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What did the Royal Commission say and what has changed since?

The Royal Commission made several overarching findings that relate to effective system responses to victim survivors. Among a series of system limitations, it made the following findings that directly affect the victim survivor journey towards recovery (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: System limitations identified by the Royal Commission most relevant to the victim survivor journey

  • All parts of the system (support services, police, courts) are overwhelmed by the number of family violence incidents now reported. Services are not currently equipped to meet this high level of demand, which undermines the safety of those experiencing family violence and their potential for recovery.
  • The range of services a victim might need at different times, including at points of crisis and beyond, are not as well coordinated as they should be, particularly when these services are located in different systems—for example, the health and justice systems. Gaining access to support can be difficult for victims, and service responses remain inconsistent and hard to navigate.
  • The current response to family violence largely assumes that women will leave their home when family violence occurs. For those who must leave, homelessness and housing systems cannot guarantee a safe place to stay or a permanent home that is affordable. For those who remain at home, monitoring of the perpetrator is inadequate.
  • The many different forms and manifestations of family violence are insufficiently recognised, and responses are not tailored to the particular circumstances and needs of diverse victims.
  • There is a lack of targeted resources to meet the specific needs of children and young people who have experienced family violence.
  • …there is not enough focus on helping victims recover from the effects of violence and rebuild their lives.

Source: State of Victoria (2016): Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and Recommendations, Parl Paper No. 132, p. 6.

The Royal Commission also made several recommendations that relate to support for victim survivors of family violence from the point of crisis and beyond. These recommendations reflected the need to:

  • improve safe and stable housing options, including supporting victims to safely remain in, or return to, their homes and communities, and ensure there are appropriate options to meet the needs of children and young people
  • improve service pathways by introducing a network of support and safety hubs
  • provide more funding for specialist family violence services and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to meet demand
  • provide more funding for therapeutic interventions and counselling for children and young people
  • expand the provision of Family Violence Flexible Support Packages
  • partner with Aboriginal communities to develop a strategic response to improve the lives of Aboriginal children and young people and provide support to Aboriginal parents
  • ensure greater collaboration between family violence services and others including mental health, alcohol and other drug, and child protection services
  • address the needs of diverse groups
  • strengthen investment in recovery by:
    • supporting victim survivors’ health and wellbeing (including by ensuring access to counselling)
    • supporting victim survivors’ financial security (including by expanding the delivery of financial literacy training for victim survivors).

Since then, substantial effort has gone into improving a range of systems to better respond to the needs of victim survivors. The Victorian Government has invested in therapeutic interventions for victim survivors, safe housing including improved crisis accommodation, and training for a range of workforces. A range of strategies and commitments have been made, all of which aim to improve the experiences of and outcomes for victim survivors. For example:

  • Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s 10-year Plan for Change (2016) outlines the government’s response to the Royal Commission and its overarching approach to family violence reform in Victoria. Most relevantly, it commits to:
    • designing the system and services to keep children safe
    • taking a whole-of-family approach to stopping violence, keeping victim survivors safe from harm, and helping them to recover from the experience of violence
    • providing safe and stable housing
    • supporting longer term recovery with employment, financial security, legal assistance, educational opportunities and supports for emotional and mental health needs.
  • The 10-year plan also introduced the Family Violence Outcomes Framework, which was intended to be a tangible tool to ensure accountability for achieving intended outcomes, and to which all parts of the reform were to be linked. Two of the domains directly address the response to victim survivors and include indicators relating to victim survivor safety, agency and recovery, as well as a more integrated and person-centred system, backed by a skilled workforce (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Relevant domains and indicators from the Family Violence Outcomes Framework

Domain 2: Victim survivors, vulnerable children and families, are safe and supported to recover and thrive Domain 4: Preventing and responding to family violence is systemic and enduring
Early intervention prevents escalation — people, including children and young people, at risk of witnessing or experiencing family violence are identified early and provided with effective early interventions. The family violence system is accessible, and services and programs are available and equitable — Prevention activities occur across all key settings and the support system is easy to navigate and services are available to people when and where they need them, at all times of the day and night.
Families are safe and strong — the system intervenes early to prevent harm to children and young people and enables families to access effective support services when they need them. The family violence system intervenes early to identify and respond to family violence — The family violence system intervenes and responds early to prevent escalation and minimise harm and risk for people using family violence and those at risk of using family violence.
Victim survivors are safe — the system takes responsibility for managing risk, instead of placing the onus on victim survivors, including children and young people. The family violence system is person-centred and responsive — services are personalised, flexible, culturally relevant and reflect individual and family choices, need and circumstances, particularly for diverse communities and those with complex needs.
Victim survivors are heard and in control — victim survivors, including children and young people, are always listened to, believed and understood, and supported to take control of their immediate situation and make decisions about their future. The family violence system is integrated — services work together and share information to provide a coordinated quality response to people and families, informed by dynamic risk assessment and sensitive to people’s diverse needs. The system supports effective and evidence-based prevention efforts.
Victim survivors rebuild lives and thrive — disruption is minimised for victim survivors, including children and young people, with safe and secure housing, finances, employment, education and recovery from trauma available for as long as people need it. The family violence and broader workforces across the system are skilled, capable and reflect the communities they serve — the workforce is supported through new career pathways, fair conditions and a commitment to enhanced wellbeing and safety, and is skilled to meet people’s diverse needs.

Source: Family Violence Outcomes Framework.

  • The Family Violence Rolling Action Plan 2017–2020 began to put the 10-year plan into action. It committed to a range of actions including creating Family Safety Victoria, the rollout of support and safety hubs (now known as The Orange Door network) and a range of workforce capacity-building initiatives. It also flagged development of a new demand modelling tool ‘to provide a robust picture of current and future demand for family violence and related social and justice services’ that victim survivors need, and a new funding approach that allows for more flexible and tailored service delivery.
  • The Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 seeks to further embed the reforms and organises its actions according to a selection of priority areas that impact on the experience of victim survivors, including housing, The Orange Door network, legal assistance and workforce development.
  • The Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families Agreement 2018 includes priority 3: ‘self-determining Aboriginal family violence support and services’. Under this priority, the agreement explains that services ‘need to intervene early to prevent harm and wrap-around a person, child or family to provide a response from crisis to healing, addressing all of their safety and wellbeing needs, including housing and legal needs’. This complements broader frameworks and agreements designed to drive self-determination and improve outcomes for Aboriginal people, including the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018–2023 and the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
  • Everybody Matters: Inclusion and Equity Statement, released in 2019, complements Ending Family Violence and outlines the government’s commitment to building an ‘inclusive, safe, responsive and accountable family violence system for all Victorians’. A key part of this is adopting an intersectional approach at all levels of service delivery, thereby acknowledging and responding to the intersecting range of needs a victim survivor might have, based on factors such as their Aboriginality, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability and mental health.
  • Specific headline reforms include:
    • the MARAM Framework, which continues to be implemented to improve consistency in the way family violence is understood and responded to across the family violence and related sectors
    • the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, which is increasingly being used to share information about victim survivors and perpetrators between information sharing entities to improve service responses to victim survivors and maximise their safety and wellbeing
    • The Orange Door network, which has been established in all 17 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing regions in Victoria, acting as the primary entry point to the family violence system and related supports and providing a clear point of contact for victim survivors
    • Specialist Family Violence Courts, which are designed to provide a more specialised, trauma-informed approach to court design and operations, and are now operating in 12 locations across the state
    • the creation of local Family Violence Investigation Units and the Victoria Police Family Violence Centre of Learning, among other targeted initiatives, to improve the way police respond to family violence incidents and better meet the needs of victim survivors.