop O’Reilly and currently Bishop Fleming. The members of the Provincial structures who played a key coordinating role, in particular prior to the existence of the National Office
* The members of the NEC who, over the years and in particularly in recent years, have carried the responsibility of leading this organisation often within complex and difficult considerations.

There have been many changes in terms of needs of people using the services of CURA and the societal context of our work is evolving and changing all the time. Services continue to change and develop and include the following:

* Development of more professional approach to recruiting & training volunteers
* Introduction of external supervisors to the organisation.
* Development and implementation of policies to insure protection of clients, volunteers and the organisation
* Introduction and development of the Schools Awareness Programme.
* Introduction of Post Abortion Counselling
* The implementation of a low cost National Helpline
* The continued development of outreach services around the country offering greater access to clients
* Public advertising of services of the organisation to include partners, families etc.
* Standardised approach to service delivery

Looking to the Future
There have been many changes in terms of needs of people using the services of CURA and the societal context for our work is evolving and changing all the time. This theme no doubt will be further explored during the various sessions over the weekend.

Inputs tomorrow will allow opportunity to reflect further on changes in society. Our deliberations should also allow us to analyse the work of crisis pregnancy services and prepare for challenges in the future.

CURA: Current Services and Looking to the Future
CURA’s focus has always been on those in crisis. Our work is ultimately about taking the ‘crisis’ out of a crisis pregnancy situation by providing a safe and secure place where the clients can work through her considerations and move on to making a considered and informed decision about her future.

CURA: Crisis Pregnancy Counselling: Current services
Crisis Pregnancy is a complex issue and therefore a demanding area of work. The definition most commonly adhered to describes crisis pregnancy as: ‘a pregnancy which is neither planned no desired by the woman concerned, and therefore represents a crisis for her.’ Therefore a crisis pregnancy is defined by the response of the woman to the fact that she is pregnant. It is about her, her situation, her considerations, which will be unique to her and different to every other woman using the services of CURA who feels her pregnancy is a crisis.

The role of the Crisis pregnancy counsellor requires skill and expertise and the standards to ensure delivery of services in a professional way are high. These standards, although demanding of volunteer counsellors, are necessary to ensure the best quality service to people using the services of CURA.

There are currently sixteen CURA centres around the country providing the following services:

* Pregnancy counselling for women
* Fathers counselling
* Grandparents counselling
* Free pregnancy testing
* Post abortion counselling
* Schools Awareness Programme (Secondary schools)
* Information on Rights and Entitlements
* Adoption and Fostering Information
* Links with other relevant support services

In 2006 a total of approx 8,500 clients availed of our pregnancy and post abortion counselling services while our Schools Awareness Programme was delivered to over 200 post primary schools and 25 other educational establishments, catering for just under 10,000 students.

The role of the ‘volunteer’ has undoubtedly been the main key to the success on CURA. The requirements of volunteers in CURA have changed over the years in line with the increasing needs for professionalism in practice. In tandem with this change there has been an increase in awareness of the need to protect the client, and the volunteer, in a counselling situation so as to ensure the delivery of services in a professional way.

The theme of this conference ‘CURA: 30 Years on, Celebrating the Past and Looking to the Future’ affords us an opportunity to reflect on the past and the journey CURA has come – it also allows us the opportunity to consider and reflect on the journey ahead.

It has been a particularly challenging time for all involved in CURA reflecting the complexities of a crisis pregnancy situation, the commitment to ensuring a professional service and commitment to ethos.

Tomorrow in their keynote addresses the President of CURA, Bishop John Fleming and, separately, Ms Caroline Spillane of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, will outline key themes and research findings impacting on the context for current provision of crisis pregnancy services. There will be an opportunity to follow up these themes in the workshops. I would invite all delegates to contribute and participate fully in these discussions which will seek to inform the future direction of CURA and the presenting opportunities and challenges.

Thank You