Our History

During the late 1980s, a number of refugee advocates along with doctors and psychiatrists working in the mainstream health system began to understand that a significant number of refugees required specialised support to address their past experiences of torture and trauma. With supporting evidence emerging both nationally and internationally, discussions began in 1989 to develop such a specialist service in South Australia.

In the development process, attention was paid to interstate and international experience which had demonstrated the importance of the service being seen by clients to be as independent as possible from government and institutional service providers. In part, this is because the act of torture commonly involves the explicit or implied consent of state or public officials and also because torture, rape and mutilation are such profoundly invasive and deeply private experiences. Confidentiality and trust therefore become a major consideration in the provision of services to survivors. Furthermore, because the experience of torture and trauma impacts on every aspect of a survivor’s life and the effects manifest in very individual ways, it was also necessary to move beyond the narrow, biologically-based understandings of mental illness typical of the hospital-based interventions of the time to an holistic, psychosocial approach that was more flexible and responsive to different client needs and cultural backgrounds.

1990 - The Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS) opened in 1990 in a shed at the rear of the Australian Refugee Association, with funding from the Myer Foundation under a management committee chaired by Professor Alexander McFarlane. STTARS was initially staffed by two people who were prepared to work without pay and who used a network of volunteer psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to assist clients. The model that evolved placed less of an emphasis on diagnosis and prescription and more of an emphasis on developing a relationship over time with an individual in the context of the whole of his or her life. It therefore developed a way of working that incorporated family, community and cultural and traditional healing practices to complement the psychologically-based Western therapies. The model also provided advocacy and assistance with finances, housing, schooling and employment as part of its service to clients.

1994 - STTARS quickly outgrew the shed and in 1994 moved to new premises in a former house in Bowden where it still maintains a presence today.

2005 - To address the significant challenges posed by a sharp increase in the number of child and youth referrals, STTARS established a dedicated program for children and young people in late 2005.

2010 - By 2010, STTARS had outgrown its Bowden premises and since then has operated primarily from its Angas Street office in Adelaide’s CBD.

2014 - In response to the growing number of refugees settling in the state’s southeast, STTARS opened a regional office in Mount Gambier in 2014.

2015 - STTARS celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Currently STTARS receives the majority of its funding from the Australian Government Department of Health, SA Health, and the Adelaide Primary Health Network. STTARS employs around 40 staff and hosts several visiting clinicians and a number of students and volunteers. Our service profile includes counsellor/advocates, caseworkers, refugee health nurses, family counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and complementary therapists. STTARS provides services to over 1,500 people from more than 60 different ethnic and cultural backgrounds each year.