If you have experienced childhood trauma, you can speak with a Blue Knot Helpline trauma counsellor including for support and applications around national redress

1300 657 380
Monday - Sunday
between 9am - 5pm AEDT
or via email helpline@blueknot.org.au


Do you need support for the Disability Royal Commission?
Contact our National Counselling & Referral Service on

1800 421 468
9am - 6pm AEDT Mon- Fri
9am - 5pm AEDT Sat, Sun & public holidays

February 2020Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via eMail Share on LinkedIn

From the Editor

This month our feature article focusses on trauma, triggers and flashbacks.  Do you know how to recognise your biological survival and stress responses? Do you understand how trauma can cause this response to stay turned on and how this can impact your daily life?  This article helps you to recognise the effect that this can have on your mind and body and the importance of seeking the right support. It also includes some strategies that may help you manage better.

Are you interested in learning more about how your abuse and trauma may have affected you and how to build your coping strategies?  Our Survivor Workshops are extremely popular. We have scheduled some extra workshops nationwide to assist demand. As these workshops are free of charge and are unfunded we are limited in the number we can currently schedule. The workshops book out very quickly so be sure to secure your place at your preferred location.  

We are also providing separate workshops for supporters and carers.  If you are supporting a survivor or know of someone who is, please book or share this information to secure a place.

We feature a personal account of one woman’s experience of childhood trauma, dissociation and hearing voices.  It helps us understand more about how some voices develop and why, while exploring the inherent meaning behind them.

Ever broken into a sweat, noticed your hands shaking or felt your heart racing in a crowd, a queue, or the cold and not known why?  Our book review this month examines Babette Rothschild’s “The Body Remembers, Vol 2: Revolutionising Trauma Treatment”, and may have the answers you are looking for.  Her book holds out hope to survivors that recovery from trauma, allowing a return to a more normal experience of life, is always a very real possibility.

If you have any comments about what you have read in this issue, contributions for the My Story section, or suggestions for future issues, please contact the editor at newsletter@blueknot.org.au

Warm regards
The Blue Knot Team

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Survivor Workshops - New dates added

This full-day educational workshop, informed by current research, provides a safe space for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in childhood, to learn more about abuse and other traumas and how trauma experiences can affect people, at the time of the trauma, and afterwards.

It will raise awareness about survivors’ strengths and resilience, the role of coping strategies, how the brain responds to stress, and, most importantly, research which shows that recovery is possible. 

Launceston      14 Mar 2020  last places available
Parramatta 28 Mar 2020 last places available
Brisbane 23 May 2020 available
Melbourne 30 May 2020 available
Darwin 20 Jun 2020 available

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

Supporter/Carer Workshops Announced

This workshop acknowledges that trauma from childhood – including all forms of abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences – can have substantial impacts both for the adult who has experienced it as well as people around him/her. 

Partners, friends, family and loved ones of adults who have experienced any form of childhood trauma and/or abuse would benefit from attending this workshop. This includes emotional, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, growing up in domestic violence situation, growing up with a parent with a mental illness and/ or is depressed, suicidal or abuses substances, when a parent is imprisoned or other forms of separation e.g. divorce, grief and loss.  These workshops have plenty of availability and participants can register via the website.

Melbourne       28 Mar 2020
Brisbane 18 Apr 2020
Parramatta 16 May 2020
Perth 13 Jun 2020

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

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Announcing New Fact Sheet

Trauma & Body Memories

This fact sheet explores the different types of memory, and how memories are stored in the brain and body.  Trauma is often experienced in the body and remembered by behavioural re-enactment. 

Download the Fact Sheet here to learn more.

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Thousands of child abuse survivors suffered in multiple institutions

The failure of institutions in which children were sexually abuse to join the redress scheme is reprehensible and indefensible. Crimes perpetrated and lives decimated demand accountability and true redress.  Read more

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The tick-a-box GP - a bureaucrat's dangerous fantasy

People with complex trauma experiences often have mental and physical health issues which need to be considered holistically in the context of the person’s lived experience. We cannot continue to artificially separate body and mind. They are intimately related.  Read more

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Spike in mental health distress calls since start of bushfire crisis

The bushfires which have swept through and continue to threaten our country have left a path of devastation behind them. Lots of people are being subjected to ongoing stress and trauma, substantial grief and significant loss over a long period of time. Many of us are also living with the impacts of prior trauma, often from childhood, although also as an adult. Read more

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Harvey Weinstein convicted of rape at New York trial

Good to see wheels of justice honour courage and determination of victims speaking out against power and coercive control. Read more

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‘Mum, I want to go home’: heartbreaking testimony of health system failing children with disabilities

