Many of our services work either directly or indirectly with women, men and children impacted by family and domestic violence but not all those services attract government funding.
In July 2020, the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Council prepared a submission to the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’ Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence.
The Society’s response to those experiencing or at risk of family and domestic violence varies across the states and territories. This is due to the principles of subsidiarity which underpin our federated model and mean that the assistance provided reflects and is informed by local needs. However, the extent to which assistance is provided is also defined by the resources available.
One of the outcomes of the parliamentary inquiry is to inform what will follow the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, which has been in place from 2010 to 2022. While one of the purposes of the National Plan was to align the approach taken by governments to addressing family and domestic violence, much variation in policy and funding approaches remains across the states and territories.
The Commonwealth Government has largely focussed its efforts on funding agencies such as OurWatch to develop primary prevention tools and resources; 1800Respect to provide telephone counselling assistance, the e-safety Commissioner to address online abuse and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) to produce and disseminate research and evidence on addressing violence against women and their children.
Responsibility for funding direct service delivery has remained with state and territory governments.
There has also been a tendency for Commonwealth and state and territory governments to fund only specialised family violence agencies and support services. While these agencies and services are much needed, this approach fails to recognise and acknowledge the role and assistance provided by many mainstream services and charities, working either directly or indirectly with women, men and children impacted by family and domestic violence.
Consequently, much of the work done by the Society has been funded largely through its own resources or with state/ territory government funding and bequests. In some instances, the Society has also partnered with other non-government organisations to increase the assistance provided.
Even so, the Society assisted almost 4,800 people in 2019-20 through 23 refuges available to women and children experiencing or at risk of violence. Through these safe places, women are encouraged to develop individual support and safety plans. They have access to workshops on life skills, are provided with referrals to other services (such as counselling, health, legal and immigration services) and helped to find permanent housing and access to schools and other child-related services. Examples include Amelie House and Elsie Women’s Refuge (NSW), Manna House and Louise Lodge (Qld) Marian Community and Olive’s Place (VincentCare Vic), the Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre (SA) and the Young Parent’s Program (ACT).
The Society’s overall framework is to support people experiencing or at risk of family violence in the choices they make – whether that is to stay in a relationship or leave. Where possible, short and long-term accommodation, with long-term support, is provided.
The Society is conscious of the fact that these statistics are an underestimate of the extent of family and domestic violence experienced by those we assist. For instance, they do not include other housing options accessed by those in need, including through Amelie Housing, Vinnies Housing Qld and the Rapid Housing Family Violence program (VincentCare Vic). Further, family and domestic violence are often not disclosed as the reason for seeking assistance, even though this may be evident.
In New South Wales, much work has also occurred in developing and maintaining partnerships with other non-government organisations and state agencies to improve service coordination and referrals. Much work has also occurred in training staff and building their capacity to take a child-centred approach when responding to the needs of children in families experiencing family and domestic violence.
The Society’s submission notes that family violence cannot be addressed without addressing the significant gaps that currently exist at all stages of the housing continuum – from shelter/ crisis accommodation, through to transition accommodation, supported accommodation and longer-term community, social and affordable housing.
Service responses must also be adequately resourced so that they can be trauma-informed and childcentred in their approach.
Finally, a general, broad-brush community approach to addressing family violence means that those who are at greater risk of violence continue to fall through the cracks. A more targeted approach is needed to assist young women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women living in regional and remote communities, women living with disability, women experiencing financial hardship, pregnant women, women separating from their partners, women on temporary visas and older women.
The Society’s full submission is accessible here and on the website. ♦
Rose Beynon is National Director of Policy and Research, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council and Bushfire Liaison Officer.