We know that many victim survivors may not yet have reached out to specialist family violence services but are in regular contact with universal health and education services such as early childhood services, schools, maternal and child health services, general practitioners (GPs) and hospitals. Perpetrators and people using violence are also often in regular contact with these services. As emphasised by the Royal Commission, staff in these services have a unique opportunity to identify family violence early to support the safety of victim survivors.
This report examines the implementation progress in supporting workforces in universal health and education services to identify and respond to family violence. In looking at this topic, we set out to examine:
- how well staff in these services are able to recognise the signs of family violence among clients (and staff), sensitively initiate a conversation about this and respond appropriately (including, for example, seeking secondary consultations, referring clients, and sharing information)
- the resources in place to support these workforces and the extent to which they meet workforce needs
- the effectiveness of the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework (MARAM) rollout in creating an integrated system for identifying and responding to family violence, and whether there has been sufficient planning for the expected increased demand on family violence services
- whether appropriate monitoring and feedback loops have been put in place to measure progress in building family violence capability within universal services and the impact on the specialist service system.
We note that staff in universal services also have a role in supporting perpetrator accountability by identifying signs that people may being using family violence. However, given the relative recency of the release of MARAM perpetrator guidance by Family Safety Victoria, the fact that training is not yet available, and tailored guidance for universal services has not yet been developed, this has not been a focus within our report.
In looking at this topic, we acknowledge that the start of the phase 2 rollout of MARAM and information sharing reforms occurred in April 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a two-year period, the pandemic has placed enormous pressure on universal services, which have had to adapt their service models, respond to health system demands and continue to provide education and care to children and young people using adapted service models and in a way that minimised spread of the virus. In this context, the commitment demonstrated by organisations and the progress made deserve extra recognition.
For practical purposes, we have attempted to limit the scope of this analysis to mainstream settings where there are true universal (that is, freely available to all) services in the health and education sectors. We have focused our attention on GPs, schools, hospitals, early childhood education and care, and maternal and child health service providers.
Nevertheless, the findings raise issues and considerations that we expect are relevant to a broader range of services that we haven’t been able to look at for this report, such as housing, alcohol and other drugs, mental health and aged care services.
We also suggest that further consideration be given to how to engage other sectors that are not prescribed under MARAM or information sharing legislation. For example, the Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants reminded us that some young people who are experiencing family violence may, for a range of reasons, not be engaged with education; therefore, other settings such as social and community groups, and sporting clubs, could have a role to play in identifying risk factors. Similarly, we know that pharmacies were a key point of contact during the pandemic restrictions.
Language in this report
Throughout this report we use the terms ‘MARAM Framework’ and ‘MARAM’ interchangeably to refer to Victoria’s Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework. We use the term ‘perpetrator’ to describe people who use family violence; however, we acknowledge that Aboriginal people and communities may prefer to use the term ‘person using violence’.