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The repercussions of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence are precipitating monumental shifts in prevention and responses. VCOSS applauds the Victorian government’s leadership and investment, and recognises the enormity of the task, including system redesign, and the recruitment and skilling of a legion of new workers.
Family violence can be tackled with a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach, including community sector collaboration. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence is a chance to drive lasting social change, by challenging attitudes and behaviours underlying family violence, and improving responses to it.
“The report delivered by the Royal Commission into Family Violence is a landmark moment and a turning point in addressing the scourge of family violence in Victoria.”
– Emma King, VCOSS CEO 
The Royal Commission’s report canvases sweeping changes, from primary prevention, through to universal and mainstream services responding to family violence,
to better supporting specialist family violence services.
In April 2016, the Victorian government responded to the report with a two-year, $572 million funding package as a “down-payment” to achieve systemic, transformational change. In late 2016, this funding is beginning to reach organisations serving people experiencing family violence.
The 10-year Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change is also a momentous step toward achieving genuine systemic change, to one day eradicate family violence. VCOSS, through its representation on the statewide Family Violence Steering Committee and the Social Services Taskforce, aims to support the co-design process across the community, health and education sectors.
The Victorian government can continue to use this opportunity to embed lasting change by continuing to resource the implementation of the Family Violence Royal Commission.
VCOSS applauds the Victorian government’s investments so far, with the 2016-17 State Budget providing the largest ever funding commitment to tackling family violence. VCOSS encourages the government to continue monitoring resource requirements to implement the changes, and making necessary adjustments to keep the reforms on track.
Family violence organisations face operational challenges, compounding their challenges in responding to growing demand, and while co-designing, delivering and evaluating new programs with government. Fierce competition for highly skilled workers and tight reform timelines put pressure on management, administrative and frontline service delivery workers. Workforce planning takes time, with the Royal Commission recommending a comprehensive 10-year workforce development strategy.
The first stage of implementation can address this by providing realistic timeframes, funding and expectations of demands placed on organisations and workers. Given the significant nature of the reform package being delivered, VCOSS recommends the Victorian government continue investing in reform implementation. We also propose further strategies below to realise the vision of the 10-year Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change, of a future where all Victorians live free from family violence.
Many families experiencing violence are first identified as needing support by general health, education or community sector services, rather than specialist family violence services. Hospital, general practice, maternal child health, early years and school workers must know how to recognise the signs of family violence and respond appropriately for safe and effective interventions.
More than one in five women experiencing family violence will make their first disclosure to a health professional. Schools and health service staff responses vary, often based on their individual knowledge, experience and skills. While some organisations develop relationships with local specialist family violence services and have strong training programs, policies and referral pathways in place, many do not.
The Victorian government can support the education, health and broader community sector in implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations by investing in training, workforce and resource development to build appropriate family violence response capacities and facilitate partnerships with family violence services.
The Victorian government can help provide people experiencing family violence with timely, holistic and integrated support, by appropriately resourcing support and safety hubs to hire adequate numbers of skilled and specialist workers.
The government’s 2016 funding package includes $5 million to design 17 new support and safety hubs. These will provide people experiencing family violence with clear and accessible entry points to find help, and link with other services.
Support and safety hubs need to be adequately resourced. Entry and referral systems require resources to meet demand and prioritise the needs of people in crisis, and to provide enough early intervention services.
Support and safety hubs will be most effective when able to respond appropriately to diverse groups, including Aboriginal people, people with disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and older people. If specialist staff are employed to work with diverse and high-risk groups, they can also develop the skills of other safety hub team members and partner agencies. Clear linkages and referral pathways between the hubs and the health, education and community sectors will support seamless system navigation.
The Victorian government can help people recover from family violence trauma, through support that continues long after a crisis. Often services are only funded to help women and children during an initial crisis period.
