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Comprehensive and broad-ranging report on addressing family violence in Victoria

VCOSS has described the report delivered by the Royal Commission into Family Violence as “a landmark moment and a turning point in addressing the scourge of family violence in Victoria”. For more on the initial VCOSS response to the report, please see our media release. We congratulate the Andrews Government on accepting all of the 227 recommendations of the report.

The comprehensive report provides a broad framework for long-term, whole-of-government change. It covers many areas of government and social service delivery, from primary prevention, to the role of universal and mainstream services in identifying and responding to family violence, to the need to better support specialist family violence services.

In this blog, VCOSS summarises some of the major recommendations contained in the report of the Royal Commission. We will continue to add to the blog as we become more familiar with the report and its implementation. VCOSS would also like to hear from members about your views on the report.

Whole-of-government approach

Key recommendations

  • Establish a governance structure for implementing and overseeing reform, including a Statewide Family Violence Advisory Commission, parliamentary and Cabinet committees, regional integration committees and an independent Family Violence Agency.
  • Develop a Statewide Family Violence Action Plan.
  • Establish a family violence unit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
  • Improve data collection and research, including by addressing data gaps, developing a statewide data framework and a Victorian Family Violence Database.

A strong, whole-of-government governance structure will drive reform, maintain accountability and engage the community sector as key partners in implementation. The government can ensure the governance structures are representative and robust through ensuring the advisory committee represents the broad diversity of the community sector and the people it works with, including from Aboriginal communities, CALD communities, and people with disability, young people, older people, rural and regional Victorians and LGBTI people.

The funding environment

Key recommendations

  • Introduce output performance measures in the State Budget, about prevention of family violence and assistance provided to victims and perpetrators.
  • Identify the funding that will be required to implement the goals and actions of the Statewide Family Violence Action Plan.

The Royal Commission found that investment in the family violence system is inadequate, and budget processes render family violence invisible in the state budget. The report states that funding to adequately meet demand and implement the proposed reforms will be substantial. VCOSS looks forward to commencement of the funding roll-out in the State Budget in April.

Prevention

Key recommendations

  • Develop a long-term primary prevention strategy, including three year action plans, performance measures, dedicated funding and strong links to the Gender Equality Strategy.
  • Fund an initiative to oversee prevention of family violence activities, provide advice to organisations on designing primary prevention activities, and provide workforce development training in primary prevention.
  • Require respectful relationships education in every government school from prep to year 12, delivered through a whole-of-school approach.
  • Expand the Our Watch Equality and Respect Project into all public sector workplaces.

VCOSS welcomes the recommendation to develop a long-term primary prevention strategy, with measurable targets and outcomes. Because family violence crisis response is urgent and demand is growing, prevention is often the ‘poor cousin’ to crisis responses, struggling to secure sustainable and dedicated funding. The Gender Equality Strategy, currently in development, is a critical platform for addressing the harmful attitudes and inequities that are key drivers of family violence in Victoria.  Read the VCOSS submission to the Gender Equality Strategy here.

Early Intervention

Key recommendations

  • Review the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (known as the CRAF)
  • Develop a workforce development and training strategy that includes minimum standards about identifying, managing risk and responding to family violence, for all family violence, mainstream and universal services.
  • Require local councils to report on the measures they propose to take to reduce family violence and respond to victims.
  • Provide hospitals with resources to implement a whole-of-hospital model for responding to family violence.
  • Require routine screening for family violence in all public antenatal services.
  • Facilitate the development of standards that require general practitioners to complete family violence training as part of their continuing professional development.

The report acknowledges that universal services are often the first point of contact for people experiencing or at risk of family violence and that they often lack the knowledge and expertise to identify and respond appropriately.

A consistent approach to risk assessment and management is vital to protecting women and children. The CRAF provides a solid basis for this assessment, but need reviewing. VCOSS is aware that not all community organisations are aware of or use the CRAF. We welcome the broad scope of the workforce development strategy, applying across the community, health and education sectors.

The recommendations specifically note the role of antenatal services which is welcome. VCOSS also emphasises the important role maternal and child health services and early years services can play in identifying the early warning signs of family violence with appropriate training and resourcing.