The Disability Royal Commission hearings in Sydney commenced last week where we heard from peoples in our communities. The hearings continue today. The Guardian reports on a heartbreaking testimony of health system failing children with disabilities. Read
 more here

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Andrew Bolt apology to Paris Street

The apology from Andrew Bolt to Paris Street is a start. This apology must extend to all victims and their families – words can and do damage.  Read more

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Blue Knot Foundation responds to reports of misconduct of teachers at St Kevin’s school in Melbourne

What has really changed in the behaviour of some institutions post the Royal Commission? Blue Knot Foundation comments on revelations around St. Kevin’s College following Four Corners.  Read more

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NDIS Commission received more than 1000 reports of abuse and neglect over three months

The Disability Royal Commission is critical to helping to promoting the rights of people with disability and to protect them from abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation. Read more

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Trauma, triggers and flashbacks

When we experience trauma, and particularly repeated trauma, or when we are in danger, (or feel that we are), our biological survival or stress response stays turned on. This means that we are unable to return to a feeling of calm. When this happens our body and brain are flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.  This makes us hypervigilant, looking out for danger and keeps us in survival mode . Not only does it mean that we can’t return to a state of calm, but it also means that we can’t return to a state of restoration. It means that we spend a lot of energy of simply surviving. This leaves us with little capacity to explore, play and learn. It also makes it harder for us to engage socially and in the community around us. Our internal systems are busy making sure we are safe.

People who experience complex trauma i.e. repeated often extreme ongoing trauma which is usually interpersonal (between people) swing between being hypo and hyper aroused. With changes in arousal come strong changing emotions. These strong emotions can bring a range of different coping strategies and behaviours. When a person experiences ongoing trauma it makes them susceptible to different triggers. These triggers easily set off their stress response or fuel as stress response which is already overactive. 

With triggers come feelings of fear, panic and distress. There are a lot of different triggers which can make traumatised people react. Some triggers stimulate our senses – smells, sounds, sights, touch and tastes. Some people, including people with disability can be particularly sensitive to loud noises and bright lights. That’s because some disabilities can affect the way people process sensory input. 

Sometimes it can be someone yelling. At other times it can be people getting too close. Some triggers are cues in our environment. Sometimes it’s a particular time of the day or night. It can be bedtime. It can be what happens at a particular time of the day e.g. room checks. Sometimes it is an anniversary date. Or an experience which reminds our brain of a trauma we experienced from before. It can be big women. Or men with beards. It can be as simple as a tone of voice, a look on someone’s face, body language.  It can be contact with our family. Or feelings associated with our families (eg feelings of uncertainty). It can be any situation which our body registers as us not feeling safe.  These triggers can throw us back into feelings which we experienced at the time of past trauma/s. When this happens, our head can know that there is no danger however our body still responds to the ‘sounds like, feels like, smells like etc. - sensory triggers’) (Bessel van der Kolk, 2011). 

“People who have experienced childhood trauma often find that seemingly unrelated events, sensations or sensory cues such as a scent or sound, happening in day to day life can trigger unwanted thoughts, feeling and memories of their traumatic experience to come flooding back. Strong associations with past experiences can persist and the survivor can relive details of the abuse, the environment in which the abuse occurred, or be reminded of the perpetrator of the abuse. For the survivor this can feel like the trauma is occurring in the present and can be frightening, confusing and overwhelming. It is not possible to predict and avoid every trigger in advance – this is often not possible even for the survivor themselves. Triggers are words, symbols, situations, items, sounds, smells, colours – just about anything that the mind correlates to a negative past experience and causes a reaction based on it.” Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report, Volume 9, p.126

Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry and a leader in trauma coined the term “Window of Tolerance". This term helps us understand and describe normal brain/body reactions when we have experienced trauma. The concept suggests that we have an optimal level of arousal. This is called being within the window of tolerance. When we are within our ‘window’ we function at our best. The ‘window of tolerance’ is a concept which allows for the ups and downs in emotions that all human brings experience. We can all experience strong feelings of hurt, anxiety, pain and anger. These strong emotions can bring us close to the edges of our ‘window of tolerance’. Most of us have strategies that we can use to keep us within this ‘window’. When we have experienced complex trauma, we can be more easily triggered out of our window of tolerance. This is because our ‘window’ is narrow. This means that we are using the survival part of the brain i.e.  fight, fright and freeze, more often. 

Sometimes people experience flashbacks. Flashbacks are the sudden reliving of trauma memories. Some experiences trigger flashbacks. Flashbacks can come with strong feelings. These can include fear and distress. They can also come with strong sensations and body movements. This is because trauma is stored in the body. It can be hard to put these memories into words because they are ‘implicit’. 

