Jan Shuard PSM
Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor
It goes without saying that this has been an extraordinary year — one that has tested the resilience and agility of the family violence service system and all its parts. The response to this crisis has been impressive. It has highlighted the ability, depth and dedication of the service sector and agencies to ensure the needs of victim survivors remained at the centre of their work and that perpetrators were kept in view. We have seen a rapid reorientation of services and creative approaches deployed in record time, enabled by a willingness of government agencies and sector organisations to work together to get things done. It has also underlined the limitations in data systems to fully understand and measure change, service requirements and availability.
The restrictions that have been in place and the demands on agencies and my staff have had some impact on our monitoring work. However, the support and engagement we have experienced has been humbling within the context of the enormous pressures on agencies and the sector. While we have not been able to visit the services and see them in operation since March 2020, and we have sorely missed this aspect of our work, our activities have continued in the virtual world and the commitment of our stakeholders has not waned. The continuing dedication to the ongoing reform agenda during these difficult times has been significant.
Over the past 12 months, in preparing for this final implementation report, we have taken a broader perspective by looking back over the years since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its findings in March 2016. We have therefore featured in this final report under the legislation, the major accomplishments that form the foundations of systemic change.
While there has been substantial progress since the Royal Commission and during this past unpredictable year, this report also draws attention to areas where more effort and consideration is needed. Data must be improved to better understand the impact of the reform and the effect investments are having on outcomes. There must be more focus on children and young people as specific victims of family violence and adolescents who use violence in the home. But again, this is an area where the absence of sound data makes it difficult to quantify and understand what is available and if services are meeting demand.
It has taken more than four years to develop a perpetrator accountability framework and, while the whole of Victorian government perpetrator accountability work program is welcome, it now requires urgent action. To truly hold those who use violence within the family to account, programs and services to address this behaviour must be readily available. There are lost opportunities where perpetrators do not have early and prompt access to behaviour change programs, and these undermine perpetrator accountability.
Our report stresses the need for ongoing expansion of safe housing options for women fleeing family violence. For example, there has not been enough emphasis on supporting women who choose to remain in the family home where it is safe to do so. Housing responses to family violence remain an underdeveloped area, noting the significant investment in public housing in the 2020/21 Victorian Budget as a positive step.
In this report, when discussing reform activity for this monitoring period, we have been mindful to only cite the progress of implementation and actions completed between 1 November 2019 and 1 November 2020. Naturally, this can be difficult for agencies that share work that is planned or in progress and would no doubt like to see this acknowledged. Nonetheless, it is only proper for our reporting to focus on activities where there is evidence of implementation action.
However, given the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is that we have included relevant information from the 2020/21 Victorian Budget delivered on 24 November 2020. The second is that reference to the new Rolling Action Plan published on 10 December 2020 is included in the report as development of the plan was undertaken during the monitoring period. The delayed delivery of both the State Budget and the Rolling Action Plan are understandable in the context of the emergency environment.
We have seen an important shift this year towards a greater focus on the systemic drivers of gender inequality with the infrastructure to support implementation of the Gender Equality Act 2020. This is a signal that the government is committed to addressing the underlying causes of family violence. This, the education campaigns on the different forms of family violence and the further expansion of the Respectful Relationships program in schools, are all critical to changing behaviours and ending family violence.
Although so many of our interactions are impressive and would warrant mentions, there are special moments that have particularly touched me throughout our consultations that I want to share:
- speaking with the inspiring young people from Berry Street’s Y-Change Team who are victim survivors of family violence and presented with such eloquence
- feeling the commitment and passion of Family Violence Regional Integration Committees in driving change for their local and regional communities and being responsive and flexible in their approach
- the resilience and innovation of the Dhelk Dja Partnership Forums where our Aboriginal community leaders strive to make real and lasting change for their people
- the passion and impressive work undertaken at Hume Central Secondary College embedding a whole of school Respectful Relationships model
- the Court Services Victoria approach that fully integrates the lived experience of a victim survivor of family violence in the design and delivery of court services at every level.
An important input into our monitoring this year were the 125 responses we gratefully received to my call for submissions in July 2020. A huge thank you goes to every individual and organisation who took the time to share their experiences, expertise and suggestions. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who contributed during the time when agencies and the sector had so much to do, but still found time to prepare a submission. Our report has not been able to do justice to the breadth and depth of insights provided in submissions and I urge readers to read these on our website for themselves: www.fvrim.vic.gov.au.
These submissions, along with my team’s deep analysis on targeted topics, have helped form a systemic view of progress since the Royal Commission and have guided us in determining the areas that require more effort and will be the focus of future monitoring.
I must acknowledge the amazing work of the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor staff and their tireless efforts and support of me in doing justice to our important task. Like others, they have had to juggle family responsibilities, working from home and reduced staffing so we too could contribute to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic response. I hope the effort and quality of their work is valued by the readers of this report.
We are delighted that the function of the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor has been extended for another 18 months, as announced in the 2020/21 Victorian Budget. It will now be our task to decide what form this new phase of independent monitoring and reporting should take so it continues to add a perspective that is valued and ensures the lived experience of victim survivors is heard.
I thank those in the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s (then) Family Violence Branch and Family Safety Victoria for their assistance, transparency and collaboration. Without these strong relationships and their support, we would not be able to deliver a report to parliament and the public that makes a meaningful contribution to this reform.
We are also grateful to all those across the service sector and government for their cooperation, sharing of information and insights on the family violence reform program. This combination of views and access to documents and expertise has allowed us to form an independent perspective on the progress of implementation of the reform agenda.
Jan Shuard PSM
Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor