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Maintaining momentum: What remains to be done?

What remains to be done to address the Royal Commission into Family Violence’s recommendations and to achieve the vision set out in the government’s 10-year plan.

The chapter draws substantially on submissions to the Monitor — in addition to other elements of monitoring — to assess progress against the system limitations identified by the Royal Commission and identifies areas requiring further focus in the next stage of the reform. 

Recommendations remaining in progress

As of 1 November 2020, 61 of the Royal Commission’s 227 recommendations remained in progress. The remaining recommendations do not reflect all reform implementation activity that is being undertaken, with much of the focus now on refining and embedding existing initiatives. Figure 10.1 presents the remaining recommendations according to responsible minister.

Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (31), Attorney-General (11), Minister for Housing (9), Minister for Disability, Ageing & Carers (3), Premier (3), Minister for Health (2, Minister for Education (1), Minister for Police (1)

Figure 10.2 presents the remaining recommendations according to coordinating entity, reflecting the machinery of government changes that took effect on 1 February 2021. The majority of in-progress recommendations sit with Family Safety Victoria and the new Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. Remaining recommendations also cluster around key themes, as presented in Figure 10.3. These themes provide an indication of where implementation progress has been more complex and slower.

Family Safety Victoria (30), Department of Families, Fairness & Housing (14), Department of Justice & Community Safety (6), Court Services Victoria (6), Department of Premier & Cabinet (2), Department of Health (2), Department of Education & Training (1)

More than three-quarters (51 out of 61) of the recommendations remaining in progress fall into five key themes: 

  • client access, service pathways and integration — 13 recommendations 
  • diverse and regional communities — 13 recommendations
  • technology, data, research, evaluation and performance — 10 recommendations 
  • housing and accommodation standards — 9 recommendations 
  • perpetrator accountability and interventions — 6  recommendations

These themes align with areas identified by stakeholders as requiring more attention and include some of the more complex remaining  recommendations.

Nearly 5 years into the reform program, there has been more progress in addressing some system limitations than others

The Royal Commission identified 11 system limitations180 that their recommendations and new approaches aimed to address. Progress of the reform in addressing these limitations, and the areas where further effort and attention is required, has been assessed, drawing substantially on the views expressed in submissions to the Monitor and our consultations with stakeholders, as well as a review of government materials.

This assessment has been undertaken within the context that this is an ambitious 10-year reform program, therefore it is not expected that the system limitations will all have been resolved at this time, but rather to draw attention to those areas that would benefit from further effort. 

(Note that each of the following sections begins with a quote from the Royal Commission’s final report that details the relevant ‘system limitation’.) 

System demand 

‘All parts of the system — support services, police, courts — are overwhelmed by the number of family violence incidents now reported. Services are not currently equipped to meet this high level of demand, which undermines the safety of those experiencing family violence and their potential for recovery.’ 

The Victorian Government’s substantial investment in family violence since the Royal Commission has resulted in more services. However, over this time demand has also continued to increase, in part due to improved awareness and willingness to seek assistance. Family violence matters continue to represent a significant and growing proportion of the work of police, courts and legal services, while funded places across a number of program areas (such as men’s behaviour change programs, adolescent family violence programs, therapeutic interventions and support packages for victim survivors) remain insufficient to meet demand, resulting in growing waiting lists and the continued inability to access services in a timely manner.181

“…significant and growing demand for services post the [Royal Commission] has led [specialist family violence services] to introduce demand management strategies that prioritise the most complex and at-risk clients…staff are no longer dealing with a continuum of risk; high risk situations have become the norm.”

— Women’s Health West 

“…practitioners in some regions report that specific evidence based [culturally diverse] therapeutic and specialist services are still neither widely available nor adequately funded.”

— Uniting Vic.Tas

Availability of data on service need and access, as well as modelling of demand, are critical for effective planning and targeting of limited resources. These are areas that have not progressed enough since the Royal Commission. This was particularly apparent during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when a range of data dashboards and reports were developed, including the Crime Statistics Agency’s Family Violence Data Portal, which increased public access to family violence data. Nonetheless, there were numerous gaps in data on demand and service delivery to inform system monitoring and decision making. Similarly, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office found that while Family Safety Victoria collects demand data from The Orange Door (previously the Support and Safety Hubs), it doesn’t include this information in the quarterly reports provided to government and to governance groups.182 The Auditor-General also found gaps in The Orange Door data Family Safety Victoria is collecting, or is able to collect, making it impossible to demonstrate the impact of services or the timeliness of service delivery. 

"We particularly require services to be available in regional areas to meet the additional demand where traditionally there have been few [men’s behaviour change] programs.”

— Loddon Gender Equality and Violence Prevention Consortium 

“Currently, we have multiple data systems across sectors, workforces and organisations that don’t really talk to each other.”