It is not possible to ‘reason’ traumatised people out of feeling overwhelmed when their bodies are experiencing strong somatic (body-based) responses. Past trauma defines the present as well as perceptions of the future. We do also know about neuroplasticity of the brain. This means that over time we can rewire our brain to work in new ways.  We can settle our trauma responses with practice, and with the right support over time. 

The following strategies can be useful to help a person who is triggered to return to their window of tolerance

A simple ‘grounding’ exercise can help a person who is overwhelmed to return to their ‘window of tolerance’.  

There is no ‘one size fits all’ exercise. The following suggestions may be useful. They need to be adapted for each person:
Suggest that the person takes a ‘rest’ break. Suggest that they might want to stretch, walk around or take some time outside
Suggest that the person gently stamp their feet on the ground/floor
Suggest that the person takes some long, slow breaths (if doing this makes them more agitated rather than soothing them, you can suggest a physical movement)

IF A PERSON BECOMES VISIBLY AGITATED (hyperaroused; e.g. sweats, face changes colour, pupils dilate, voice is raised, pace of speech accelerates):
Make the above suggestions (i.e. rest break; movement; focus on breathing more slowly) 
Suggest the person focuses on a calming image (i.e. this needs to be a relaxing image for them)
Suggest that they have a calming object with them – something that is meaningful to them and which helps soothe through one of their senses e.g. photos, image of safe place, soothing music or friend’s voice; essential oils, favourite scent; woolly socks, teddy bear etc.
Ask what you can do to help

IF A PERSON ‘ZONES OUT’ (hypoaroused; eyes glaze, on automatic pilot, ‘shut down’):
Suggest that the person takes a short break (if their attention has wandered and doesn’t quickly return, don’t keep going as if nothing has happened)
Voices can help people regulate: speak calmly and slowly to help bring the person back to an awareness of where they are (‘I am xx; it’s Tuesday morning; we’re sitting in a café...’) 
Assure the person they are safe (taking care to ensure that they are)
Suggest a simple stretch (the focus should be on an external movement rather than on an inner sensation)
If the person has lot the sense of their body, suggest that they rub their arms and legs to help them feel where their body starts and ends. 
Suggest they wrap themselves in a blanket or towel and feel it around them.
Ask if the person can name 3 objects that they can see in the room (this engages the person and helps them focus their attention on something outside of them)
If the person is sitting down, suggest that they stand up for a moment (and stand up with them)
Engage one or more of the person’s ‘5 senses’ (i.e. sight, smell, sound, touch, taste; the feel of a velvet cushion; the smell of coffee beans, the taste of a peppermint lolly) 

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National Redress Scheme - Joint Selection Committee Updates

On 19th February the Federal government released its response to the Joint Select Committee on oversight of the implementation of redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse report.

Getting the National Redress Scheme right: An overdue step towards justice acknowledges a "clear need to improve the service delivery of the Scheme, particularly its interaction with survivors". It notes that the bulk of the evidence was collected in the first 6 months of the scheme’s operation and that some positive changes have occurred. These include:

increasing the numbers of institutions participating in the Scheme 
streamlining the assessment process so that Independent Decision Makers are considering matters earlier 
increasing the number of Independent Decision Makers 
introducing a case manager approach whereby the same staff member handles the application from beginning to end. 

The Scheme is the first of its type and scale established in Australia and a number of complexities were managed in its first 12 months of operation. As more applications are processed, the Scheme has had to reassess some of its initial assumptions. Application complexity, particularly around institutions, has been greater than originally envisaged. Remedying the disparities between the Scheme and the recommendations of the Royal Commission will require substantive legislative change or changes to key policy. 

The Government will continue to engage institutions to join the Scheme and actively monitor performance. The Government is also committed to a review of the Scheme following the second anniversary of its commencement. 

To read more about the government’s response to the 29 recommendations click here.

In recognition of its commitment to the transparency of the operation of the Scheme, the Government has also supported the establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, which was appointed by resolution of the House of Representatives on 10 September 2019 and resolution of the Senate on 11 September 2019.  The Government will work with states and territories and non-government institutions to address the issues identified by witnesses to the inquiry, and is committed to the effective operation of the Scheme in support of people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse.

The Chair of the new committee, Senator Dean Smith has indicated that hearing from survivors and those who are navigating the process of applying to the National Redress Scheme will be a key focus for the Committee in starting its consideration.


