The Royal Commission recommended that the Victorian Government, in consultation with the peak body working to end men’s family violence, No to Violence:
- reviews and updates the Men’s Behaviour Change Programs Minimum Standards to reflect research findings, national and international best practice, and the central importance of partner contact work
- develops a compliance framework, incorporating an accreditation process, for providers of men’s behaviour change programs.1
The minimum standards were revised accordingly in 2017, following a review by Monash University in consultation with the wider sector and building on the key principles developed by the EACPI. Key changes included:
- increasing the program duration from 12 to 20 weeks
- requiring timely responses to program enquiries and following up with participants before the program starts
- new qualification requirements for facilitators and family safety contact workers
- new reporting requirements including keeping records of attendance, referrals and risk assessment
- extra support for victim survivors and their families through an enhanced family safety contact function.
After the EACPI's mandate ended in 2018, No to Violence was funded to produce implementation guidance for the revised standards and to support providers to transition to the new standards.
However, the second part of the recommendation was not fully implemented. Men’s behaviour change program providers’ compliance with the standards is largely self-regulating, with organisations required to conduct their own annual operational reviews without external checks and balances. Beyond the requirement that providers sign up to join No to Violence, there is no central accreditation process or body responsible for overseeing program quality and compliance.
Case for updating the Men’s Behaviour Change Minimum Standards
Many stakeholders consulted for this report expressed that there is now a need to update Victoria’s Men’s Behaviour Change Minimum Standards again relates [relates to action 5].
The revised standards are set out in a concise, clear document, but there have been significant shifts in the perpetrator intervention landscape over recent years. At the time of revising the standards, group men’s behaviour change programs were the predominant service response to perpetrators. Stakeholders believe there is a need to revise the standards again to keep pace with the new suite of responses (such as perpetrator case management and accommodation interventions), in addition to the greater acceptance of online programming post-COVID. Family Safety Victoria also told us that the standards should undergo further revision to align with the perpetrator-focused MARAM practice guides.
Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre explained:
The minimum standards definitely need to be updated; there has been so much innovation and progression since 2017. There’s also a big difference in perspective – for example, online programs were considered out of the question back then, as well as mixing case management with men’s behaviour change. We need to make room for innovation and best practice. There’s a critical need to update them.
Another area of the minimum standards that warrants further consideration is the requirement for programs to last a minimum of 20 weeks. This is in line with the international evidence base that suggests programs need to be of a sufficient length to overcome participants’ initial resistance to re-examining their behaviour and becoming more open to change. In recognition of the different approach and cultural context, the minimum standards do not apply to Aboriginal-led programs.2 However, the 20-week minimum may be a barrier to accreditation for services targeting refugee and migrant perpetrators or other groups with specific needs. One stakeholder mentioned that because there is a large gap in services for migrant perpetrators and for people with alcohol and other drug issues, referrals are often made to programs that are shorter than the 20-week duration defined in the standards. While the standards discuss eligibility considerations for diverse groups and those with complex needs, there is little guidance on how these needs can best be addressed and the degree of flexibility that may be required.
As the field of perpetrator interventions is constantly evolving depending on the emerging evidence base and innovative program pilots, we suggest consideration of periodic revisions of the minimum standards to ensure they reflect current and robust practice for perpetrator interventions. A central expert panel (such as the previous EACPI) would be well-placed to do this.
Need for greater oversight of perpetrator program compliance
Many stakeholders felt there was room to strengthen Victoria’s compliance and accreditation process for providers of men’s behaviour change and other perpetrator programs [relates to action 4]. They voiced concerns that programs across the state may be of varying quality and may not reflect an understanding of the deeply gendered nature of family violence. They pointed out that there is no centralised curriculum, with providers largely left to their own devices to generate their own content. A No to Violence representative stated: ‘I’m still a bit concerned about program design. There’s nothing in the standards, for example, about needing to have a session plan.’
One service provider felt that the approach in New South Wales provided a potential best practice model with its process of accrediting individual men’s behaviour change sites. Under the NSW Compliance Framework for Men’s Domestic Violence Behaviour Change programs, providers must apply for registration from the Department of Justice, providing evidence of their program strategies, policies and processes for review by an expert advisory panel.3
Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, which has conducted extensive research into perpetrator programs, also raised the idea of having a central accreditation process by a review board:
Everyone’s doing something slightly different with perpetrator interventions. As funding is handed out in small buckets, there's almost a pressure to be ‘innovative’ to get funding and evaluation is not always built into it. Also, the funding may only support a short term pilot with one cohort of participants and limited evaluation so the capacity to assess the program is restricted. We need to provide funding for longer and we need more thought given to what that looks like, whether it's about funding for up to one year, make a program produce a clear guide and program materials to go to a board for accreditation, and then if it’s approved then it’s funded for two to three years to have a stable workforce. What is clear is the current model of small pockets of often isolated funding doesn't support building sustainable responses to men's use of violence against women.