— Bayside Peninsula Integrated Family Violence Partnership 

There is already “ample anecdotal evidence of ever-increasing demand that [specialist family violence services] are advising that they are unable to  adequately meet…”

— Domestic Violence Victoria

A family violence demand model was developed over 2016 and 2017 to acquit recommendation 223, but the model has not been in use for some time and a broader social service system demand model being developed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet is not yet able to produce family  violence system outputs to inform system planning. This represents a significant gap in the reform monitoring. 

Different forms and manifestations of family violence

‘The many different forms and manifestations of family violence are insufficiently recognised, and responses are not tailored to the particular  circumstances and needs of diverse communities.’ 

Since the Royal Commission, there has been greater recognition of the many distinct forms of family violence including adolescent violence in the home,183 financial abuse184 and elder abuse.185 Despite the considerable effort to reorient the system to more diverse responses, there remain areas where more attention is required.

“Overall, the recognition of elder abuse as a form of family violence is at a conceptual and professional level, but has not yet translated the public or, with any consistency, frontline family violence staff.”

— Senior Rights Victoria

Older people remain “largely overlooked during family violence training and service planning.”

— Peninsula Health

A theme in submissions and in our consultations was that access and tailored support for victim survivors with a disability need to be improved. Women with Disabilities Victoria noted that ‘improved access for women with disabilities to the [family violence] system [since the Royal Commission] is not evident from available data or what women tell us’.186 The need for disability-specific funding to remain differentiated from broader brokerage funding has also been raised by organisations187 to ensure that meeting women’s disability-specific needs doesn’t come at the expense of addressing other needs. 

There is a general “lack of disability access to all services across all sectors (and of course also in the family violence sector).”

— Individual

More attention must be paid to the system response supporting victim survivors who choose to stay in the relationship. This has been raised as particularly problematic for women from Aboriginal, refugee and migrant communities, where there is a perception that seeking assistance effectively results in a ‘referral to child protection’.188 Working with victim survivors who wish to stay in the relationship requires a sophisticated whole of family model of practice that is yet to fully develop in family violence service responses.189 

“...a position that requires a woman from a migrant or refugee background to leave as a condition of receiving support to address and escape violence… she must ‘choose’ between absolute social destitution and unsustainable loss or remain within a violent relationship.”

— South East Community Link

Stakeholders have also identified that the response to male victims needs to be improved. In his submission to the Monitor, the LGBTIQ representative on the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council described critical service gaps and the absence of effective referral pathways, particularly into refuge, for males in the LGBTIQ community.190 He identified that more work needs to be done to ensure an equitable service response for all victim survivors.

“I requested figures on the number of GBTQ male victims that [The Orange Door] had contact with and was told…that this was unavailable due to flaws in the [Client Relationship Management] data collection system.” 

— Individual, Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council

The availability of community-based, early-intervention service responses for adolescents using violence in the home, many of whom are also victim survivors, is also extremely limited — both in number191 and geographical accessibility. This means that most adolescents cannot receive the tailored support they and their families need. Funding in the 2020/21 Victorian Budget provides continuation of the Adolescent Family Violence Program at its current level but does not enable expansion into additional areas of the state. To prevent adolescents from being criminalised, police are also calling for an adolescent crisis service and a longer term family response to address the root causes of adolescents using violence in the home. 

“…there seems to be heightened conversation and increased awareness that [adolescent violence in the home] is a distinct phenomenon to adult-perpetrated intimate partner violence and requires a distinct response.”

— Youthlaw

“…there is still a critical service gap in the family violence service system for adolescents.”

— Victoria Legal Aid, Federation of Community Legal Centres, Women’s Legal Service Victoria

In this context, the submission from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency called for a stronger focus on prevention and working with men, including young men. It also suggested a fundamental shift is to ‘reorient the system and apply a cultural lens to working with the entire family’. 

“Greater resourcing is needed for programs that give a voice and space to those who use violence to ensure they are able to have conversations about taking responsibility for violence in their community including recognising all forms of violence, changing attitudes towards violence, and supporting each other to change.” 

— Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

Submissions to the Monitor suggest that more needs to be done to ensure the family violence reform can effectively reach into regional and rural areas. The travel distances and isolation of victim survivors in these areas create unique contexts that sometimes undermine access to support. 

“Some of the most high-risk cases we see are women in remote or rural locations, who cannot access 24-hour police [stations] and are hours away from critical supports.”

— Loddon Gender Equality and Violence Prevention Consortium

Across the service system there also remains a critical lack of data on the demographic characteristics of people accessing services. Consequently, we don’t know whether diverse communities are being referred to and accessing services equitably. The 2019 Family Violence Data Collection Framework provides specific guidance on data collection practices, including the use of mandatory fields for Aboriginal communities, LGBTIQ communities, people with disabilities, multicultural communities, children and young people and older people, and should be implemented as a matter of priority to inform service monitoring and planning.

“Lack of available data on [culturally diverse] communities remains a significant hindrance in shaping effective policy responses…”

— AustralAsian Centre for Human Rights and Health

“We believe that the more information that is collected regarding a client’s preferred language, cultural needs, and visa status, can help to prepare the best response to her needs and ultimately her safety.”

— inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence

Specific needs of children and young people

‘There is a lack of targeted resources to meet the specific needs of children and young people who have experienced family violence.’ 

Submissions acknowledged and welcomed the renewed focus on children within the reform, particularly acknowledging the importance of the Child Information Sharing Scheme192 and recognition in the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework of children as victim survivors in their own right. Child-focused training has been provided to build workforce capability in applying the MARAM Framework to children and understanding the impact of family violence on them. More investment has been directed to children, including through:

  • increased funding for therapeutic interventions for children who experience family violence
  • expanded treatment options for young people who display sexually abusive behaviours193

Nevertheless, there remains considerable concern among stakeholders that there is insufficient and inconsistent availability of therapeutic supports for children. The actual provision of therapeutic services to children from September 2019 to June 2020 was 32% (see Figure 4.3 in Chapter 4), below the intended 40% level (which is consistent with children as a percentage of clients receiving a response through The Orange Door). 

The next stage of the reform needs to ensure a continued focus on strengthening workforce capability and practice in relation to children, including those with diverse needs, to ensure the commitment at the strategic and policy levels to recognising children as victim survivors in their own right and providing child-centred responses that meet their specific needs is carried through in practice. Further monitoring of the availability and access to therapeutic supports for children is also required at the local and statewide levels.

Our monitoring didn’t identify any activity focused on differentiated responses for young adults aged 18–24 years. There is a need for further consideration of how to suitably respond to young adult victim survivors or perpetrators.

There has been a renewed focus on children being “seen as victim survivors in their own right.”

— Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare 

“Councils across the state also point out that the Royal Commission into Family Violence has led to improved collaboration  between children and family services and family violence services in some municipalities, establishing a clearer understanding of roles and improved collaboration across services in supporting families in need.”

— Municipal Association of Victoria 

“…the investment in therapeutic services for infants and children is still inadequate to meet express demand…there continues to be a lack of focus on the impact of family violence on children in the absence of visible injuries, resulting in the trauma and mental health impact of the violence on children being left unaddressed until it manifests much later.”

— Berry Street  

“We feel strongly that there needs to be more youth led and driven initiatives focused on family violence from young people’s perspective.” 

— Y-Change Initiative, Berry Street 

Safe housing for victim survivors

‘The current response to family violence largely assumes that women will leave their home when family violence occurs. For those who must leave, homelessness and housing systems cannot guarantee a safe place to stay or a permanent home that is affordable. For those who remain at home, monitoring of the perpetrator is inadequate.’ 

Despite a series of investments in a range of accommodation types, this system limitation has seen the least progress out of all areas of the reform since the Royal Commission. Outside of investment in Safe at Home responses such as the Personal Safety Initiative and Flexible Support Packages, our analysis found there has not been a coordinated, whole of government response to enable women to remain confidently in their own homes as standard practice. Submissions to the Monitor argued that stronger perpetrator monitoring and better accountability mechanisms for breaches of intervention orders were required for women to remain safely at home. 

A lack of long-term, affordable housing options has continued to be a major challenge for victim survivors and one that has continued to cause blockages for those trying to enter and exit crisis accommodation. An inadequate supply of social housing, despite repeated investments, has been the main problem. The $5.3 billion investment to deliver 12,000 new homes, announced as part of the 2020/21 Victorian Budget, aims to deliver a safe home for as many as 1,000 victim survivors and provides an opportunity to begin to close the gap between supply of and demand for social housing. However, there is still a need for a more strategic approach to addressing the specific needs of victim survivors within the broader housing model.

Carefully managing the continued rollout of core-and-cluster refuges will help to ensure the benefits of this strongly supported model are realised for  victim survivors who need crisis accommodation.

“Access to safe housing and crisis accommodation is a continuing weakness in the family violence service system.” 

— Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency 

“…securing permanent and safe housing remain insurmountable for young people.”

— WEstjustice 

“…the waitlist for LGBTIQ+ safe housing has more than doubled in the last 12 months.”

— Family Access Network

Identification within universal systems

‘Key personnel in universal systems, such as health services and schools, are not adequately equipped to recognise that family violence may be occurring and often do not know what to do when it is identified.’ 

The MARAM Framework has been a significant development in the reform, providing a shared language and understanding of roles and responsibilities and a clear foundation for identifying and responding to risk. The next implementation phase for the MARAM reforms and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, in which these initiatives are rolling out to services like hospitals and schools and other education institutions, was due to start in 2020 but has been delayed until April 2021 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This next phase of implementation significantly broadens the number of workforces that are prescribed under MARAM — estimated at 370,000 staff compared with fewer than 40,000 under the first phase.194 As described in Chapter 1, the next phase of the MARAM reforms rollout will strengthen practice changes already underway through implementing the Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence and Respectful Relationships programs. Substantial preparation for implementing the MARAM reforms has already been undertaken with these phase 2 workforces. General practitioners will be prescribed under the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme but not under the MARAM Framework. Further consideration should be given to engagement with general practitioners given the critical role they play as a major point of identification and referral.195 To realise the intent of the Royal Commission, more focus on the health and mental health systems is required. 