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National Centre for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse announced - Survey Responses Sought

The Department of Social Services has announced a public consultation process to inform the design of the

National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse (the National Centre). The establishment of a National Centre was a recommendation (9.9) of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission). Read the report here. The Royal Commission recommended the Australian Government, along with state and territory governments, establish a National Centre to address child sexual abuse by reducing stigma, promoting help-seeking and supporting good practice. The National Centre will provide a national strategic focus to coordinate research and build service capability to both respond to and prevent child sexual abuse.

The voices of people with lived experience, along with those who work in the sector will be key to the future success of the National Centre. The consultation opened on Monday 17 February and will run until Sunday 15 March 2020.  

The survey and the information paper can be accessed here. Please feel free to add your voice to the consultation.  If you have any enquiries please contact the department via NationalCentre@dss.gov.au.

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Trauma Training Calendar

Book your professional training for next year and lock-in early bird discounts

Launceston  13 Mar Intro to Working Therapeutically with Complex Trauma Clients (L1)
Melbourne 16 Mar  Foundation for Trauma Informed Care and Practice (L1)
Adelaide 19 Mar Working Therapeutically with Complex Trauma Clients (L2)
Sydney 20 Mar  Trauma-Informed Care and Practice: Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Melbourne 24 Mar Trauma-Informed Transgender and Gender Diverse Affirmative Care - Masterclass
Canberra 27 Mar Embedding Trauma-Informed Care and Practice for Managers
Perth 30 Mar  Trauma-Informed Care and Practice (L2)
Townsville 1 Apr Trauma-Informed Care and Practice (L2)
Sydney 2-3 Apr Working Therapeutically with Complex Trauma Clients (L2)
Melbourne 17 Apr Trauma-Informed Care and Practice: Working with People with a Disability
Melbourne 22 Apr Introduction to Working Therapeutically with Complex Trauma Clients (L1)
Melbourne 23-24 Apr   Working Therapeutically with Complex Trauma Clients (L2)
Parramatta 29 Apr Trauma-Informed Care and Practice (L2)
Melbourne 30 Apr Embedding Trauma-Informed Care and Practice for Managers

Blue Knot's trauma training is informative, interactive and engaging, and is facilitated by experienced clincians and trauma trainers around Australia. Professionals may claim CPD hours/credits/points as a pre-approved or self directed learning activity.  Go here to learn more and book 

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Making Friends with Voices
Hearing Voices and Dissociation

(* Trigger Warning) This article may contain content that could disturb some readers. You may choose not to read it. If you do read this story and reading it causes you distress and you need support, please call the Blue Knot Helpline on
1300 657 380 (9am-5pm AEST, 7 days)
. Calls that cannot be answered directly will be returned as soon as possible, so please leave a message with your phone number, and state of residence. 

I remember the day well. It was a Thursday afternoon late in May, and we were sitting in her flat talking, and watching the walls. Amy looked frightened, distracted. I asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t respond. She had her back to me, and her shoulders were hunched around her ears. I waited. ‘I know this is going to sound crazy,’ she whispered, giggling softly, ‘but I think I’ve been possessed by Ted Bundy.’ She had a bottle of wine clamped between her knees, trying to force it open with a tiny penknife. I watched her struggle. For a moment there was silence, then Amy turned to face me. I knew that she was serious because of how terrified she looked.

Amy has been hearing voices for years. She does not see it as an illness. Neither do I. It makes perfect sense, in the context of the rest of her life. As a child, Amy was physically abused and neglected. In order to cope, the voices later explained, she created imagined identities to withstand the different aspects of abuse, splitting her mind, so that Amy herself, or rather, Amy’s conscious self, could dissociate from the trauma she was experiencing. The identities were created by Amy’s mind as a child, so that she could mentally escape the pain of being abused. But though she viewed them as being separate to herself, these identities originated in her mind, and are still a part, albeit a dissociated part, of who she is. The voices that Amy has been hearing for years, are not some abstract phenomena, neither are they an indication that Amy is ‘mentally unwell’. The voices that Amy hears, are simply the voices of these dissociated parts of self; the voices of the ingenious defence mechanism that enabled Amy to survive her childhood. In adulthood, it is the voices, not Amy, that hold the bulk of the traumatic memories and associated emotions.

When Amy first began to listen to the voices, to try to understand what they might want and why they might exist, rather than shutting them out and trying to ignore them as she had previously, the relationship she had with her voices began to shift dramatically. The first noticeable change was that the voices began to present in person, by ‘coming out’ in her body. In truth, this was not a new thing, but it was something which Amy had previously been unaware of. For many years, Amy had been accustomed to losing huge chunks of time, and to finding things that she had bought, in particular, toys and sweets, that she had no recollection of buying. She was frequently told by others of things that she had said and done, that Amy had no conscious awareness of herself. But she had never associated any of this with the voices, or with the experiences she lived through as a child.

