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Roles and responsibilities

Clarifying roles and responsibilities should be prioritised

Free From Violence acknowledged the importance of coordinating primary prevention activities, stating that:

Everyone has a role to play in preventing family violence and all forms of violence against women. This includes state and local governments as well as businesses, community organisations and the different places where people live, work, learn, socialise and play. However, to ensure these many different approaches are consistent and mutually reinforcing, and to achieve the maximum impact across Victoria, we will coordinate prevention activities at both the statewide and local levels. Advocacy, implementation and reform will happen across the state rather than in disparate ways relating to individual programs.

However, one of the key issues we identified is that while there are multiple organisations doing important prevention work – from government agencies, to peak bodies and local services – there is no clear picture for how all of these organisations and their work come together as part of a coherent prevention system (although we have attempted to depict the key players at various levels in Figure 10) [relates to action 3]. While people were generally positive about the high-level governance arrangements that have been put in place, we did not observe shared accountability for primary prevention across all government agencies, and there was confusion about the specific roles and responsibilities of those leading prevention at the system level in Victoria. And although much of the local activity occurring was backed up by strong local planning, it sometimes appears disconnected from higher level strategies and structures.

We note that the review and update of the prevention and response capability frameworks currently underway includes an aim to elevate the role of prevention across the system. This offers an opportunity to provide greater clarity about roles and responsibilities for primary prevention.

Strategic leadership in primary prevention

In Victoria, various aspects of strategic leadership are shared between Respect Victoria and the Office for Prevention of Family Violence and Coordination within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (hereon referred to as the Office for Prevention). The Centre for Workforce Excellence within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing also has a system leadership role in the prevention workforce space.

Stakeholders overwhelmingly expressed praise for the creation and work of Respect Victoria – a dedicated and highly visible primary prevention agency. Those who interact with the Office for Prevention also had great respect for its work. In relation to the Centre for Workforce Excellence having responsibility for the prevention workforce, stakeholders welcomed the concentrated focus on workforce, yet there was consensus that work done for the prevention workforce often seems like an afterthought compared with work done for the response workforce.

These parties indicated that they work closely together to lead primary prevention work; however, stakeholders expressed some confusion about their respective roles and responsibilities. As Gender Equity Victoria (the independent peak body for organisations, practitioners and individuals promoting gender equity in Victoria) stated in its 2020 submission to us, ‘it appears that there is a confusing matrix of responsibilities for oversight, technical advice, research and accredited workforce training’ extending across Respect Victoria, the Centre for Workforce Excellence and the Office for Prevention. We suggest it would be timely to revisit and clearly define the respective roles of the three groups.

While some aspects of Respect Victoria’s role are very clear – namely, monitoring, research and the provision of expert advice – there are other elements, particularly related to coordinating prevention activity, that remain unclear. For example, while the Royal Commission saw Respect Victoria as overseeing prevention activity in Victoria, and Free From Violence explicitly stated that Respect Victoria would oversee and coordinate prevention activity across the state, the legislation that created Respect Victoria does not explicitly talk about Respect Victoria having an oversight or coordination role. Respect Victoria advised us that while this coordination role is not explicit in the legislation, they believe it is implicit and have received feedback that other sector organisations want Respect Victoria to play this role. Respect Victoria’s strategic plan explains that it exists ‘to drive primary prevention over the long term and ensure prevention efforts are considered and coordinated’.

On the other hand, the Office for Prevention explained that its role includes overseeing the Victorian Government’s work to prevent violence by fostering a culture of equality and respect in Victorian communities and implementing Free From Violence, in partnership with Respect Victoria and the family violence prevention sector.

The development of a prevention system coordination model by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing was included as an action in the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023, due for implementation by mid-2021. But this action has been marked as ‘in progress’ in 2020, 2021 and 2022. In fact, we understand that Respect Victoria is leading this work, as reflected in the Free From Violence second action plan. We are advised that this work is underway but we have not yet seen specific evidence of a coordination model.

We suggest that clarifying the roles of these leading agencies is an essential component of developing an effective system architecture. Respect Victoria’s recent leadership change and adjustment of strategic approach (including withdrawal from internal government governance groups and a focus on work to engage external sectors) may help create a greater distinction between the roles and responsibilities of the two lead prevention agencies [relates to action 4].