The phased development of the MARAM practice guidelines for specific cohorts — for example, children and perpetrators — has caused some frustration among stakeholders. Perpetrator assessment tools and practice guidelines were due for release in 2020 but have been delayed and are planned for release in early 2021,196 around one and a half years after the original MARAM practice guidelines were released. The Barwon Integrated Family Violence Committee noted in its submission that delays in distributing guidance documents has impeded attempts to embed the MARAM reforms in perpetrator and adolescent family violence practice,197 while the Royal Women’s Hospital raised that the delay in the MARAM practice guidelines for working with children and perpetrators has presented challenges for acute hospitals.198

There are areas requiring further attention for workforces already operating with the MARAM Framework, including child protection and mental health. Although the evaluation of the Tilting Our Practice family violence training for the child protection workforce identified improved understanding of and confidence in responding to family violence, and efforts to further improve family violence capability uplift are ongoing, submissions raised specific areas where practice improvements are required. For example, submissions identified a need for greater understanding of trauma-informed practice199 and a problematic focus by the child protection system on: 

...mothers taking responsibility for keeping their children safe, rather than keeping perpetrators out of the household, and the statutory and non-statutory systems engaging perpetrators to take responsibility for how their behaviours impact their family.200 

When fully embedded, the MARAM reforms will provide the foundation for a strong and coordinated family violence response and will be a critical area for ongoing effort and improvement, which should be based on feedback and evaluation learnings. 

“…implementation of MARAM has been a huge shift in the practice of many different types of agencies in the human services sector. It has allowed more professionals to gain knowledge and skill in identifying and responding to family violence and created a shared language around family violence risk, safety and perpetrator accountability.”

— Annie North Inc. 

“As more workforces that have responsibility for child safety implement and align practice to MARAM, it will enable greater collaboration and shared responsibility for children’s safety and management of family violence risk.”

— Domestic Violence Victoria 

“…the development of a screening tool to assess family violence risk to children specifically has taken far too long and does not screen for child wellbeing.”

— Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare 

“Members tell us that there is still a glaring gap in education and awareness of family violence amongst psychiatrists and mental health professionals more generally.”

— Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

“Our sector would maintain that there is still very limited understanding of the impact of trauma, and of trauma informed practice in Victoria’s Child Protection system.”

— Centres Against Sexual Assault Forum 

Our sector would maintain that there is still very limited understanding of the impact of trauma, and of trauma informed practice in Victoria’s Child Protection system.”

— Centres Against Sexual Assault Forum

“The Strengthening Hospital Responses to FV [SHRFV] initiative is being scaled back, with funding ceasing next year. …There will be many gaps for those hospitals around the FV response without SHRFV funded positions, especially when they are prescribed under the Information Sharing Schemes.” 

— North Western Mental Health 

“…the engagement of universal health services to step up to the challenge of identifying and responding to family violence is a key part of the reform. However, this has had limited effect on the work that general practitioners (GPs) undertake as there has not been sufficient engagement with this sector … despite the fact that GPs are the major professional group who survivors disclose to...”

— Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria 

Coordination of services

‘The range of services a victim might need at different times, including at points of crisis and beyond, are not as well coordinated as they should be, particularly when these services are located in different systems — for example, the health and justice systems. Gaining access to support can be difficult for victims, and service responses remain inconsistent and hard to navigate.’ 

The government’s 10-year Ending Family Violence plan outlined a vision where victim survivors would not have to ‘navigate the complex legal and community services systems by themselves’201 but would be supported by specialist service navigators who would ‘support people from crisis through to recovery’.202 Establishing The Orange Door network was a key element of this approach, bringing together the specialist family violence,  children’s and families, perpetrator and Aboriginal workforces to coordinate risk and needs assessment, safety planning and crisis support, including linking with other service systems such as housing, legal assistance and ongoing family violence case management. While acknowledging the enormous effort of the sector and government and the benefits that are starting to be seen, realisation of this vision requires further integration across a number of areas. 

Notwithstanding the stated aim of collaborative practice within The Orange Door, stakeholders203 and the Auditor-General204 have identified a need for much clearer guidance on what collaborative models look like in practice. The 10 remaining The Orange Door locations have been announced and are due to open by 2022. It will be important that this guidance and practical training is incorporated into their implementation planning, along with other lessons from delivering services at previous The Orange Door sites. Service integration and referral pathways from The Orange Door into longer term accommodation is yet to be clarified but will be an important future focus area, with efforts to date focusing on crisis accommodation.

“…‘iconic’ system-wide reform measures such as The Orange Door, Multi-Agency Risk and Management Framework (MARAM), Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, and workforces development. Most of these elements have progressed in our area over the last four years albeit to different degrees...”

