Jan Shuard – Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor
In April 2022 the Victorian Government entrusted this office to conduct an independent review of the legislation underpinning three vital elements of the Victorian family violence reforms – the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, the Central Information Point and the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Risk Management (MARAM) Framework. These reforms aim to better protect family violence victim survivors and hold perpetrators accountable by supporting information sharing and promoting system-wide consistency in the treatment of family violence risk. These specific foundations of the change agenda are described by some as ‘game changers’ for the system.
This review considered how effective the legal framework in Parts 5A and 11 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (the Act) has been in achieving its objectives and whether any changes are required to improve its effectiveness. The framework underpins all the work being done in practice to share relevant information, collaborate and coordinate services, and assess and manage family violence risks. It is therefore critical that the legal framework is clear and provides sufficient authority and incentive for services to share information and treat risk in a consistent manner.
It is not possible to assess the effectiveness of the legal provisions without considering their application and operation in practice. The review examined the practices that give effect to this legislation because these are what will determine the efficacy of the legislation. In some cases we found that issues arise not from the legislation itself but its application in practice.
This report highlights the significant positive impact the legal framework has had in the family violence system. The Act has been effective in enabling a positive cultural shift away from perpetrators’ privacy towards sharing information to keep victim survivors safe and hold perpetrators accountable. More information is being shared than ever, and there is greater service coordination and collaboration to support risk assessment and management. However, while greater access to information is supporting services to make better-informed decisions about risk, more work could be done to support the proactive sharing of relevant information. The MARAM Framework has also promoted a shared language for family violence, a greater focus on keeping perpetrators in view and consistency in understanding and managing risk.
This report also identifies some areas of the legal framework that could be strengthened. It proposes ways to further support practitioner understanding of their obligations, ensure the timely sharing of risk-relevant information, promote victim survivor agency over the sharing of their information, and support organisations to align their practice with the MARAM Framework. Our recommendations do not imply there are flaws in the Act but should be regarded as measures to further increase its effectiveness.
We acknowledge and thank the stakeholders who gave up their time to meet with us and/or make a submission. Consultations and submissions supplied valuable insights into aspects of the schemes that are working well and have been effective in achieving their aims, as well as barriers and challenges that services and practitioners face in practice.
We are also indebted to the survivor advocates who shared their experiences and views, which was critical in helping us understand how information sharing impacts on victim survivors. As always, their insights were invaluable.
The small team who worked tirelessly on this report are to be commended on the quality and thoroughness of their research, their diligent exploration of the issues and the high standard of reporting.
We recognise the complexity and scale of these reforms and acknowledge the ongoing work of specialist family violence services, universal services and government agencies in progressing these critical reforms.
Jan Shuard PSM
Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor