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Voices of victim survivors

A summary of key developments in including the voices of victim survivors in the family violence reform and in service development and improvement.

Royal Commission findings

The Royal Commission into Family Violence acknowledged the importance of allowing the voices of victim survivors to be heard. It recommended that victim survivors’ experiences should directly inform service planning and evaluations of services’ performance, to contribute to system improvement.161

Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council

In July 2016, the government established the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council. The council currently has 15 members with lived experience of family violence and who represent various diverse communities that were identified by the Royal Commission. Members are provided with financial and other supports such as training and professional coaching to support them in these roles.

Ms Rosie Batty AM was the inaugural chair of the council and held this role for three years until August 2019. Another eight of the original members had their tenures expire at the end of 2019. Following an expression of interest process, these positions were filled in early 2020 and the group continues to meet regularly. The Monitor attended a meeting of the group during the monitoring period. 

The Monitor has previously reported concerns received from council members that, although they are consulted about many reform activities, it is not always clear what actions are taken in response to their feedback. 

The Valuing the Lived Experience project, commissioned by Family Safety Victoria, reviewed the council’s work and made recommendations that focus on updating policies and procedures and broadening the opportunities for the council and other victim survivor groups to support work related to the family violence reform. The insights from this report can help to support the sector’s significant work to develop policies and practice for working with victim survivors. 

Family Safety Victoria has advised the Monitor that it has worked with the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council during 2020 on the council’s role and operations and that they will work together to develop engagement protocols to improve the effectiveness of the working relationship. Progressing this work to strengthen the council and its impact will make an important contribution to the reform.

Experts by experience — a consumer participation model for the family violence sector

A significant contribution to this field occurred during 2020 with the launch of the Experts by Experience framework. It has been developed independently by Domestic Violence Victoria to support its members in the specialist family violence sector, in partnership with the Melbourne Research Alliance to End Violence against Women and their Children at the University of Melbourne and their victim survivor advisory group, the Women and Children who have Experienced Abuse and Violence: Advisors and Researchers. The framework, depicted in Figure 8.1, supports services to provide opportunities for victim survivors to influence policy development, service planning and practice, and it includes 10 principles for best practice. The project also made recommendations for strengthening practice in engaging victim survivors based on international literature and consultations with victim survivor advocates, including Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council members. Implementation of this framework will make significant contributions to progressing the reform.

Figure 8.1: Experts by Experience framework

Source: Domestic Violence Victoria and The University of Melbourne. Available at: dvvic.org.au/members/experts-by-experience
Figure 8.1: Experts by Experience framework

Purpose

To enhance the ability of specialist family violence services to provide opportunities for survivor advocates to influence policy development, service planning and practice.

Principles for best practice

Evidence Base: What does the literature tell us with survivor advocates in service planning, improvement and policy development?

Consultation: What did victim survivors of family violence and practitioners tell us about their experiences and expectations?

Resources: What resources are available to support my organisation work with survivor advocates in policy, planning and practice?

Models: What are some of the ways in which my organisation could work with victim survivor advocates to influence policy, planning and practice?

Download Figure 8.1: Experts by Experience framework

Client Voice Framework for Community Services 

Another recent contribution to strengthening client voices has been the Department of Health and Human Services’ Client Voice Framework for Community Services, which aims to help staff and leaders in community services ‘to critically assess their current practice in relation to seeking, hearing and responding to the client voice’.162 The framework emphasises ‘the critical link between quality governance, client voice and outcomes’.163 Projects developed under the framework include the Voice of the Child Project, aimed at improving and embedding the department’s approach to effectively capture, listen to and respond to the voice of children and young people.

Given the large number of community service organisations that are part of the family violence service system (both specialist family violence services and more generalist services), this framework is highly relevant.164 The Monitor has been advised that the work to develop the Client Voice Framework informed Family Safety Victoria’s concurrent development of the Client Voice Process and the Client Partnership Strategy, specifically for The Orange Door (previously Support and Safety Hubs). In addition, a number of partner agencies and family violence services already have or are developing their own processes for gathering client feedback, and for engaging with their clients for the purposes of service improvement. 

The Orange Door client experience 

The Victorian Auditor-General’s 2020 review of The Orange Door165 found that Family Safety Victoria has not yet collected detailed information about client experiences. A paper-based client survey has been piloted and rolled out to all sites, but with only 4% of cases in 2018–19 involving physical visits, the capacity of a paper-based survey will be limited. Family Safety Victoria upgraded its phone system for all sites in 2020, with an added ability to administer a phone-based survey of client satisfaction. Due to service delivery changes in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with workers working remotely, it was not possible to administer the survey due to safety and security issues. It is anticipated that once the workforce can return to their respective worksites, the phone survey will be possible. Further options, including web-based survey delivery, are currently being considered.

The Auditor-General also noted that case file reviews would provide an opportunity to understand client experiences, including children’s experiences, and that only the Bayside site had conducted these. In response to this advice, Family Safety Victoria is developing a standard procedure and support tool to ensure regular, high-quality case reviews are completed at all The Orange Door sites. 

The Orange Door 2019 evaluation166 also attempted to understand client experiences but had significant difficulties engaging people in crisis and noted the lack of client voice in its evaluation as a significant limitation. Planning for the second stage of the evaluation, to begin in 2021, includes using the client voice as a critical input.

Implementation of the Client Partnership Strategy for The Orange Door completed in September 2019 and, as described in the Monitor’s previous report, has not progressed, with delays attributed to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Effective and sustainable mechanisms for understanding client perspectives, and ensuring these are used in service review and development, will be essential. 

Lived experience practitioners 

There have been some examples of trialling employment of ‘lived experience practitioners’ in several reform initiatives.