— Bayside Peninsula Integrated Family Violence Partnership 

“Members report that despite formalised agreements at management level, staff from different services find it difficult to establish shared understandings of the complex needs and best way forward for people calling on the Orange door services.”

— Australian Association of Social Workers 

“The lack of a clear shared vision for service integration and collaboration has been clear within Orange Door locations… these lessons should be used to develop a more integrated system response across all family violence interventions.”

— No to Violence 

It has taken 3–4 years for the Family Safety Victoria reform agenda to start to include sexual assault as critical work. It is vital that the sexual assault response and prevention is recognised as a distinct area of specialisation.”

— Loddon Gender Equality and Violence Prevention Consortium

Legal assistance remains an area that is not sufficiently integrated within the family violence system. Considerable effort has gone into developing a legal assistance model to support the operation of the Specialist Family Violence Courts; however, a similar model for The Orange Door has not progressed, noting it was recommended for inclusion in their design by the 2016 Access to Justice Review.205 

“In the absence of a state-wide model and support for family violence workers to identify and respond to legal needs, our practice experience is that we continue to see that people with legal needs are not always referred to legal services in a timely and effective manner.”

— Victoria Legal Aid, Federation of Community Legal Services and Women’s Legal Service Victoria

Victoria Legal Aid or Community Legal Centres are operating in some form at existing Orange Door locations through local arrangements and within existing resources, focusing largely on assistance related to family violence intervention orders and family law. People experiencing family violence often have related legal needs such as tenancy, migration, fines, Centrelink and child protection matters. Early information and access to assistance across the range of legal needs is critical to support recovery for victim survivors and requires a consistent model and resourcing. We are pleased to see the inclusion of legal assistance as a system priority in the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023. 

Another reform component with a strong service coordination focus is the Specialist Family Violence Court model, which aims to offer a more holistic response to hearing family violence matters in court. As was noted in Chapter 1, stakeholders have welcomed this approach. With around 5% of family violence intervention orders / personal safety intervention orders heard in Specialist Family Violence Courts in 2019–20 (from the three courts that were operational at that time, with one only coming online in March 2020), there is some way to go to meet the Royal Commission’s recommendation that all family violence matters are heard in specialist courts. In progressing this work, integration between the specialist courts model and legal assistance, police, family violence services and the wider perpetrator accountability system will be critical. 

Djirra notes that for culturally appropriate services to function in settings such as the Specialist Family Violence Courts, Aboriginal community- controlled organisations must ‘be adequately funded to provide duty lawyer services and casework services’. Djirra notes that ‘none of the funding allocated for the legal services assistance sector to support [Specialist Family Violence Courts] has been distributed to Aboriginal Legal Services’.206 In reviewing the Specialist Family Violence Courts Legal Practice and Resourcing Model, further consideration of access to specialist legal services for Aboriginal people under the operation of the model may be warranted.

Perpetrator accountability and management

‘Efforts to hold perpetrators to account are grossly inadequate. Victims are too often left to carry the burden of managing risk. Insufficient attention is given to addressing perpetrators’ individual risk factors.’ 

There have been many positive developments in perpetrator accountability and management since the Royal Commission. For example, we have seen active monitoring of high-risk perpetrators by Family Violence Investigation Units at Victoria Police, although this monitoring needs to be better  integrated with other parts of the accountability system (for example, visibility of perpetrator attendance at programs). 

Other important developments include respondent practitioner roles in courts, additional funding for trials of new interventions and men’s behaviour change programs, and increased perpetrator visibility through Risk Assessment and Management Panels and the Central Information Point. 

However, nearly five years into the reform a systemic response to perpetrator accountability and coordinated management has not yet begun. The government’s response to the 2018 Expert Advisory Committee into Perpetrator Interventions report has now been developed and is a priority for implementation. Submissions identified that further work is also required in perpetrators’ understanding of intervention orders, perpetrator misidentification, and responses where a police member is the alleged perpetrator. 

While acknowledging the work Victoria Police has undertaken with the Aboriginal community to improve cultural awareness training, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency has called for more effort across the police force to improve culturally consistent and appropriate responses.  

“…it is still common across the family violence response system for the focus of interventions to be on the choices and actions of victim survivors rather than perpetrators.” 

— Domestic Violence Victoria 

“With increased funding, we have been able to work with more men, and provide a range of tailored responses to them…However, there is a need for increased funding to ensure we have the resources to address growing waiting lists (particularly as a result of COVID-19)…”

— Loddon Gender Equality and Violence Prevention Consortium 

“Many of [our] clients…are in prison due to breaches of family violence orders. Our lawyers regularly… explain them to individuals who have not previously understood the effect of the orders they are subject to. We recommend further support be available to ensure that respondents have a clear understanding of the consequences of orders when they are made or served.” 

— Mental Health Legal Service

Information sharing

‘The safety of victims is undermined by inadequate methods for sharing information between agencies about perpetrator risk. This is exacerbated by outdated information technology systems.’

As described in Chapter 1, the introduction of the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and Child Information Sharing Scheme have been transformational for the reform and are almost uniformly viewed by stakeholders as instrumental in improving the safety of victim survivors. Similarly, the Central Information Point is a valued addition to the family violence system. 

The delay in system integration with partner agencies is impacting the scaling up of the Central Information Point to provide coverage to all 17 The Orange Door sites when operational as well as other organisations, such as Safe Steps, who would benefit from receiving the information reports. Funding provided in the 2020/21 Victorian Budget enables the continued operation of the Central Information Point until June 2021, and planning for its further development. 

Implementation of the Central Information Point has not been examined in detail in this monitoring period, but we received a demonstration of the operation of the Central Information Point early in 2020 and were impressed with the systems and processes in place.

Some concern has been expressed about the operation of the information-sharing schemes for some cohorts, including adolescent victim survivors207 and criminalised women, particularly where they have been misidentified as the perpetrator. For example, information can be shared about any person, including adolescent victim survivors, without consent to manage family violence risk to children. However the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines advise that services should seek the views of both child and adult victim survivors whose information may be shared without consent, where safe, appropriate and reasonable to do so. In any case, further consideration of these cohorts within training and guidance materials may be warranted. Similarly, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare has noted a need to further develop understanding of the interaction of the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and the Child Information Sharing Scheme to support permissible information sharing for the wellbeing of children. Such understanding would necessarily focus on the full application of the Child Information Sharing Scheme rather than be limited to the family violence context.

“[Information sharing] in our view is the jewel in the crown of the Royal Commission Recommendations. There have been substantial changes to information sharing process around family violence and risk to children.”

— Annie North Inc. 

“…the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme states that ‘a child’s safety is prioritised over any individual’s privacy.’ This approach, whilst understandable, undermines the autonomy of adolescent victim-survivors whose personal information may be shared without their consent, input or even knowledge.”

— WEstjustice 

“…there are still barriers to effective implementation of these [information sharing] reforms, including other services’ understanding of the Schemes, confidence in sharing information with other services…”

— Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

Early intervention and recovery support

‘Too little effort is devoted to preventing the occurrence of family violence in the first place, and to intervening at the earliest possible opportunity to reduce the risk of family violence or its escalation. Similarly, there is not enough focus on helping victims recover from the effects of violence and rebuild their lives.’ 

The continued rollout and effective use of the MARAM Framework and information-sharing schemes will help support earlier intervention, as universal systems become better equipped at identifying family violence risk. Improved data and monitoring will be required to determine whether earlier identification of family violence and earlier access to services is occurring. 

However, it appears that responses to victim survivors and to perpetrators could be more proactive. For example, through our monitoring the need for earlier intervention arose as a theme in relation to children. The Commission for Children and Young People has described how child protection practice needs to improve to ensure child victim survivors are appropriately supported and protected, citing examples of cases being closed despite repeated and early reports to Child Protection where, tragically, a child death subsequently occurred. The Commission has also called for earlier, trauma-informed interventions for young people who use violence in the home. 

Working with perpetrators as early as possible is vital to maximise engagement and reduce the risk of escalating violence, but waiting lists for services present challenges. 

At the other end of the family violence support spectrum, victim survivors spoke of the need for more support in managing legal, financial and administrative matters in the aftermath of family violence incidents, which can seem overwhelming at a time of crisis. Consumer Affairs Victoria plays an important role in this area, including through its funded financial counselling programs and the Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program for victim survivors. Building on such services, there is an opportunity to develop a more joined-up approach to helping victim survivors get back on their feet. The need for more support to access long-term, stable housing and to be able to engage in education were also raised  as being essential for effective recovery from the effects of family violence.

Governance and outcomes

‘The Victorian Government does not have a dedicated governance mechanism in place to coordinate the system’s efforts to prevent and respond to family violence or to enable an assessment of the efficacy of current efforts.’ 

Following the Royal Commission, the government established a range of governance bodies to oversee and progress the family violence reform. Key bodies included (* will no longer exist after the creation of the Family Violence Reform Advisory Group):

  • Ministerial Taskforce for the Prevention of Family Violence*
  • Victorian Secretaries’ Board Sub-Committee on Family Violence Reform
  • Family Violence Steering Committee, including sector representatives*
  • Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee
  • Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management and Information Sharing Steering Committee
  • Industry Taskforce*
  • Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council
  • Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum
  • Family Violence Regional Integration Committees
  • Diverse Communities and Intersectionality Working Group*
  • LGBTIQ Family Violence Working Group*
  • Victorian Public Service Family Violence Research and Evaluation Working Group

While acknowledging the breadth of governance structures in place, stakeholders have been critical of the functioning of the Family Violence Steering Committee and Industry Taskforce, and of the integration of Family Violence Regional Integration Committees within the broader reform governance.

“While there are complex whole of government governance structures in place to oversee the family violence reforms, these are difficult to navigate and have not translated into effective implementation of the reform agenda.”

