Based on our consultations and analysis of key documents, there appears to be an understanding that an ideal response in family violence situations would be swift and holistic, addressing the needs of both victim survivors and perpetrators at the point of their first contact with the system to prevent further abuse. Services would be available at sufficient levels to meet demand and would remain in place for as long as needed for each client while gradually supporting the victim survivor to regain control of their lives.
There are many committed workers, dedicated services and a diligent public service working to improve and support the family violence service system to the extent that they can.
However, the family violence service system faces significant demand pressure, which has been compounded by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing workforce challenges, as are the systems directly related to it (such as the housing, mental health and child protection systems). With reports of family violence incidents remaining high, and so much demand for services, difficult decisions around prioritisation of access and duration of support have to be made.
We found that all parts of the system are experiencing backlogs, and victim survivors are facing less-than-ideal waits to access many of the services they need. We also found that with so much demand, the system is less able to support victim survivors who are not at the highest level of risk, and opportunities to intervene early are sometimes limited. This is problematic because, as victim survivors told us, it takes enormous courage to reach out for support, and it takes even more courage to reach out multiple times after not receiving sufficient support previously.
In addition to these access issues, and while many of the system elements are in place, they have not yet been joined up well enough to provide a smooth journey for the victim survivor. Programs and services are often designed in isolation, with siloed funding and program requirements that make coordination difficult. And while there is guidance for different parts of the system, there is scope to more clearly articulate a ‘crisis to recovery’ model.
While further work is required to improve the system response to victim survivors and support their journey towards recovery, it is exceptionally difficult to ensure victim survivor safety and wellbeing without a strong response to perpetrators. It is vitally important to have effective responses in place to hold perpetrators to account and change their behaviour. This is explored in our companion report covering the service response for perpetrators and people using violence within the family.
We cannot discuss our findings around the family violence response system without very clearly highlighting the utmost importance of strengthening primary prevention efforts. Primary prevention can stop more Victorians from ever having to experience family violence and reduce the demand pressure currently being experienced by the family violence system, thereby allowing it to be better able to meet the needs of the victim survivors presenting to it. Therefore, we must point to the suggested actions included in our Primary Prevention System Architecture report and Aboriginal-led Prevention and Early Intervention report, and the findings and recommendations contained in Respect Victoria’s September 2022 report to parliament: Progress on Preventing Family Violence and Violence Against Women in Victoria.
We also note that, given the integrated approach to family violence prevention, early intervention and response within Aboriginal communities, many of the issues and findings in the Aboriginal-led Prevention and Early Intervention report are also directly relevant to this topic.
Based on our analysis, we make the following high-level findings about the extent to which victim survivors are supported to move from crisis to recovery. These findings form the main sections in this report:
- There is increased visibility of where to go for family violence support, but this is not always leading to improved system access
- Demand pressure on family violence services means many victim survivors can’t access the right supports at the right time
- Workforce challenges are substantially affecting service delivery
- Navigating the family violence and related systems remains a challenge for victim survivors, but there are some good examples of coordination
- Victim survivors are accessing a range of systems and services that often struggle to keep pace with demand
- Longer term support and a more holistic approach are required to support recovery and healing.
To address these matters, we suggest a series of actions (see Figure 1) that will need to occur alongside ongoing efforts to build capacity across workforces, improve intersectional responses, monitor and evaluate progress, and embed the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework and information sharing reforms.
Figure 1: Proposed actions to improve the response to victim survivors, from crisis to recovery
Victim-centred approach to service delivery and design
- Implement a clear model for cross-sector referrals, secondary consultations and service coordination to improve system integration, defining the service responsible for supporting a victim survivor to navigate systems.
- Identify more opportunities for service co-location or collaboration, particularly between police, courts and The Orange Door or other specialist family violence services. This should include consideration of a co-responder model for Victoria Police.
- Take specific actions to enhance the regard for children and young people as victims in their own right, including safely giving them a greater voice during family violence–related court proceedings.
- Continue to advocate for reform by the Australian Government in areas such as immigration law, Medicare, Centrelink and the family law system to remove the known barriers in these systems to victim survivor support and recovery.
Access to the supports victim survivors need
- Actively work to embed financial counselling and legal assistance into the family violence response model.
- Facilitate the broader use of peer support as part of the recovery process for victim survivors.
- Articulate the role of the mental health system in supporting victim survivor recovery and drive stronger coordination between the mental health and family violence systems.
- Review the male victim survivor pathway, and consider where a dedicated male victim survivor response should be located and how it can link with more specialised supports.
- Drive improved conditions for family violence and sexual assault sector workers, including by targeting the structural causes of insecure work and low pay.
- Consider additional support that organisations may require to fully understand and apply the equivalency principles of the Mandatory Qualifications Policy.
- Leverage insights from the mental health lived experience workforce to inform a framework and career pathways for the family violence lived experience workforce.
- Explore opportunities to adopt client-centred funding models that improve service continuity and coordination.
- Continue to advocate for increased investment in the range of services victim survivors need, such as:
- housing from crisis accommodation to long-term affordable accommodation, and other options for supporting victim survivors to maintain rent and mortgages
- therapeutic interventions
- legal and financial advice and advocacy.
Data and monitoring
- Strengthen the availability of data across the system, including wait time, support provided and outcomes across The Orange Door, case management services and therapeutic services.
- Regularly analyse victim survivor journeys through the system to identify issues or blockages, particularly for groups such as children and young people.
- Establish a formal monitoring framework across The Orange Door sites to ensure quality and consistency with the service model, and identify possible sources of service delays.