Figure 10: A snapshot of key roles and responsibilities in Victoria's prevention system

  • Download' Figure 10: A snapshot of key roles and responsibilities in Victoria's prevention system'

Departments that support work on the ground

Beyond the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, the Department of Education and Training appears to have the most developed and accepted role in family violence prevention, largely because of its established role in delivering the Respectful Relationships initiative in Victorian Government schools and participating Catholic and independent schools. It also delivers Respectful Relationships professional learning to early childhood educators in Victorian Government–funded kindergartens. The Department of Education’s recent work in the TAFE sector provides an effective example of how departments can support the development of primary prevention approaches within particular settings (see Box 1 and Figure 11).

We also understand that the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions has some visibility of prevention work because of its responsibility for local government and for Sport and Recreation Victoria, both of which are spaces where there are dedicated gender equality and primary prevention efforts occurring. The Department of Health leads the development and implementation of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan (which includes preventing all forms of violence as a priority), funds women's health services and has a role in ensuring local governments meet legislated responsibilities in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that relate to preventing family violence.

Box 1: Primary prevention in the TAFE setting

The Respect and Equality in TAFE project was funded by the Department of Education and Training with the aim of increasing the implementation of best practice primary prevention of violence against women by Victorian TAFEs. Our Watch worked with the Department of Education and Training and five pilot TAFEs to develop a whole-of-institution approach to primary prevention in TAFEs. Our Watch’s evaluation of the pilot found the framework to be useful and practical for TAFEs, and suggested the need for further consideration and focus on supporting TAFEs with ongoing funding, tools, resources and oversight to help them embed the approach and support all staff to understand the value of the work.

Source: Based on information provided by the Department of Education and Training.

However, we found there is not a comprehensive, whole-of-government view of what each department’s and agency’s role and responsibilities are in preventing family violence and contributing to achieving Free From Violence outcomes. For example, we consider the role of the Department of Health and the health sector in the primary prevention of family violence requires clarification, given the profound impact family violence has on health outcomes. Some stakeholders perceived that violence prevention has been deprioritised in the 2019–2023 Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan, and other related plans and guidelines. The Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan includes violence prevention as a priority but not as one of the four priorities elevated to ‘focus areas’. This represents a change from the previous plan, which did not designate focus areas. The Department of Health disagrees with this characterisation and notes its recent doubling of investment in women’s health services, which are the local primary prevention leads, and the ability of community health services, Local Public Health Units and others to contribute to preventing family violence. Given these different perspectives, clarification with services is likely required.

Additionally, it was brought to our attention that the Department of Justice and Community Safety runs a crime prevention grants program. The focus of the funded projects is public safety and preventing offending, but some of the projects have links to family violence prevention. For example, $240,000 was provided to Big hART Inc in 2021 for the Something to Talk About program, which is using digital art workshops, mentoring and peer-to-peer messaging to prevent the use of coercive control among students in Years 5–8 at schools in Frankston North.

Figure 11: Primary prevention model developed for the TAFE sector in Victoria

While we understand that relatively new entities like Respect Victoria and the Office for Prevention now lead on primary prevention work, we suggest decisions about the roles and responsibilities of departments and the sectors they lead need to occur at a more strategic, whole-of-government level.

Such joined-up approaches have been taken through the Victorian State Disability Plan and the Victorian Road Safety Strategy, for example. There is also precedent for whole-of-government effort in the family violence space. For example:

  • As we discussed in our Early Identification of Family Violence within Universal Services report, the MARAM and information sharing reforms introduced clear roles and responsibilities across government in identifying family violence and preventing future harm.
  • The Gender Equality Act has created legislated obligations for all government departments and agencies in working towards gender equality, which we know is an important contributor to preventing gender-based violence.