— Domestic Violence Victoria 

“Our experience of the [Family Violence Steering Committee] is that it has functioned more as a stakeholder group to communicate about work in progress or completed rather than as a body to facilitate input or decision making by the nongovernment and community service sector.”

— Victoria Legal Aid, Federation of Community Legal Services and Women’s Legal Service Victoria

Family Safety Victoria initiated a major review of reform governance in December 2019 to address known governance issues and acknowledge the move from an establishment phase to an implementation and embedding phase in the reform. The refreshed arrangements include a Reform Board to replace four existing project-specific steering committees. 

The Reform Board, which will be internal to government, will receive advice from a Family Violence Reform Advisory Group comprising external sector representatives as well as the existing Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum and Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council.

Coordination and accountability for prevention effort has also been raised by stakeholders as complex and unclear, with responsibility sitting variously with Family Safety Victoria, the Office for Women and Respect Victoria. The machinery of government changes that took effect on 1 February 2021 have resulted in the Office for Women and Respect Victoria, along with the Family Violence Branch responsible for whole of government coordination, moving from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to become the Office for the Prevention of Family Violence in the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. Family Safety Victoria will also sit within this new department. The consolidation of groups and entities responsible for family violence within a single department, along with the proposed changes to governance arrangements, provides a clear opportunity to simplify and strengthen governance and oversight for the next stage of the family violence reform. Respect Victoria being established under legislation in 2018 to lead a coordinated approach to primary prevention should also help clarify roles and responsibilities. A Family Violence Outcomes Framework including specific domains was developed as part of the 10-year Ending Family Violence plan. However, there has been no reporting on achievements against these outcomes in the first five years of reform. An outcomes framework implementation strategy was publicly released with the Rolling Action Plan in December 2020, noting indicators and measures are not comprehensive and require further development. This work is critical to effective governance because system leaders and the community need to know if the reform is bringing about the benefits the Royal Commission intended. Priority must be given to measuring outcomes in the next stage of the reform.

The inclusion of victim survivor voices in policy and service design has been a strength of the reform. Now, across multiple reform areas — such as The Orange Door network, Specialist Family Violence Courts and the policing response there is a need to seek the current experience of system users to identify improvements to practice and systems that would result in better outcomes.

“It takes both experts and survivors to makes choices… Lived experience is invaluable to inform and help make decisions around planning how to respond to family violence. Survivors’ voices are powerful and need to be heard.”

— Victim survivor advocate 

“The future governance structure will need to enable the vertical integration of [Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committees] through clear communication pathways, meaningful opportunities for consultation, and participation on relevant committees.”

— Western Integrated Family Violence Committee 

“More information about the system should be published in a transparent form, especially family violence funding since 2016.”

— South East Community Link 

“Despite the news reporting of women who have been murdered in family violence incidents, there is still no official government death count for family violence deaths across the country as is the case for deaths related to road accidents or COVID-19.”

— Australian Association of Social Workers 

Investment in prevention and response 

‘There is inadequate investment in measures designed to prevent and respond to family violence.’ 

There has been significant investment in family violence response efforts since the Royal Commission; however, investing in response measures to fully meet demand is not feasible. A strong focus and significant, sustained investment in primary prevention are required to reduce future demand on the service system and eliminate family violence. Progress on primary prevention has not been examined in detail in this monitoring period, but previous Monitor’s reports have outlined the strong foundations that have been built. Alongside the investment in response, there has been a more than three-fold increase in prevention funding between 2015–16 and 2019–20, with further investment in the 2020/21 Victorian Budget (refer to Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1). 

More work is needed to ensure primary prevention operates as an integrated part of the family violence system, as well as a strong, coherent and  coordinated system in its own right,208 supported by effective governance structures.209 This requires the design and implementation of long-term infrastructure that incorporates clear roles and responsibilities for all players in family violence prevention, and strong partnerships between government and other sectors. 

Primary prevention is “the only way in which the overall prevalence of family violence (and therefore demand) can be reduced.”

— Respect Victoria 

A wider scope of prevention efforts is needed to “address women’s  economic insecurity, other forms of gendered violence and the unequal health consequences of inequality…”

— Gender Equity Victoria

Through their submissions, prevention stakeholders outlined that prevention efforts need to build awareness of dysfunctional family dynamics and acknowledge a range of forms of family violence, including parents being abusive towards their children, siblings being abusive towards other siblings and LGBTIQ-specific dynamics.210 There is also an opportunity to improve coordination of prevention research ‘to avoid duplication and to further build the evidence base for primary prevention practice’.211 

 “The Salvation Army strongly advocate for increased investment in a range of new men’s perpetrator programs and trials to address prevention.”

— Salvation Army 

“The Victorian Government and its agencies [should] shift away from short-term funding models for primary prevention towards more long-term thinking  and investment.”

— Bayside Peninsula Integrated Family Violence Partnership

Approaches within the Transport Accident Commission and WorkSafe Victoria have demonstrated the effectiveness of evidence-based, targeted and properly resourced prevention effort in reducing road and worker fatalities and injuries, providing confidence that similar efforts with family violence will reduce long-term harm to the community.

