Visibility among sector stakeholders
Stakeholders acknowledged that there is a difficult balance between the breadth and depth of focus within governance of such a broad reform program. While welcoming the role of the Family Violence Reform Advisory Group in collaboratively progressing priority areas, this has come at the expense of stakeholder visibility of the reforms as a whole. Over the last two years, there has been limited knowledge among sector representatives of family violence work being undertaken within health, education, Victoria Police and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the justice system, with much of the visibility in relation to Family Safety Victoria–led work.
Terms of reference for the advisory group state that its role is to advise government on ‘system level impact of family violence reforms and make recommendations to achieve an improved whole-of-system approach to prevention and response’.10 In order to fulfil this role, advisory group members need high‑level information about progress in implementing the different elements of the reform and future planned activity to be provided by departments and agencies. Rather than using meeting time to provide this information (as occurred in the former steering committee), written reports could be provided in the papers and taken to be read, with a portion of the meeting agenda devoted to discussion of reform interdependencies, management of implementation risks and opportunities to strengthen integration between reform elements [relates to action 2].
There is also a need to consider communication of the reform effort for the stakeholders who are not represented on the advisory group. Reducing the number of advisory group members has been key to supporting more collaborative engagement; however, as a result some stakeholders who previously had access to regular information about reform implementation no longer do. Two stakeholders, who previously sat on the Family Violence Steering Committee but are not members of the reform advisory group, gave examples of the impact of prevention campaigns on demand for their services. Having visibility of when these campaigns will be run allows them to plan to meet the increased service demand. While advisory group members will disseminate information to the groups they represent, there may be value in reviewing coverage of the current arrangements and considering whether any supplementary communication is needed.
Visibility within government
As with the external governance, within government, senior executive oversight has until recently focussed on Family Safety Victoria–led projects (MARAM and information sharing, the Central Information Point, the Industry Plan and The Orange Door network). The broadened remit of the Family Violence Reform Board to oversee the reforms as a whole, which takes effect in February 2022, is a positive development to improve oversight of the integration of the different parts of the reform and strengthen management of reform-wide strategic risks and issues. The approach to reform-wide risk management has been raised in past Monitor’s reports, and although there has been an articulation of some risks – such as workforce and system demand – in government materials, there is not currently a formal process in place to identify and manage strategic risks at the whole-of-reform level (as opposed to the individual project level). In practice, the Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee has not performed this function over the past two years [relates to action 5]. Priority now needs to be given to establishing a reform-wide risk and issues identification and management process, as well as a framework for the referral of risks and issues to the Reform Advisory Group and for their escalation to the Victorian Secretaries Board.
Project-level reporting to the former Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee also ceased in June 2021 as part of the move to annual outcomes reporting. However, there remains a need for the reform board to have oversight of implementation progress across the breadth of the reform, in addition to monitoring achievement of reform outcomes. This function will become even more important when the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor function ceases. The next 12 months provide an opportunity to embed strong oversight processes within government’s internal governance. We note the intent for bi-monthly project-level reporting to the reform board from 2022 and expect that this will also support communication with sector representatives on reform progress and future activity.
Finally, during 2021 there was frequent delegation of attendance by reform board members, although attendance at Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee meetings was more consistent. This suggests that the priority being given to family violence, in among the many competing demands on senior executives, may not be as strong as it has been previously. Consistent attendance at reform board meetings is important for ensuring continuity of discussion and accountability for decisions and actions [relates to action 6]. With many of the reform structures now in place, commitment at the senior level remains critical to ensuring the difficult work of embedding structures and processes in organisations and driving integration in the system progresses. Without this commitment, the substantial effort and funding committed to date will not fully achieve the outcomes intended by the Royal Commission and articulated in the 10-year plan. Discussion at the last reform board meeting of 2021 indicated that the group is conscious of this challenge, while work underway to map the board’s work plan for 2022 will assist members to plan their time commitments.
10 Family Violence Reform Advisory Group, Terms of Reference (April 2021).