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Tackling family violence requires long-term, whole-of-community responses

Preventing family violence, and responding holistically to the people who experience it is complex and multi-dimensional, and beyond the capability of any single sector or organisation to achieve. Tackling family violence requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach, including intensive collaboration with the community sector.

The VCOSS submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence draws on the knowledge and experience of our members to highlight the importance of prevention, early intervention and government and community responses to family violence when it occurs.

The VCOSS submission recognises that the community sector has a significant role to play in addressing one of Victoria’s most profound social challenges. The community sector is an essential partner in developing innovative solutions to address the causes of family violence, in building strong and resilient communities that reduce the risk of family violence and in providing support to victims and their families to address the ongoing impacts of experiencing family violence. Community organisations that have built up relationships with marginalised groups are well placed to promote and deliver programs that tackle entrenched attitudes, behaviours and practices that support or condone violence among people facing disadvantage.

Many people experiencing or perpetrating family violence will first come to the attention of universal or secondary services, including schools, health services and community organisations. Because these services have high levels of participation across the community, they provide a great opportunity to engage families at risk of or experiencing violence, and link them to support. The VCOSS submission recommends the Royal Commission investigate integrated early childhood services, ‘schools as community hub’ models, and other place-based approaches to improving integration between universal and specialist services.

To maximise the likelihood of people receiving the support they need as soon as possible, a coordinated approach is required, where workers and volunteers across the whole service system are able to identify, safely respond and refer people to specialist family violence support. Common risk assessment tools have been developed and designed to ensure workers across all sectors are guided by a consistent framework, with a shared understanding of family violence and risks. Unfortunately, knowledge about the Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) in the broader community and health services is inconsistent and participation in training has been limited.

Some organisations and workers in the community sector consulted in the preparation of the VCOSS submission were unaware of their ability to access training around the CRAF or thought it was not relevant to them. Some people also thought CRAF training was only appropriate for specialist family violence workers.

However, improving identification and referral of families into the specialist family violence system will not help these families if specialist services are unable to respond and assist them. Family violence services within the community sector are facing overwhelming demand for crisis accommodation, counselling, referral and legal assistance. The publicity around the Royal Commission, as well as improved system responses will only add to the pressure specialist family violence services are experiencing.

The VCOSS submission recommends expansion of specialist family violence services including counselling, crisis accommodation, referrals and legal assistance.

The chronic shortages of public and social housing in Victoria and a scarcity of affordable housing, mean many women and children are unable to secure long-term housing, leading them to stay longer in refuges and crisis accommodation, or face homelessness. Growth in the social housing system is urgently needed, as well as investment in rapid rehousing programs that assist women quickly into secure tenancies.

Initiatives such as ‘safe at home’ programs, which support women and children to remain safely in their homes if they choose to do so, can significantly reduce the trauma and disruption experienced by women and children made homeless by family violence.

Men’s behaviour change programs hold men accountable for their choice to use violence however waiting lists can be anything from several months to up to a year long.

Children are present at about one third of family violence incidents attended by police. Experiencing family violence can have serious and often long-term negative effects for children, including psychological and behavioral impacts, health and socioeconomic impacts, and sometimes, intergenerational violence. Yet there are insufficient therapeutic services to address the trauma experienced by children who are victims of violence.

Adolescent violence in the home is also a growing problem. Many adolescent perpetrators have themselves witnessed or experienced violence or abuse in childhood. Standard police and system responses are often inappropriate when the perpetrator is a young person, and fail to address the specific needs of both the victims and the adolescent perpetrators.

Family violence is a factor in the majority of cases where children are removed from their families. Closer collaboration, more resourcing for child protection workers and shared understanding between family violence and child protection systems would improve support for vulnerable families and strengthen relationships between children and non-abusing parents.

As well as providing specialist support services, community organisations also play an important general role in building connected and resilient communities, which can help reduce risk factors for family violence such as social isolation, poor mental health and drug and alcohol misuse.

However, despite the importance placed on preventing and responding to family violence, and the important role the community sector has to play in this, community organisations across the board are struggling with insufficient funding to meet surging requests for assistance, and respond to the increasingly complex difficulties people are facing. At the base of this funding issue is the need to apply a sustainable and appropriate funding indexation model across the community sector.

More information about the Royal Commission into Family Violence is available on their website. The Royal Commission’s final report is due February 2016.

Support is available for anyone by calling the National Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 737 732, or the safe steps Family Violence Response 1800 015 188, or Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491.