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COVID-19 response

A description of how government made decisions and supported the family violence system during the pandemic, and the changes that occurred within the family violence system.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the necessary social restrictions on movement and gathering introduced in Victoria to control its spread led to heightened risk of family violence and posed more limited opportunities to seek help, significantly affecting vulnerable families.173 This created a considerable challenge for the family violence service system, which had to rapidly transition to remote working and online service delivery while also continuing face-to-face crisis responses under very challenging conditions. During this time there was a diversion from primary prevention activity towards response activity to deal with demand and the escalation of family violence in a disaster context. In these difficult circumstances government and the service sector have risen to the challenge and worked in partnership to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

Across the family violence system, the proactive responses have been consistent and creative to deliver more choice through an enhanced range and reach of services. Throughout the emergency we have seen a willingness to share experiences, work together and deliver promising new approaches enabled by technology. Campaigns to educate the public on family violence were quickly activated, and the government has provided substantial additional funding to increase the availability of services across the system. 

This chapter describes how government made decisions relevant to the family violence reform, how it supported the family violence system during the pandemic, and the changes that occurred within the family violence system, including a raft of changes that appear to have had real benefits and will be continuing, or warrant continuation, in some form.

Government decision making 

Reorganisation of the public service

On 3 April 2020 the Premier introduced a reorganisation of ministerial portfolios and the most senior levels of government structures including creating the Crisis Council of Cabinet and eight cross-government ‘missions’, each led by a Department Secretary. After some consolidation of the missions, family violence services were placed within the scope of ‘Mission 4: Restoration and Reform of Public Services — People’ in June 2020. This mission was led by the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, whose leadership group included the CEO of Family Safety Victoria.

Family violence–specific governance

The Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee is chaired by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and normally meets monthly to oversee implementation of the family violence reform. It met weekly during April 2020 at the request of its members to facilitate information sharing at a time of rapidly changing circumstances. Its purpose remained to oversee the family violence reform and it did not engage in operational matters.

In April 2020 a new Family Violence System and Operations Group was established to monitor the impacts of COVID-19-related family violence responses and to ensure strong information sharing and coordination. It was chaired by Family Safety Victoria and included representation from the same government agencies represented on the interdepartmental committee. We observed active sharing of information, with updates provided from each department. Collaboration and decision making appeared to be occurring in bilateral discussions between specific agencies.

Availability of data for decision making

In a rapidly changing environment as experienced during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, accessible data is critical to support decision making about policy and operational changes. Some data products were produced for different audiences during 2020 as part of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic response including:

  • Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Social Services Impact Data Dashboard for government executives and Family Violence System and Operations Group members
  • Department of Health and Human Services’ Deep Dive: Social Impacts —Family Violence report
  • Family Safety Victoria’s Weekly Family Violence Data report for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and others
  • Crime Statistics Agency’s COVID-19 Family Violence Data Portal launched on 2 November 2020
  • data on the Family Violence Contact Centre and the Family Violence Intervention Order Online Form provided to the Family Violence Systems and Operations Group members by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.

However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted that five years on from the Royal Commission, the availability of data remains a key area where improvements need to be made, with limited visibility of service demand and responses across the family violence system affecting the  sector’s pandemic response as illustrated in Domestic Violence Victoria’s submission to the Monitor:

…a lack of comprehensive, real time data sets related to family violence frequency, types, demand, and service responses across the state meant the sector was reliant on anecdotal evidence about fluctuations in demand and service responses at a critical and high risk time for victim-survivors, and when the community and media needed to know about and understand family violence the most. 

Stakeholders also told us that information about some critical issues was not available to decision-makers through regular reporting mechanisms:

  • wait times for men’s behaviour change programs, which increased rapidly in the early stages of the pandemic
  • engagement of legal assistance, which decreased rapidly with courts moving largely online
  • backlog of non-urgent matters deferred by courts 
  • demand for family violence crisis accommodation, which has reduced capacity with COVID-safe measures in place
  • increased complexity of cases, including first-time presentations, which is being noted by many service providers as a significant issue but not monitored well through available data products.

We understand that bringing together data that is fragmented across departments in different systems and with different updating schedules is currently a manually intensive process. Careful consideration of ways to manage these challenges should be prioritised. We also acknowledge that some work is underway to strengthen government-wide data to inform decision making. For example, Insights Victoria was launched in September 2020 as a secure digital reporting platform with data updated daily for senior decision-makers across the Victorian Government. It would be extremely  valuable if this work extended into understanding the family violence service system.

Government support

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has seen fundamental shifts in the way government has engaged with the service delivery sector including its funded agencies. In its comprehensive review of the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on child and family services published in August 2020, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare concluded that: 

...the child and family services sector showed a high degree of collaboration, with department staff providing daily or weekly updates to service providers and cutting through bureaucracy to meet demand quickly, and CSOs [community service organisations] willingly sharing resources, information and practice approaches with fellow CSOs.174 

The peak body for men’s services, No to Violence, also advised us that the community sector and government have worked flexibly together to quickly design, develop and implement new large programs. Improved collaboration between government and the sector was a common theme in our consultations, with many hoping that these closer ways of working will continue. 

Funding 

In April 2020 the Victorian Government announced a $40.2 million investment comprising $20 million for crisis accommodation and $20.2 million to help family violence and sexual assault services to meet the expected increase in demand during the pandemic and provide help for victim survivors. This, along with Commonwealth funding from the COVID-19 National Partnership Agreement, was allocated at various points during 2020. This included: 

  • $3.2 million for more flexible support packages and $6.3 million for additional family violence crisis brokerage funds
  • $5.4 million to support capability building and business continuity across the specialist family violence and sexual assault sectors targeted funding for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to meet additional demand for family violence case management and crisis support
  • $3.8 million to enhance statewide family violence crisis services as well as targeted support for Aboriginal, LGBTIQ and culturally diverse communities
  • $2.7 million to providers that deliver perpetrator services to build their capacity to deliver services during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
  • $2 million for perpetrator accommodation and support and to support 24/7 telephone responses to Aboriginal men (Dardi Munwurro’s Brother-to-Brother helpline — see case study in Chapter 6)

Our consultations throughout 2020 and many submissions to the Monitor have stressed the funding and workforce challenges faced by the specialist family violence system. These challenges are amplified during times of widespread emergency, and Domestic Violence Victoria has suggested that further attention needs to be given to the role and funding of this system during emergencies such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the bushfires in early 2020.175

Government plans and guidelines 

The Victorian Government promptly issued a range of plans and guidelines with advice on safely continuing service delivery and adapting to operating during the pandemic. For example, in April the Department of Health and Human Services issued the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Plan for the Victorian Community Services Sector and, in September, a specific road map to reopening for the sector. Family Safety Victoria developed a range of Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Practice Notes to outline the heightened and additional risk factors for victim survivors and perpetrators during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This was complemented by a 15-minute video outlining the MARAM risk factors in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, reviewing emerging evidence of increasing family violence, discussing best practice responses for specialist practitioners and exploring the importance of collaborative practice to keep victim survivors safe and perpetrators in view and accountable for their actions. 

Forums and briefings for the sector 

Family Safety Victoria convened, co-chaired or participated in a series of program-specific and general forums with the specialist family violence sector that combined providing guidance with consultation on emerging risks and opportunities. For example, on 19 March 2020 a ‘COVID Response Family Violence and Sexual Assault Services Sector Briefing’ took place via live stream, with almost 300 participants. 

Between March and September, the  Victorian Council of Social Service, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, held monthly discussion forums to guide community sector organisations through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The forums were streamed live online and uploaded to the Victorian Council of Social Service website with a full transcript. These forums appear to have been a highly effective approach to supporting and engaging the community services sector during this time.

From 26 March 2020 the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria delivered regular briefings to stakeholders to inform them of operational responses taking place at courts due to the Stay at Home restrictions. The briefings were used as a forum to workshop emerging operational issues and support implementation of new processes across the court system. From April 2020 and throughout the year, Respect Victoria led a COVID-19 Primary Prevention of Family Violence sector forum, involving key partners in primary prevention. 

Key initiatives included:

  • development of a primary prevention framework for disaster management and principles to inform primary prevention activity in all phases of a disaster cycle (response, recovery, mitigation and preparedness)
  • analysis and consultation with primary prevention partners on the impact of the pandemic on their workforce and on the drivers of violence, and the subsequent development of shared advocacy statements to address the systemic and structural discriminations exacerbated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and inform policy, planning and emergency management, published online

Respect Victoria led major COVID-19 prevention initiatives involving key partners in primary prevention, gender equality and key response partners including:

  • development and execution of a COVID-19-specific campaign to support bystander activity and help seeking activity during this pandemic, and the development of communication materials to support primary prevention engagement and awareness online
  • a partnership with the Gender and Disaster Pod and delivery of specialised training for the primary prevention sector 
  • rapid research projects assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the primary prevention of family violence, specifically addressing three questions: (1) the specific impact for LGBTIQ people; (2) the impact for older people (not including care settings); and (3) the impact on the primary prevention workforce

This will continue to inform and build all the primary prevention work, and support future disaster preparedness and response going forward.

Key changes to the family violence service system

Police
  • Operation Ribbon continued Family Violence Investigation Units’ active engagement with their highest-risk perpetrators and affected family members and added the central collation and public reporting of this data (as of 18 October 2020, about 28,000 visits including 8,000 perpetrators resulting in 1,700 bailed, remanded or summoned)
  • ‘There is no excuse for family violence’ public awareness campaign launched in 27 languages
Corrections Victoria
  • Community Correctional Services shifted to a remote service delivery model for low-risk offenders and mixed supervision techniques for medium and high-risk offenders
  • Family violence perpetrator programs for prisoners and community-based offenders adapted to remote service delivery
  • Emergency crisis procurement used to purchase placements for individual case management support for perpetrators who were subject to Community Correctional Services supervision
  • Support services for family violence victim survivors delivered via Zoom or telephone, including safety planning for women with pending prison release dates
Courts
  • Online Magistrates’ Court introduced
  • Practice direction allowed family violence applications to be heard ‘on the papers’
  • Fast-tracked rollout of the Family Violence Intervention Order Online Form
  • Introduced seeking consent to share affected family members’ details to initiate legal assistance
  • Developed processes to support duty lawyers and police working remotely
  • Introduced practitioner outreach to provide support via phone, provide information about pending matters to affected family members and respondents and conduct up-to-date risk assessments
  • Worked with Family Safety Victoria to introduce online alternatives for the Court Mandated Counselling Order Program while face-to-face groupwork was limited
  • Provided up-to-date Q&As for court users on the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria website about current arrangements
Specialist family violence services
  • Commenced widescale ‘digital client contact’, in some cases increasing frequency of client contact as well as larger caseloads due to time saved without travel required
  • Introduced web chat access to crisis support, requiring a transformed service model 
  • New multi-intervention service model for perpetrators
  • Opening of The Orange Door in Central Highlands delayed from early 2020 to October 2020

Housing

  • Increased crisis accommodation to provide a safe place for victim survivors
  • Increased availability of motel accommodation for crisis accommodation
  • Perpetrator accommodation and support service announced in August 2020, with a soft launch in September 2020
Prevention
  • ‘Call It Out’ campaign in May 2020 instructed Victorians to be alert to early warning signs of family violence
  • ‘Respect Older People. Call It Out’ in June 2020 encouraged action on elder abuse and awareness that the pandemic may lead to an increase of elder abuse
  • Three rapid research projects on the impacts of the pandemic in a primary prevention context
  • Specialised training for the primary prevention sector 
  • Development of communication materials to support primary prevention engagement and awareness online (on top of campaign activity)
  • Shared advocacy statements to address the systemic and structural discriminations exacerbated by COVID-19 and inform policy, planning and emergency management, published online
  • Redeployment of prevention staff into response roles, which assisted in meeting service demand but which had a major impact on organisations’ ability to deliver primary prevention work
Generalist: health system, schools
  • Deferral of the Child Information Sharing Scheme, Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and the MARAM phase 2 commencement (intended to include hospitals, the broader health workforce and schools) from September 2020 to April 2021
  • Child protection MARAM training planned for early 2020 delayed, then commenced online in August 2020
  • Health and wellbeing key contacts assigned to government schools to increase support for vulnerable students; webinars delivered for 22 different school and area support staff roles (more than 320 participants), to provide guidance and supporting resources on COVID-19 affected family violence risk and response for students and staff

