As described in the previous section, there are several plans and strategies related to preventing family violence. However, we found that there remains a need for a clearer representation of how Victoria's efforts will give effect to the Free From Violence strategy. We suggest this should include a clearly articulated theory of change that describes the range of activities required and links with expected short-, medium- and long-term outcomes, as is required for public health approaches. It should also include a strategic operating framework for Victoria’s primary prevention system that sets out the various components of system architecture required and how the system should operate. The theory of change will also have an important role informing the actions in the third Free From Violence action plan and should be incorporated into the Free From Violence and Family Violence outcomes frameworks.
Plans and strategies driving prevention activity
The most cited framework that guides prevention activity at all levels is Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women in Australia, developed by Our Watch. The first (2015) edition of this important national framework built on the world-leading work of VicHealth and was produced in partnership by VicHealth, ANROWS and Our Watch in recognition of the need for a shared, national framework that could be adopted by every industry, sector and government. In 2021 Our Watch published an updated edition. Change the Story provides a common theoretical understanding of violence against women. Importantly, it provides a clear, high-level snapshot of the drivers of violence against women, factors that reinforce violence against women, and the suite of essential actions required to prevent it (see Figure 7).
All states and territories endorsed Change the Story as the national framework for prevention under the Third Action Plan of the first National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women. However, as some key sector leaders explained to us, Change the Story is not a practice framework. It provides the common theoretical understanding, and high-level actions and principles, but these need to be translated into strategies and practice frameworks in each jurisdiction. Our Watch has already developed various practice tools and resources to assist with implementation in various settings,1 and may be able to play a greater role in translating Change the Story into practice guidance following its recent record investment of $100.5 million over five years from the Australian Government.2
Similarly, organisations drawing on Changing the Picture (Our Watch’s resource that describes what is required to address the drivers of violence against Aboriginal women) in their work are supported by a number of Our Watch tools and projects, however investment is required to continue its translation into practice.
Victoria’s overarching approach to preventing family violence is articulated in the Free From Violence strategy and its associated action plans. The second action plan clearly frames its main content in terms of:
- Free From Violence pillars (see Figure 8)
- specified action areas under each pillar
- numerous deliverables under each action area.
Figure 8: Five guiding pillars for primary prevention in Free from Violence
It is positive that several actions from the second action plan are drawn from other relevant plans such as Building From Strength (‘the industry plan') and the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023. By bringing these actions together in one place, people won’t need to consult multiples strategies and plans to piece together the primary prevention agenda. However, it is not clear how comprehensive the suite of actions is in terms of the Change the Story essential actions, or any other actions required to respond to other forms of family violence, and the key settings where activity must occur. We suggest it would be useful to map the suite of actions against, for example, the drivers of violence and against key settings where prevention activity must occur.
A public health approach to primary prevention of family violence
The Royal Commission noted that while prevention strategies targeted to population-level risk factors for family violence were relatively new, ‘the success of other population-level prevention strategies relevant to public health, such as reducing smoking and increasing road safety, may be useful in informing prevention strategies relevant to all forms of family violence’. Free From Violence is explicit about taking a public health approach to family violence prevention, similar to those taken for anti-smoking and skin cancer prevention: ‘Both of these initiatives targeted all levels of society and were implemented across a range of settings where people live, work, learn, socialise and play, ensuring messages to end smoking or reduce skin cancer were reinforced at every possible opportunity.’ This approach reflects work across the socio-ecological model (see Figure 9) that is designed to be mutually reinforcing to collectively achieve outcomes.
Similarly, Change the Story, which guides much of Victoria’s prevention work, ‘draws on the evidence base and principles of public health, particularly the need to investigate the underlying causes, determinants, or drivers of a problem, not just its immediate precursors or its impacts, in order to determine how best to prevent it’.
Free From Violence provides the high level vision for primary prevention in Victoria, explains the need for action across the socio-ecological model, and outlines its priority actions, but it doesn't take the next step and explain how the strategy will be operationalised through the available system architecture. We suggest that in an emerging system such as the family violence primary prevention system, there would be substantial benefit in developing a primary prevention system operating framework to help put Free From Violence into practice [relates to action 3]. This could be done as part of the next Free From Violence action plan or as a separate framework to complement Free From Violence and should describe:
- the various components of system architecture that are in place (and those still required)
- the relationships between these components
- the roles, responsibilities and key connections for the various groups participating in the primary prevention system.
The framework, which would need to be co-developed by government and the sector, needs to be broad enough to accommodate and guide the full spectrum of primary prevention efforts, including the range of grassroots activity that is being progressed with diverse sources of funding. This includes response organisations that have decided to lead primary prevention activities in their communities and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations that have an integrated approach to family violence prevention and response, and health and wellbeing more broadly.
The system operating framework could also help build a shared understanding of how the work of various parts of the system comes together to achieve the vision in Free From Violence. For example, the Free From Violence second action plan was developed based on heavy engagement with the sector and outlines agreed strategic priorities for government-funded primary prevention efforts in Victoria. However, many stakeholders delivering prevention projects on the ground did not or could not describe their role in contributing to delivering Free From Violence outcomes. While such an action plan cannot capture all primary prevention activity occurring across the state, strengthened communication, at the very least, may be required to ensure a shared understanding of how local work connects to the Free From Violence pillars.
There is also an opportunity to better link Free From Violence activities with expected outcomes [relates to action 1]. Free From Violence includes an outcomes framework that reflects Domain 1 from the Family Violence Outcomes Framework and focuses on using and building the evidence base. This is essential given the known gaps in data availability and evidence about priority groups (discussed in a later chapter). However, it does not describe an evidence-based theory of change that connects its suite of actions with the outcomes it ultimately expects to see. In particular, it does not articulate the range of interventions to be pursued within various settings that are aligned with the essential actions to address the drivers of violence against women outlined in Change the Story or the other essential actions that are needed to address the drivers of family violence for other groups.
Furthermore, a detailed theory of change had still not been developed in time to inform the development of the second action plan, although we note it was informed by the broad program logic articulated in the Free From Violence Monitoring and Evaluation Strategic Framework. We suggest that to inform the third action plan, and to give the government a better sense of how completely or incompletely it is funding the prevention of family violence, a theory of change is needed to provide a more comprehensive picture of what is required to generate outcomes.
The development of a theory of change by Respect Victoria was a commitment in the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023, due in 2020–21, but has been delayed to allow for further engagement with the sector, and to ensure alignment with Respect Victoria’s next strategic plan. Developing this theory of change is critical because it has the potential to very explicitly state the activities required to ultimately generate population-wide outcomes, and describe how far the current work program can go to deliver these. We expect that the theory of change will be strongly aligned to Change the Story, to other evidence about the prevention of family violence among diverse groups (being clear about where evidence needs to be developed) and to the key settings and life stages described in the second action plan. The theory of change will also have an important role informing the actions in the third Free From Violence action plan.
- Examples of practice tools include the prevention handbook and specific guides, resources and
- While the publicly reported investment was $104 million (for example, see Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2022): Media release: Record boost to prevention and consent initiatives 6 March 2022), Our Watch has advised that it will in fact be receiving $100.5 million.