Response

Specialist family violence services

Key recommendations

  • Within 12 months, provide additional funding to specialist family violence support services to deal with the current crisis in demand and to ensure people receive appropriate support.
  • Expand funding for after-hours responses and face-to-face crisis responses
  • Establish Support and Safety Hubs (with new and additional funding) in each of the 17 DHHS regions (by July 2018). Hubs are recommended to provide a single entry point into the specialist family violence system and holistic support, such as safety planning and securing accommodation.).

The report highlights the integral role specialist family violence services play in keeping women and children safe, and helping them recover from family violence. It recognises the overwhelming demand agencies are facing, and the need to increase capacity and flexibility, to support a broader range of options for people experiencing family violence. While the recommendation for urgent investment into the family violence sector and the additional funds announced last week by the Premier are welcome, the long-term funding arrangements for specialist family violence services remain unclear.

The Support and Safety Hubs will provide a strong foundation for delivering coordinated and comprehensive support, but will need to be adequately resourced, and to maintain an appropriate balance between early intervention for vulnerable families and crisis support and seamless linkages to and from the universal service system.

Men’s programs

Key recommendations

  • Convene a committee of experts on perpetrator interventions and behaviour change programs to advise on the spectrum of services, programs and initiatives that should be available.
  • Provide dedicated funding for perpetrator programs.
  • Establish an improved process for monitoring the attendance of perpetrators who are ordered to participate in behaviour change programs, and the outcomes of their participation.

The Royal Commission found there is insufficient breadth and diversity in perpetrator interventions in Victoria. Its recommendations aim to develop a more integrated approach to perpetrators of family violence, and encourage all organisations that have contact with perpetrators to understand and reinforce each other’s role and responsibilities, and work towards a set of common objectives and principles.

Legal responses

  • Expand specialist family violence courts.
  • Investigate of alternative ways to provide evidence in court, including the use of remote technology.
  • Expand investigative capacity for police and introduce stronger performance measures, and new mobile technology for front-line police, like body-worn cameras.
  • Work through COAG to expand resources for legal assistance services.

Community legal centres are vital to an effective response to family violence, but already struggle to meet demand. The report calls on the government to advocate for increased federal funding and reversal of future cuts to funding for legal assistance services. VCOSS also looks forward to the outcomes of the Access to Justice Review and its strategies for supporting the vital role of the community legal sector.

Services for adolescents who use violence

Key recommendations

  • Extend the Adolescent Family Violence program across Victoria.
  • Develop additional crisis and longer term accommodation options for adolescents who use violence in the home.
  • Establish a statutory youth diversion scheme.

Adolescent family violence is a distinct form of violence that is being inadequately addressed by the current legal and support system. There is currently no systemic response to young perpetrators. The report recognises that the dynamics of adolescent violence can be unique, and the needs of young people differ from adult perpetrators, requiring a specialist response.

Support for children and young people

Key recommendations

  • Prioritise funding for therapeutic interventions and counselling for children and young people who are victims of family violence.
  • Make sure all crisis accommodation services have the resources they need to support children and young people.
  • Support and fund youth homelessness services to develop and implement a broad range of supported accommodation options for young people experiencing family violence

The report recognises children are frequently victims of family violence, but are rarely treated as victims in their own right. The current family violence system fails in responding to them.

There was some focus in the report on building the capacity of schools to respond to family violence. VCOSS emphasises schools are an important environment for engaging young people who have experienced trauma or violence. However, many schools still don’t have enough access to counsellors, psychologists and wellbeing staff with the skills and expertise to support young people who have been victims of violence. VCOSS would like the implementation of the recommendations to consider the critical role of schools in responding to the early warning signs and impacts of family violence.

Housing and homelessness

Key recommendations

  • Increase number and range of crisis and emergency accommodation services, and provide a wider range of service models, especially in rural and regional areas.
  • Expand safe at home type programs over the next two years.
  • Expand the provision of Family Violence Flexible Support Packages, to help victims beyond the crisis period, including rental and mortgage subsidies, assistance with costs for counselling, education, health, employment and financial counselling.
  • Establish a Family Violence Housing Assistance Implementation Task Force to drive a ‘housing blitz’ to unblock the refuge and crisis accommodation system, bring an end to the use of ad hoc unsuitable accommodation options.
  • Amend the Residential Tenancies Act to allow for better apportioning of liability for damage or unpaid rent, when there has been family violence, and to support a victim of family violence to end or change a tenancy when the perpetrator is the co-tenant.