Impacts on the family violence service system

Specialist family violence workforce 

In its review of the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on child and family services, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare has captured examples of ‘pragmatic problem-solving’ by community service organisations as they transformed service delivery models. The review report concluded that community service organisations: 

...demonstrated their ability to respond quickly to the unprecedented challenges facing their clients and workers by implementing creative solutions and workarounds in the face of restrictions on face to face engagement.176 

Research with 113 Victorian practitioners from specialist family violence and men’s services during July and August 2020, the period in which Victoria re-entered Stage 3 and later Stage 4 restrictions and called a State of Disaster, further found that: 

Family violence practitioners emphasised that like all Victorians they are working and living through the pandemic, and experiencing the same general anxiety and stress but with the added burden of working out of their living rooms or bedrooms alone, on personal laptops talking about highly emotional, traumatic and violent situations. 

For many family violence workers, being cut off from colleagues physically has been detrimental to their wellbeing…Even just the loss of the car ride or commute home has had an impact, with the opportunity to switch off or put distance between work and home.177 

The impacts on the workforce of the significant shifts in practice that have occurred are beginning to be understood and will offer useful insights into shaping future service development. It has been an enormous achievement for the sector workforce to pivot to digital service delivery while working from home, away from established systems of support and infrastructure.

Selected examples of family violence service transformations 

The following is a small sample of the many changes implemented in the family violence service system during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that demonstrate the breadth and scale of its impacts. 

Safe Steps Online chat access 

In recognition that the restrictions might affect a victim survivor’s ability to seek assistance when the Stay at Home restrictions were introduced, Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre responded quickly to develop an online access point through a web chat function. Managing the risks over web chat was significantly more difficult, with less information known about the caller when they begin to disclose information than can be elicited in a phone call. 

In July 2020, shortly after launching, the service was receiving on average nine contacts per day. Safe Steps found that those contacting via chat differed from their ‘regular’ contacts. The dominant use was by victim survivors experiencing an escalation of family violence with limited options for safety due to the Stay at Home restrictions, including young people aged 17–22.

In October 2020 Family Safety Victoria approved a proposal from Safe Steps for additional funds to extend the program to facilitate longer hours due to the number of people seeking after-hours support. Victoria has been slow to utilise online support mechanisms prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but it is clear from international evidence and experience that it can play an important role in giving access to support in dangerous situations. 

Phone contacts to Safe Steps also increased during 2020, including more calls received from concerned family and friends, older people experiencing violence from children and grandchildren who had moved in due to the pandemic, and male victim survivors, a cohort for whom there is an identified gap in the family violence service system. 

Initiatives for multicultural communities 

The Victorian Government recognised that multicultural and faith communities were facing disproportionate and unique challenges as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On 8 May 2020 the government announced a $11.3 million Multicultural COVID-19 Response Package. A portion of this funding ($1.1 million), along with an additional $1 million provided by the Office for Women and Family Safety Victoria, was allocated to a Multicultural COVID-19 Family Violence Program. The program aims to provide one-off funding to enable multicultural, faith-based and ethno-specific organisations to design and implement awareness raising, prevention and early intervention of family violence activities. Appropriate training, including the MARAM training, will be tailored and made available to the funded organisations. Although the program’s funding is time-limited and specific to responding during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Family Safety Victoria have already noted the potential for the program to be part of broader, longer term planning around the family violence system response and reform. 

Basic needs brokerage funding was provided in the first COVID-19 Response Package for Victoria’s multicultural and faith communities to assist people on temporary visas impacted by family violence. This recognised their lack of access to basic safety net supports and exacerbated risk in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic context and was delivered via Safe Steps and inTouch. 

A short-term Multicultural Communities Family Violence Working Group was also established. Led by Family Safety Victoria and supported by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the working group includes 23 organisations that intersect with multicultural communities, along with the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The 23 organisations were selected to ensure statewide coverage of relevant services but also a focus on a diverse range of priority communities and cohorts. The working group has a broader remit than the program funding, and from 2021 it will have a deeper focus on addressing long-term systemic issues. It will be important that this collaborative approach continues and builds, resulting in stronger partnerships between multicultural, faith and ethno-specific organisations and specialist family violence services to better support people in these communities experiencing family violence. 