The Caring Dads program provides a good example of robust quality assurance (see Box 2).
A number of men’s behaviour change program service providers expressed that funding had not been increased enough to meet the cost of providing the expanded family safety contact program, as well as the higher expectations for individual follow-up with men’s behaviour change participants between sessions to maintain their attendance and motivation.
Box 2: Program quality assurance example – Caring Dads
A Canadian-developed program being piloted in Victoria shows a program-level approach to facilitator accreditation and program quality assurance, with a dedicated program manual and facilitator training. While Caring Dads is a parenting program rather than a men’s behaviour change program, it highlights how fathering can be used as an entry point to working on intimate partner violence given its session ‘Relationship with My Child’s Mother’. All Caring Dads facilitators are required to maintain current certification and training in the latest program manual, which contains detailed session plans and resources. To remain in ‘good standing’, facilitators must follow contractually mandated guidelines and reporting requirements. Facilitators are also sensitised in how to be alert to the potential unintended negative effects of the program, such as it being misused in a child custody battle, providing false reassurance to service providers that reduces monitoring of victim survivor safety, and parenting tips being weaponised to undermine victim survivors’ confidence in their parenting skills.
Source: Caring Dads (2018): Helping Fathers Value their Children program manual, third edition.
Debate over minimum qualifications for perpetrator program staff
As explored in our companion report ‘Crisis Response to Recovery Model for Victim Survivors’, stakeholders expressed mixed views about the implementation of Royal Commission Recommendation 209 (see Box 3) amid the current workforce shortages in Victoria’s family violence service sector. Many providers were concerned that raising the bar for minimum qualifications had made it more even more difficult to recruit in the current tight labour market, particularly in rural areas.
Box 3: Royal Commission into Family Violence Recommendation 209 and its implementation progress
The Victorian Government include in the 10-year industry plan for family violence prevention and response a staged process for the introduction of mandatory qualifications for specialist family violence practitioners, so that no later than 31 December 2020 all funded services must require family violence practitioners to hold a social work or equivalent degree.*
Now implemented by the Victorian Government, the recommendation means that:
- Practitioners employed before the transition period are exempt from the minimum qualification requirement, as long as they maintain continuous service in specialist family violence roles.
- New specialist employees have a five-year transition period from 1 July 2021 until 30 June 2026 during which they must either hold a Bachelor of Social Work or equivalent qualification, or be working towards one within five years from their date of employment (if they have at least five years of experience in a relevant field or hold a related qualification).
- Candidates who bring significant cultural knowledge or lived experience and who face barriers to educational pathways can be employed in specialist roles with appropriate support, and have 10 years to work towards a social work or equivalent qualification.**
* Source: State of Victoria (2016): Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and Recommendations, Vol VI, Parl Paper No. 132, p. 202.
** Source: Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2021): Mandatory Minimum Qualifications for Family Violence Practitioners: Recommendation 209. Available at: https://www.vic.gov.au/mandatory-minimum-qualifications-specialist-fami….
Aligning with the mandatory qualifications policy that resulted from Recommendation 209, the 2017 Men’s Behaviour Change Minimum Standards contain a provision for minimum qualifications and experience of men’s behaviour change facilitators. The revised men’s behaviour change standard currently provides for facilitators to have access to supervision of their sessions by a more experienced practitioner at least monthly, and to undertake at least four relevant professional development opportunities per year.
At least one of the two group facilitators must have an undergraduate degree in social work or a related field, in addition to a graduate diploma or certificate in men’s family violence and 100 hours of men’s behaviour change facilitation experience. The second facilitator must have at least a social work degree and to have observed at least 10 men’s behaviour change sessions.4
Some service providers believed that the minimum qualifications did not provide enough recognition of work, life and cultural experiences. However, others underscored the importance of making sure workers were highly qualified and trained for the challenging work of providing services to perpetrators without colluding or leading to negative unintended consequences. They explained that the professionalisation of the sector has been a game changer in terms of improving the standard of practice, with a No to Violence representative expressing that: ‘Working with perpetrators is hard, nuanced and particular work. I’d be nervous to see the spirit of the Royal Commission recommendation undermined.’
- See: https://www.vic.gov.au/family-violence-recommendations/review-and-updat….
- For more information about the holistic cultural healing approach to family violence taken by many Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, including Dardi Munwurro, please see our report, ‘Aboriginal-led Prevention and Early Intervention’. Available at: https://www.fvrim.vic.gov.au/monitoring-victorias-family-violence-refor….
- See: https://ntv.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/mbcp-compliance-framework….
- Family Safety Victoria (2017): Men’s Behaviour Change Minimum Standards, p.13.