Safe, secure and affordable housing is an essential part of a comprehensive response to family violence. The Royal Commission found that housing pathways are ‘blocked up’ and there is a lack of long-term housing options that allow people to exit the system. The report proposes more support for women to retain existing housing or gain access to private rental, a shift towards individualised assistance to meet specific needs of individual women, more housing options to allow for rapid rehousing and better integration between accommodation and support.

During the consultation period, 129 agencies called on the Royal Commission to recommend an overarching affordable housing strategy to expand the availability of housing that low income households can sustain long term, including public and community housing. While this recommendation was not reflected in the report, the report did recognise the vital importance of investment in social housing. VCOSS looks forward to working with the government to develop and implement a broader affordable housing strategy to sit alongside its response to the Royal Commission.

Child protection

Key recommendations

  • Require child protection practitioners to participate in training and professional development about the nature and dynamics of family violence.
  • Require child protection services to make formal referrals to relevant family violence, family and child, child counselling, perpetrator behaviour change and other support services, where a report has been made but the threshold for intervention is not met.
  • Increased funding for Integrated Family Services to provide early intervention to prevent children from entering the child protection system due to family violence

Past practices have placed the burden of managing risk to the safety of women and children too heavily on women themselves. The report calls for better education and training to ensure child protection practitioners have a good understanding of family violence, assess and manage risk appropriately and provide appropriate support to women and families. It also recognises that too many families fall through the gaps and don’t receive family support when they need it.

Mental health and alcohol and drug use

Key recommendations

  • Assess the risk of family violence for all people discharged from a public mental health service, and in treatment planning.
  • Encourage collaboration between mental health, alcohol and other drug and family violence services by resourcing shared casework models and ensuring organisations are represented on multi-disciplinary panels.
  • Place specialist family violence advisor positions in mental health and drug and alcohol services.

VCOSS welcomes the recommendations to expand the capacity and expertise of the mental health and alcohol and other drug systems to identify and respond to family violence. The report recognises the link between family violence and poor physical and mental health, and the need for trauma informed responses across the service system.

Essential services

Key recommendations

  • Work with the Essential Services Commission to include family violence as a criteria for eligibility to hardship programs.
  • Develop industry guidelines for energy and water retailers providing for staff training about family violence and financial hardship.

VCOSS welcomes the consideration of a broad range of issues in the recommendations of the report including energy hardship. For many women, substantial debt is a consequence of family violence. The Royal Commission recommends a suite of actions to improve protections for victims, create more consistent approach to hardship policies and procedures and provide certainty for essential services providers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

  • Increase investment in programs that provide wrap-around support to Aboriginal parents and children, especially in the first five years of live.
  • Adequately fund Aboriginal community controlled organisations for culturally appropriate family violence services, family-centred services, cultural strengthening programs, legal services, early intervention activities and crisis accommodation.

The Royal Commission recognises the disproportionately high rates of family violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the unique barriers they face to getting help. Many Aboriginal people are reluctant to seek help from mainstream services. VCOSS welcomes the focus on increasing investment in Aboriginal community controlled services.

Vulnerable groups

  • Ensure family violence community awareness and prevention programs reflect the diversity of the Victorian community. Develop prevention work in consultation with relevant communities.
  • Fund Seniors Rights Victoria, InTouch and Women with Disabilities Victoria to provide training to and build partnerships with specialist family violence services and providers of universal services about appropriate responses to diverse Victorians.
  • Develop training on responding to family violence and referral pathways for faith leaders and communities.
  • Fund the development of resources for LGBTI communities to support the identification and reporting of family violence, provide information about safe accessible support, community education campaigns to encourage LGBTI people to seek help, and training to specialist family violence services.
  • Safe accommodation options for LGBTI people.
  • Require all funded family violence services to achieve Rainbow Tick accreditation by  2018.
  • Improve data collection about the experience of family violence among people with disability
  • Ensure disability workers through the National Disability Insurance Scheme receive training on identifying and responding to family violence.
  • Ensure accommodation services contain disability accessible units that are also appropriate for carers.

VCOSS looks forward to working with government and the community sector in the implementation of the recommendations.