Two years ago, the voices, or dissociated parts, began to ‘come out’ and talk to me. They introduced themselves to me gradually, over a period of several years. Some were shy and nervous at first; others angry, distrustful and hostile. However, as we reassured them that they were safe, and as they, in turn, learned to trust, even the most hostile parts softened, revealing themselves to be the identities of small, frightened, abused children; each with their own name, age, personality, voice, feelings and memories, of both past and current reality.

That day in May, the day that Amy thought she was possessed by the spirit of Ted Bundy was a frightening day for both of us. But then, anything can be frightening if we don’t take the time to understand it. Hearing voices threaten to ‘slice you into pieces’, or to do unspeakable things to those that you love is terrifying, especially if you believe that the voice threatening those things is in some way a part of yourself. The conclusion Amy reached that day was that she was ‘evil’.

But she isn’t evil. And neither is she possessed by Ted Bundy. Behind all of the other voices, we had found only frightened child identities, aged between four and eight years old; the ages that Amy was when she first experienced the trauma and split her mind to survive. And this time, however scary, was to prove no different.

It is hard to respond in a loving and nurturing manner to a voice that threatens to kill you and/or the people you love, including all of the other frightened parts of yourself. It is easier to detest this voice, and whatever lies behind it, because in some way this voice, and the others like it, allow the abuse and the fear to continue. But if you can imagine this voice as belonging to a hurt, child part of yourself, a part that protected you when you were small, then perhaps it can become a little easier to respond kindly, to care, and to try to understand.

As a child, Amy’s mother had forced her to watch horror movies, in an attempt to keep her in a constant state of fear. What better way to protect herself from feeling afraid, than to create within herself, the very thing that she was afraid of. If she was Freddy Krueger, if she was Ted Bundy, then she could watch their images on screen without becoming paralysed by fear. Of course, Amy is not really Freddy Krueger, or Ted Bundy, which is why, when ‘Ted’ and ‘Freddy’ learned that they were safe, and that they were not ‘evil’, they revealed the vulnerable child parts behind their terrifying personas. Nowadays ‘Ted’ and ‘Freddy’ prefer ice-cream and cartoons to the idea of chopping people into pieces, and life for Amy is much less chaotic as a result.

Once, Amy was advised to seek outside help; to present herself at a hospital, or to undergo a psychiatric mental health assessment. I can only say I am thankful that she did not follow any advice. A system that still understands the pain and trauma of people’s lives, and their subsequent response to this, in terms of mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, and Borderline Personality Disorder, is not a system that can understand, let alone truly help, someone such as Amy.

For my part, I believe that there are lots of Amys, lost somewhere in a system that needs to change drastically before it can ever really hope to meet the needs of abuse survivors. If people like Amy could be given ice-cream and trust, as readily as they are given medication and stigmatising labels, perhaps the depressing pattern of long-term psychiatric involvement for survivors of childhood trauma and abuse, would soon be a thing of the past. And surely that can only be a good thing.

By Bambi (the author has written article under name of ‘Bambi’ for reasons of confidentiality)

Article originally published by Intervoice - The International Hearing Voices Network


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Book review of Babette Rothschild’s The Body Remembers, Volume 2: Revolutionising Trauma Treatment

Ever broken into a sweat, noticed your hands shaking or felt your heart racing in a crowd, a queue, or the cold and not known why?  

The book we’re reviewing today, which is written by a trauma survivor herself, may well have the answers you’ve been looking for.

An easy and informative read for counsellors and survivors alike, Babette Rothschild’s (2017) The Body Remembers, Volume 2: Revolutionising Trauma Treatment, picks up where volume 1 left off, with an in-depth exploration of the effects of trauma on the body.

Further, this book can help survivors and their supporters better grasp why body memories are so overpowering – given that as much as they may strike survivors as current threats, they are in fact fragments of trauma memories – which with the right support and loving care, may be able to recede over time.  

Indeed, the central strategies this book advocates to help survivors feel calm and safe are critical to all of the complex trauma counselling that we do here at The Blue Knot Foundation. 

Importantly, Babette Rothschild also cautions how and why many grounding techniques often recommended for trauma survivors – including mindful breathing, meditation, cardio exercise and more - can act as trauma triggers, and are therefore not recommended for all survivors. 

And just as importantly, her book holds out hope to survivors that recovery from trauma, allowing a return to a more normal experience of life, is always a very real possibility.

With author Babette Rothschild widely considered a leading theorist on trauma effects and recovery, The Body Remembers, Volume 2 will hopefully not disappoint readers.

Purchase the book here


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Disclaimer - Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.