Access to legal assistance with courts moving online 

Legal services experienced a significant decline for family violence legal assistance when the Stay at Home restrictions began in March 2020. Before this, an average of seven clients a day were being referred to Victoria Legal Aid’s duty lawyer services assisting with family violence intervention order matters throughout the state. This dropped significantly to between two and 11 referrals per week. Many victim survivors and perpetrators were reportedly confused about whether they were to attend court or how to access the off-site duty lawyer if they did attend. After being told they were not to attend court, many clients did not seek any legal assistance. 

Victoria Legal Aid was concerned about the reduced referrals because a lack of legal advice means that victim survivors may not fully understand the impacts or conditions of any interim family violence and personal safety interventions order covering them, and perpetrators may not understand the conditions and requirements of orders and are therefore more likely to breach an order. To increase access to legal assistance, Victoria Legal Aid worked with the courts, Victoria Police, community legal centres and family violence services to improve referral pathways to legal services. For example, the courts began asking for consent to share court users’ details with legal services so duty lawyers could then make contact directly. 

Victoria Legal Aid launched a family violence priority phone line and family violence–specific channel on its web chat, enabling people with family violence legal needs to receive information and advice faster. Both Victoria Legal Aid and the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria updated their websites with information for people affected by family violence and perpetrators of family violence about how to access legal advice. 

On 9 May 2020 the Victorian Government announced $17.5 million in funding for frontline legal assistance services in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This funding was directed at Victoria Legal Aid, Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal legal services across the state, to support Victorians with a range of issues including family violence–related matters. 

‘Call It Out’ advertising campaigns

During 2020, Respect Victoria released two coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic–specific advertising campaigns titled Respect Each Other: ‘Call It Out’ (COVID-19) and Respect Older People: ‘Call It Out.’ The messaging in these campaigns encourages people who see or hear signs of family violence to be an ‘active bystander’ and to ‘call it out’. These campaigns ran during May and June 2020 respectively and featured on a mix of regional and metropolitan television (including catch-up TV), digital (through social media) and audio channels, radio and Spotify. A broad mix of media channels were used to ensure maximum reach and awareness of Victorians in their homes during the Stay at Home restrictions. 

In its Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Interim Report, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee heard that widespread advertising campaigns often lead to a higher demand for services, which also needed to be managed and coordinated. Consistent with this, we have received anecdotal feedback that the campaigns have led to increased calls to family violence services. The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee recommended an evaluation of the ‘Call It Out’ campaigns be conducted to determine the effectiveness and impact on service demand. Respect Victoria has conducted quarterly and annual evaluations of ‘Call It Out’, which have demonstrated the campaigns’ effectiveness in changing the drivers of violence. 

Online and phone-based perpetrator interventions

Most referrals to voluntary men’s behaviour change programs in the community are self-referrals (46% in 2019–20) or from police (37% in 2019–20).178 These programs require men to physically attend weekly group-based sessions. In March 2020, when the first Stay at Home restrictions were announced, many behaviour change programs were temporarily suspended. Where a program was suspended, many services adapted their response to provide phone and email support to clients who were unable to attend programs, and continued risk assessment and family safety contact services. This one-on-one engagement is more labour-intensive and has ‘stretched services to capacity’, leading to a backlog of cases.179 In the corrections system, funding from the Family Violence Perpetrator Grant program was used to purchase additional one-on-one individual case management placements, which were used to continue to engage perpetrators who could not participate in group men’s behaviour change programs. 

Family Safety Victoria worked in collaboration with No to Violence, Court Services Victoria and Corrections Victoria to develop service guidelines for perpetrator responses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These aimed to provide a consistent service model for mandated and non-mandated clients, expectations for family safety contact work, direction on the frequency and modality of interventions and consideration of workforce capacity and funding arrangements. Although this work was done to minimise disruption of services to perpetrators, this guidance stated that, based on emerging research, virtual men’s behaviour change programs are generally not appropriate if the perpetrator is living with the victim survivor, but services were advised to continue to keep these perpetrators engaged where possible. 