Looking forward: priority areas for future focus 

Based on our consultations, an analysis of remaining recommendations and our assessment of progress against the system limitations identified by the Royal Commission, we consider that the following should be priorities within the reform program: 

  • Governance — ensure timely implementation of new governance arrangements to deliver strong, coordinated oversight and decision making for the reform, and the meaningful engagement of non-government system partners in governance.
  • Data, evaluation, performance and outcomes — identify ways to improve data collection and to make service supply, demand and outcomes data readily available to ensure reform transparency and enable timely decision making and support system planning.
  • Service integration — ensure alignment and (appropriate) integration in the ongoing design and delivery of interrelated reform initiatives including The Orange Door, legal assistance, Specialist Family Violence Courts and perpetrator accountability mechanisms to improve responses for victim survivors and perpetrators.
  • Workforce — continue to grow and develop the specialist family violence and primary prevention workforces needed to support the service system and strengthen development of the broader workforces that intersect with the family violence system.
  • Perpetrator accountability — ensure perpetrators remain ‘visible’ and are held to account through the creation of a joined-up accountability system and through the design and delivery of a range of programs to meet service demand.
  • Children and young people — support a systemic shift that acknowledges and responds to the independent needs of children and utilises the voices of children and young people in service design and delivery. 
  • Housing — improve housing access by addressing known issues through a clear strategy and by adopting a whole of government approach to enable more victim survivors to remain in their own homes.
  • Prevention — shift the focus to preventing family violence to reduce the harm experienced by the community and demand for response services by ramping up prevention efforts and research, and through creating a coherent, coordinated and well-resourced prevention architecture.

These areas are largely aligned with the priorities for 2020–2023 outlined in the government’s Rolling Action Plan. In progressing further reform work, the reform-wide focus on intersectionality, Aboriginal self-determination and lived experience articulated in the Rolling Action Plan will be important to ensure the benefits of the reform are experienced equally.

Future monitoring

The 2020/21 Victorian Budget included $1.6 million to continue the Family Violence Implementation Reform Monitor function until the end of 2022. The Monitor’s office will work with the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and government to develop a new monitoring approach aligned with the second Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 that, along with Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change, forms the government’s implementation plan for the second phase of the reform. 

In developing the next monitoring approach, the Monitor will consult with key stakeholders and engage with victim survivor groups to strengthen the voices of victim survivors in monitoring the reform.

References

180   State of Victoria (2014–2016): Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132, p. 6.
181   Australian Services Union Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities and Services Branch, submission 59.
182   Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (2020): Managing Support and Safety Hubs. Available at: audit.vic.gov.au/report/managing-support-and-safety-hubs (accessed 3 December 2020).
183   Youthlaw, submission 27.
184   Economic Abuse Reference Group, submission 56.
185   Seniors Rights Victoria, submission 55.
186   Women with Disabilities Victoria, submission 125, p. 1.
187   Victorian Council of Social Service, submission 44; Women with Disabilities Victoria consultation, 30 September 2020.
188   South East Community Links, submission 108, p. 2.
189   Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, submission 122.
190   Individual — Victim Survivor, submission 99.
191   Annual program numbers in 2019–20 represented only around 10% of the number of incidents recorded by Victoria Police where the person using violence was aged under 18 years (refer to Figure 7.3).
192   cohealth, submission 71.
193   Victoria Police, submission 79.
194   Department of Premier and Cabinet (2020): Family Violence Reform: Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023. Available at: vic.gov.au/family-violence-reform-rolling-action-plan-2020-2023 (accessed 21 December 2020).
195   Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria, submission 43.
196   Department of Premier and Cabinet (2020): Family Violence Reform: Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023. Available at: vic.gov.au/family-violence-reform-rolling-action-plan-2020-2023 (accessed 21 December 2020).
197   Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee, submission 103.
198   Royal Women’s Hospital, submission 76.
199   The Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre, submission 87.
200   Domestic Violence Victoria, submission 121, p. 12.
201   Victorian Government (2016): Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change, p. xi. Available at: vic.gov.au/ending-family-violence-victorias-10-year-plan-change (accessed 4 December 2020).
202   Ibid.
203   The Sexual Assault and Family Violence Centre, submission 87; Domestic Violence Victoria, submission 121.
204   Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (2020): Managing Support and Safety Hubs. Available at: audit.vic.gov.au/report/managing-support-and-safety-hubs (accessed 4 December 2020).
205   Victorian Government (2016): Access to Justice Review: Summary Report.
206   Djirra, submission 54, p. 21.
207   WEstjustice Western Community Legal Centre, submission 93.
208   Respect Victoria, submission 78.
209   Ibid.
210   Berry Street Y-Change Initiative, submission 26; Respect Victoria, submission 78.
211   Gender Equity Victoria, submission 118, p. 9.

Reviewed 05 May 2021

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