The 2018 evaluation of Family Safety Victoria’s 26 therapeutic intervention demonstration projects involved 107 client interviews, including 18 children. One of its aims was to look at sector capability in terms of ‘supporting the development of lived experience practitioners’.167 It noted only ‘a small number’ of projects included this work, and reported only one, as follows: 

One demonstration project, led by Drummond Street, had a particular focus on building lived experience workforces. This included a workforce that identified as LGBTIQ practitioners, women with disability, and women from [culturally diverse] backgrounds. The evaluation observed that clients spoke positively of the value of having a person who understood their experience from firsthand experience.168

The evaluation went on to describe the challenges that Drummond Street’s managers encountered with having lived experience workers on staff, and proposed a range of strategies required to support these practitioners in the future. It also made a recommendation that: ‘For services building a lived experience workforce, service models should ensure appropriate supports are in place for practitioners with a lived experience’.169

The Magistrates’ Court’s Family Violence Consultant role provides input across the court’s reform activities. The role provides practical advice from a victim survivor’s perspective of how people use the system and how service delivery can be improved. In September 2020, the Monitor met with the Family Violence Consultant, who was clear about the importance of such a role being embedded within an organisation to be able to truly help shape policy, processes and practices. The Family Violence Consultant also explained the importance of drawing on the experience of other victim survivors, as well as her own lived experience, skills and qualifications, to perform her role effectively. Ensuring that systems and processes allow lived experience practitioners to enact their roles flexibly is an important consideration for the future. 

A submission from Berry Street’s Y-Change team of young people with lived experience of family violence specifically highlighted the need for lived experience practitioners: 

In Victoria, there are many exciting initiatives that are working to ensure people with a lived experience become meaningful members of the community sector workforce. This has yet to take off in the same way within the family violence service system context. We need system navigators — young people who are trained up to become Peer Support workers in the family violence service system who can help support other young people doing it tough.170 

Client first approach 

The Monitor’s consultations with Victoria Legal Aid identified their progressive and comprehensive approach to including the voices of clients, which includes both victim survivors and perpetrators, into their work. In developing Victoria Legal Aid’s approach to providing legal assistance within the Specialist Family Violence Court model, they have engaged with clients by: 

  • conducting contextual observations at two Specialist Family Violence Court sites to explore clients’ actual experience of family violence legal services in a court setting
  • interviewing and discussing with victim survivors and perpetrators their experience before and during the court day, then developing 13 client stories and journey maps
  • including people with lived experience of family violence and the justice response in ideation workshops to discuss their legal practice vision for Specialist Family Violence Courts
  • convening one-on-one consultations with people with lived experience about the proposed initiatives

Victoria Legal Aid has articulated within this project a dedicated initiative to ‘provide more opportunities for people with lived experience to share their experiences and have a say in the way we design, deliver and evaluate [Specialist Family Violence Court] services in conjunction with the family violence service system’.171 Implementation of the Client First Approach developed out of this process will involve victim survivors at every level of the governance model, as shown in Figure 8.2. This work is at an early stage, but ongoing monitoring for its impacts and lessons will be of great value.

Governance model of Victoria Legal Aid’s Specialist Family Violence Court Client First Approach, demonstrating that six of the nine governance groups have people with lived experience of family violence as members. Source: Victoria Legal Aid (2020): Victoria Legal Aid’s Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC) Client First Approach

Looking forward 

Building on the positive work that has already been done to elevate the voices of victim survivors since the Royal Commission, the Monitor suggests that further focus is required on the ongoing collection of victim survivors’ current system experiences and feedback to ensure continuous improvement within the reform. Particular considerations to this end are as follows:

  • Collect stories of recent client experiences to inform ongoing service review and development for significant areas of reform such as The Orange Door, Specialist Family Violence Courts,172 the police response and adolescent family violence services.
  • Ensure ongoing engagement with victim survivors throughout the development and implementation of approaches so they can clearly see how their experiences and input have informed policy development and service delivery.
  • Explicitly and appropriately seek the voices of children and young people with experience of family violence as part of any broader mechanisms.
  • Victim survivors, including children and young people, should have a voice in any future monitoring approaches for the reform, and should be consulted about what form that takes.

References

161   State of Victoria (2014–2016): Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and Recommendations, Parl Paper No 132, Vol 6, Chapter 38.
162   Refer to : dhhs.vic.gov.au/publications/client-voice-framework-community-services.
163   Department of Health and Human Services (2019): Client Voice Framework for Community Services, p.5. Available at: dhhs.vic.gov.au/publications/client-voice-framework-community-services.
164   For more information about the Client Voice Framework visit: dhhs.vic.gov.au/publications/clientvoice-framework-community-services.
165   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).
166   PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Australia (2019): The Orange Door 2018 Evaluation, Evaluation Report, Prepared for Family Safety Victoria, May 2019. Available at: vic.gov.au/orangedoor-2018-evaluation (accessed 24 September 2020).
167   Ernst & Young (2018): Evaluation of Therapeutic Demonstration Projects for Victims/Survivors and Aboriginal Families Impacted by Family Violence, Final Report, December 2018, p. 101.
168   Ibid., p. 105.
169   Ibid., p. 16.
170   Berry Street Y-Change Initiative, submission 26, p. 4.
171   Victoria Legal Aid (2020): Victoria Legal Aid’s Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC) Client First Approach, August 2020, p. 1.
172   At the end of the monitoring period, Swinburne University had begun an evaluation of family violence reform at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. This will assess client experience to determine the effectiveness of Specialist Family Violence Courts in achieving their goals.

Reviewed 05 May 2021

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