We suggest more needs to be done to work towards a whole-of-government commitment and effort to prevent family violence, with clarity provided about what each department and agency's contribution to primary prevention will be [relates to action 3]. We also note that the obligations created through the reforms listed above are providing a foundation for primary prevention across government. For example, the MARAM Framework clearly outlines the drivers of family violence with an intersectional lens, and the work to comply with the Gender Equality Act provides an opportunity for public sector organisations to build their awareness of gender equality and its role in violence prevention. It may be worth considering whether a legislative mechanism is required to drive primary prevention work across government departments and agencies. But with or without a legislative obligation, the Commissioner for Gender Equality in the Public Sector reminded us that it is essential to work towards achieving a genuine, strategic commitment by departments, otherwise there is a danger that this type of work is seen as a compliance exercise.

As discussed in our Family Violence Reform Governance report, internal government governance arrangements have been strengthened over the past couple of years, with the creation of the Primary Prevention Working Group and the elevation of accountability for prevention outcomes by adding family violence prevention to the remit of the Family Violence Reform Board. That report makes some suggestions for improvement, including expanded membership for the Primary Prevention Working Group (which has now been addressed). Noting the reform governance structures in place to drive the work, we suggest the Victorian Secretaries Board will need to endorse the final position around a whole-of-government commitment to primary prevention, and drive activity within departments.

Organisations leading local prevention work

We identified three key groups that are leading prevention work in their local communities:

  • women’s health services, which drive local capacity building, health promotion, gender equality and violence prevention activities
  • local government, which has a developing role in family violence prevention and pursuing gender equality in local government areas
  • individual specialist family violence and sexual assault services and other community organisations, including many Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, that have decided to pursue primary prevention in their local community.

The three broad groups listed above are leading a range of local primary prevention initiatives of various sizes, and these often align to one or more of the drivers of violence towards women articulated in Change the Story. While we heard about many inspiring local prevention activities, it was not always clear whether these were part of a coherent approach to achieving agreed outcomes.

Free From Violence committed to building on existing partnerships to ensure there are:

… local-level prevention alliances and community partnerships that bring together the right people and resources to coordinate and deliver primary prevention initiatives at the local level. These alliances will help ensure that prevention activities are consistent and coherent and support consistent outcomes across the state.

Most stakeholders we met with see women’s health services as the primary prevention experts. They are leading primary prevention partnerships locally and have led grassroots activities to prevent violence against women for many years. There are good examples of projects that have been developed through these partnerships, which include, for example, local government, women’s health services, specialist family violence services and others (see also Box 2). Recent funding commitments suggest a strengthened, ongoing role for women's health services in preventing family violence and all forms of violence against women. For example, the 2022–23 State Budget provided $19.4 million over two years to Victoria’s 12 women’s health services, representing a doubling of their previous recurrent funding of $9.1 million. Approximately 20 per cent of the funding is for prevention of gender-based violence activity. Women's health services also received $4.8 million over four years for violence prevention to coincide with the launch of the Free From Violence second action plan in December 2021. For each women's health service, this equates to approximately $250,000 per year for violence prevention activity.

Box 2: Ambassadors for Gender Equality and Respect – an example of local partnership work

The Ambassadors for Gender Equality and Respect project was piloted in three local secondary schools in 2018, with funding from Yarra Ranges Council. The project was developed by a group of partners: Inspiro, GenderWorks, Yarra Ranges Council, Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS), Cire Services and Community School, Little Yarra Steiner School, Upper Yarra Secondary College, Eastern Health and Women’s Health East.

Designed to complement Respectful Relationships education in schools, the project teaches participating students about the importance of gender equality over a series of workshops and supports them to design and lead their own activities to raise awareness among their peers about gender equality.

The pilot project’s evaluation found that, after the training, all participants:

  • acknowledged an increase in knowledge and understanding of gender equality
  • identified an increase in skills and knowledge in how to be an activist for change
  • felt more comfortable and motivated to advocate for change.

The evaluation noted that ongoing support for the students to deliver their projects would be essential to ensure success.

The Youth Ambassador for Gender Equality Respect still runs in multiple local government areas in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, with participants chosen through an expression of interest process. Participants have the benefit of being able to use the Take Action for Gender Equality and Respect student voice resource co-designed by EDVOS, Inspiro and the young people who took part in the pilot.

Source: Information gathered from Women’s Health East’s webpage and Inspiro (2018): Ambassadors for Gender Equality and Respect 2018 Pilot Evaluation Report.