One agency was halfway through delivering a 20-week in-person men’s behaviour change program when Stay at Home restrictions were announced, so the agency trialled delivering the second half online. Free training was offered to all staff on how to engage in this technology in a safe way. That same agency went on to trial a full 20-week program delivered online. Another agency moved all 200 men in its program to telephone services. This individual phone-based work is much more labour-intensive than in-person, group-based behaviour change programs. 

Notably, a number of organisations have indicated significant engagement from perpetrators with one-on-one work, including engagement from perpetrators who have previously declined support and those on waiting lists. 

Preliminary evaluations of this change in service delivery have highlighted increased engagement due to the accessibility of online platforms, although concerns have also been raised around analysis of body language, environment and engagement.

Moving the MARAM training online

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all MARAM face-to-face training sessions were cancelled and Family Safety Victoria began working with departments and training providers to determine alternate modes of delivery to reduce the interruption to training as much as possible. Family Safety Victoria worked with the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria to develop an online method of delivery for the training. 

Training was prioritised for experienced specialist family violence practitioners followed by comprehensive training for newer family violence workers. Family Safety Victoria also worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to adapt training for maternal and child health, antenatal, child protection, alcohol and other drug, homelessness, designated mental health and family services including Child FIRST to enable online delivery. 

As of August 2020, approximately 3,600 practitioners had begun and 1,500 had completed the training online. However, Domestic Violence Victoria advised that some specialist family violence services could not enrol new practitioners or casual staff in the appropriate MARAM training due to a lack of training availability, adding to the already significant level of unmet demand for training. This has had an impact on specialist services’ ability to have appropriately trained and skilled practitioners available. 

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria also worked with Court Services Victoria to develop online training modules including self-paced online learning and a facilitated virtual workshop. As of September 2020, all Family Drug Treatment Court clinicians, family violence practitioners and court support coordinators across the Children’s Court had completed comprehensive MARAM training online. 

Positively, several key stakeholders told us that moving training online improved the accessibility of MARAM training for staff in rural and regional areas and have advocated for a combination of online and face-to-face training to continue, even when social restrictions are no longer in place. The Department of Health and Human Services expressed support for continuing to provide online training due to the high satisfaction rates of participants to date. 

Family violence risk assessment and support in COVID-19 testing and quarantine 

Important work ensured all major public health operations (including the new services developed to manage the pandemic such as hotel quarantine and COVID-19 testing stations) were used to identify family violence risk and to connect individuals to services.

The Department of Health and Human Services Principal Practitioner (for Family Violence) amended the MARAM Screening Tool for use in the hotel quarantine program and arranged a family violence briefing for staff working in the department’s Complex Assessment and Response Team to support recognition of family violence as a psychological risk as part of the welfare response to those in mandatory quarantine. We have also been advised that Family Safety Victoria developed a shortened risk assessment to be used to respond to immediate family violence risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Extended community engagement and planning periods 

The Monitor was most interested to engage with the leadership group working to establish The Orange Door (previously Support and Safety Hubs) in the Central Highlands area, with its first premises in Ballarat. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and its associated restrictions, occurred at a point where many staff had been employed but operations had to be paused. Chapter 2 describes some of the benefits this pause offered.

Changes that should continue

Our call for submissions from the sector and stakeholders specifically sought service providers’ views on any changes they had observed or experienced during the pandemic that they felt should continue. Responses highlighted the following: 

  • Remote service delivery (including online and telephone-based) has allowed services to be more flexible and accessible, providing clients with more choice about how they access services, which is especially important when victim survivors are in circumstances where picking up the phone is not a safe option for accessing support. However, remote service delivery can create some barriers for some clients, including multicultural community members who do not have digital access or literacy. This should be an ongoing consideration as the continued role of remote service delivery is contemplated.

“Responding to COVID-19 through telehealth and phone counselling has demonstrated that not all therapeutic services need to be delivered face to face. Victim/survivors of family violence can become exhausted — physically, emotionally and financially — from having to attend multiple agencies for multiple appointments.”

— cohealth 

“The main change that should be continued as a result of COVID-19 pandemic is that…clients be given the option engage with services remotely, using methods such as telephone and video-conferencing.”

— Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre

  • Online services have enhanced the reach of some services, particularly in relation to supporting clients across regional and rural Victoria.

 "Offering services online has allowed for greater reach of our programs and services with the ability for more children, women and families to participate.”

— Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency 

“We have been able to appear for women in locations we would not have had capacity to physically reach.”

— Djirra

  • The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the use of risk assessment strategies and practices to support victims in the home and to keep perpetrators more visible.

 “…it has highlighted the importance of perpetrator mapping in risk assessment and risk management. Understanding the behaviours of the perpetrator both historically and currently, what they do, how they respond to the actions of the victim/survivor and to their own behaviour has been highlighted during COVID-19.”

— Individual, Grampians Health

the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has “increased education for victims and sector workers regarding de-escalation strategies at home. This should continue in the event of future emergency or health crises”.

— AustralAsian Centre for Human Rights

  • The increased use of online platforms and tools, including conference calling, document-sharing platforms and web-based training, has improved interagency work and supported engagement with a wider range of stakeholders. Technology has particularly benefited regional and rural services. 

We have seen a positive change towards online document sharing in the courts, which we would like to see continued.”

— Djirra 

“Service collaboration using teleconferencing has increased sector engagement due to removing the need to travel to different meeting locations.”

— Peninsula Health 

“The ability to do training online has been wonderful as I live in rural Vic and it is a long drive to the city and takes up a lot of my week.”

— Individual, Grampians Community Health

  • The use of technology within courts has enabled promising new approaches to service delivery for courts, including service expansion for online applications.

 “…the increased use of video technology, more victim survivors can be offered a choice in how they appear at their court hearing and can appear virtually if they choose to do so.”

— Magistrates’ Court of Victoria 

“Having a technology enabled court system has helped reduce waiting times.”

— AustralAsian Centre for Human Rights 

“Court appearance by video link is appropriate for Intervention Orders at all stages, and is essential for Aboriginal applicants during COVID-19.”

— Djirra

Looking forward 

Our review of the how government and the sector responded to family violence–related need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic suggests the following matters require ongoing development and focus: 

  • While acknowledging the challenges in doing so, ensure a focus on enhancing the quality of data about the family violence service system that is available to government and the specialist family violence sector to inform system-wide monitoring and decision making, particularly in an emergency.
  • Review the emergency response planning and capabilities of the family violence system.
  • Develop a strategic approach to primary prevention preparedness in a disaster context.
  • Continue to develop web-based access to crisis support for victim survivors and perpetrator interventions, and determine an appropriate balance between remote and face-to-face service delivery.
  • Understand, and respond to, specific population groups that have disengaged or been excluded by remote service delivery limitations, from vulnerable school children to victim survivors and perpetrators.
  • Further develop a multi-intervention service model for perpetrators that includes pre and post-program engagement.
  • Create staff wellbeing strategies for remote working and digital service delivery.
  • Develop a timely plan for clearing the backlog of critical services that have experienced increased demand and decreased capacity such as therapeutic interventions, men’s behaviour change programs and adjourned non-urgent matters at Children’s and Magistrates’ courts, including legal assistance.

References

173   For example: Australian Institute of Criminology (2020): The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistical Bulletin, 28 July 2020.
174   Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (2020): COVID-19: Responding to the Needs of Children and Families — Impact Report, p. 3. Available at: cfecfw.asn.au/covid-19-responding-to-theneeds-of-children-and-families-impact-report (accessed 3 September 2020).
175   Domestic Violence Victoria, submission 121,
176   Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (2020): COVID-19: Responding to the Needs of Children and Families — Impact Report, p. 3. Available at: cfecfw.asn.au/covid-19-responding-to-theneeds-of-children-and-families-impact-report (accessed 3 September 2020).
177   Monash University (2020): ‘New research reveals wellbeing toll of Melbourne’s toughest COVID-19 restrictions on practitioners responding to family violence’, media release, 20 October 2020.
178   Family Safety Victoria: Relates to voluntary community-based men’s behaviour change programs funded by Family Safety Victoria. A further 13% of referrals in 2019–20 were from corrections, courts and legal services.
179   No to Violence, submission 33, p. 12.

Reviewed 05 May 2021

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