In the months and years after escaping family violence, families can face problems with housing, finances, or parenting. Family violence agencies report women often feel they have no choice but to return to violent perpetrators, or risk homelessness. Some women remain in contact with violent perpetrators after separation due to parenting commitments or court orders, putting them at risk of continuing trauma. They need better access to long-term counselling, financial and other practical support.
Without long-term support, people risk post-traumatic stress disorder. Women may feel longer-term effects many months or years afterwards. Family violence is linked to people experiencing longer term problem substance use, anxiety and chronic health conditions.
Aboriginal communities experience trauma stemming from colonisation, discrimination, and policies such as children’s forced removal, with devastating consequences.
Intergenerational trauma can be embedded in a community’s collective and cultural memory. It contributes to high family violence rates in Aboriginal communities, as well as high poverty rates and other disadvantage.
“88 per cent of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care have experienced family violence.”
Strategies to prevent Aboriginal family violence must be developed and delivered by Aboriginal people if they are to be successful.
The Victorian government can reduce high Aboriginal family violence rates by strengthening Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, including with more sustainable and long-term funding, and by not putting Aboriginal organisations in funding competition with larger non-Aboriginal organisations. The government can amplify the voices of Aboriginal people in the process, especially those of women and children.
The Victorian government can reduce gender inequality through the release and implementation of the Gender Equality Strategy.
Women are adversely affected by gender inequality throughout their lives. It affects women’s educational and training pathways, employment opportunities, work-life balance, positions of formal leadership, health and safety, economic security and social inclusion. These interrelated factors combine to place women at greater risk of poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion.
Advancing gender equality benefits not only women but men, children and society more generally. Communities with greater gender equality have higher rates of wellbeing and lower rates of depression among both men and women. Communities valuing women’s participation and representation have fewer economic, social and political differences between men and women, and significantly lower family violence levels.
VCOSS outlined priority areas for action in its submission to the Gender Equality Strategy consultation, including addressing inequality in education, employment and leadership, financial security, safety, housing and health.
The Victorian government can help older people at risk of physical, emotional or financial abuse and mistreatment by strengthening community understanding of elder abuse and improving system responses.
Between two and six per cent of people aged 60 or over experience elder abuse.
Ageism and negative attitudes to ageing drive elder abuse. Building public awareness of elder abuse, its relationship to other forms of family violence, and tackling underlying ageist attitudes, help keep older people safe.
Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. Older people can be encouraged to plan and take control of their finances to minimise the risk of financial abuse. Accessible resources and well-informed, experienced professionals, including financial counsellors, can help older people plan appropriately.
“Older women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial abuse. The older person’s own children are most likely to be perpetrators.” 
Some health and community sector workers may not identify elder abuse, or be unsure of the appropriate response. This is compounded when older people rely on the perpetrator’s care, or do not want help. Providing people working with older people with professional development helps them recognise elder abuse, respond to it and make appropriate referrals.
 E King, Landmark family violence report a turning point in addressing the scourge of family violence, Media release, VCOSS, 30 March 2016.
 Royal Commission into Family Violence, Report and Recommendations; Volume VI, March 2016, p. 200.
 J Spangaro and A Zwi, After the questions; Impact of routine screening for domestic violence in NSW health services, The University of New South Wales, 2010, p. 22.
 Domestic Violence Prevention Council, What are the impacts?, Information sheet, accessed November 2016.
 Commissioner for Children and Young People, Always was, always will be Koori Children: Systemic inquiry into services provided to Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria, 2016, p. 47.
 Science Nordic, Gender equality gives men better lives, Norway, 2015.
 Victorian Council of Social Service, Advancing Gender Equality; submission to the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy Consultation Paper, March 2016.
 National Ageing Research Institute in partnership with Seniors Rights Victoria, Profile of elder abuse in Victoria: Analysis of data about people seeking help from Seniors Rights Victoria – Summary Report, June 2015, p. 5.
 State Trustees Victoria, Financial elder abuse research, accessed October 2016.