As acknowledged in Free From Violence, and by the Municipal Association of Victoria, local government is ideally placed to take a lead role in primary prevention work because they have numerous points of connection with their local communities. But funding has not previously been provided to employ dedicated staff to lead prevention work within councils (we note that some councils may fund these positions themselves), and there are only two funded positions at the Municipal Association of Victoria to provide support to all local government areas. We understand there has, therefore, been considerable variability between councils’ efforts to prevent family violence. More recently, the Free From Violence Local Government Family Violence Program is providing three years of funding to 15 councils to help them embed a whole-of-council approach to primary prevention and gender equality by implementing the yet-to-be-released Local Government Guide for Preventing Family Violence and All Forms of Violence Against Women. All other councils are also encouraged to use this resource.

While there are good examples of women’s health services and local government collaborating on primary prevention projects, their respective roles and responsibilities, and how they should interact, appears to remain unresolved.

We are also aware that some specialist family violence services, like EDVOS, and some specialist sexual assault services have chosen to work in the primary prevention space despite not being funded for this other than through ad hoc grants and not being considered a prevention agency (see Box 3 for an example of the work EDVOS is leading). Similarly, Gippsland Lakes Complete Health is a provider of a range of health and support services, including family violence services, but has also undertaken family violence prevention work in the local community for many years, yet has only received family violence prevention funding through a Victorian Bushfire Appeal recovery grant in 2020. Consideration of how these organisations and their prevention work fits into the system will help generate a more complete picture of primary prevention activity in Victoria.

There seems to be a disconnect between these local activities and statewide structures and frameworks. Indeed, women’s health services raised a lack of vertical integration from the local primary prevention partnerships they lead into statewide governance structures. In 2020, Gender Equity Victoria noted:

… a lack of opportunity for vertical communication from government down and for grassroots work to feed back up. Respect Victoria and the Office of Women haven’t established any clear communication processes with the sector yet.

There has been progress in this area, with many non-government stakeholders saying they were pleased to have a seat at the table through involvement in the Prevention Sector Reference Group, which brings together government and sector stakeholders to discuss primary prevention work and priorities across the state. However, anecdotally, it remains difficult to feed good local practice up through statewide structures to allow for the opportunity to have work considered for scaling up, despite positive relationships with departments and governance involvement. Finding ways to improve this vertical integration will need to be considered as part of any efforts to create better links between the sector and government [relates to action 3].

Stakeholders raised a number of ways to address these matters, including:

  • funding for local coordinating positions equivalent to regional Principal Strategic Advisors (PSAs, who convene family violence regional integration committees) – such primary prevention coordinators could further improve local relationships and come together (like the PSAs do with the Statewide Family Violence Integration Advisory Committee) to discuss progress and issues, and link in with government
  • funding a dedicated primary prevention officer in each local government area to drive activity within councils
  • greater strategic guidance about local roles, responsibilities and areas of focus to ensure the right mix of activity is occurring locally while also retaining scope for local innovation.

Box 3: EDVOS's Ways to Play project

Ways to Play is a primary prevention project led by EDVOS in partnership with organisations in the Outer Eastern Metropolitan Region. Ways to Play Workshops aim to educate parents or carers on how to play with their child/ren (aged 0-5 years) in a way that is free from gender stereotypes, and promotes gender equality and respectful relationships. At the end of the sessions, families are given a Level Playground Family Play Kit with activities, games and ideas to keep building on the healthy play from the workshops. (Level Playground is a broader suite of resources and programs targeted at primary prevention in the earlier years that EDVOS has curated.)

The Ways to Play project has received an overwhelmingly positive response, including the need for a waitlist of families who wished to attend the workshops. When evaluated, 86 per cent of parents/caregivers strongly agreed that their awareness of promoting healthy messages around gender equality and respectful relationships had increased due to the workshops. The workshops take place in local libraries, community centres and parks, so they also provide parents with opportunities to make connections in the local community.

The project was originally funded through the Outer East Primary Care Partnership grant program, before receiving further funding to deliver sessions across Victoria. Due to the success and importance of the project, EDVOS endeavours to source sustainable funding to continue this work.

Source: Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor, based on information provided by EDVOS.