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Safer Families Statement

June 05, 2018

This statement will highlight some of the significant achievements of the ACT Government and community over the past twelve months, and will provide a reminder of why we must continue on this path of greatly needed reform.

Domestic and family violence is a pervasive social problem, impacting individuals, families and indeed the entire community. 

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms that one in six women and one in 16 men have been subjected, since the age of 15 to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner.

The experience of violence is not a one-off incident for most women, with 54% of women who had experienced current partner violence, having experienced more than one violent incident.

Nationally, in 2014-15, on average, 8 women were hospitalised each day after being assaulted by their spouse or partner, compared with less than two men a day.  In this same time period, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence as non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Domestic and family violence is not limited to physical violence.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that since the age of 15 one in four women and one in six men have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner.

 

We understand that controlling and coercive behaviours can have devastating consequences for individuals and that the impacts can be long lasting.  The ending of a violent relationship does not automatically mean the effects of trauma cease.

In 2011 intimate partner violence contributed more burden of disease including illness, disability and premature death, than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.

In 2015-16 the financial cost of violence against women and their children in Australia was estimated at $22 billion.  There is no measure of the emotional cost.

The ACT Government’s Coordinator-General for Family Safety has been a driver for an interconnected, whole of government and community approach to implementing the Governments’ commitments to address domestic and family violence.  Crucial to this approach has been putting victims and survivors at the centre of policy and service design.

Utilising a co-design approach, the Coordinator-General and her team made significant progress during 2017-18 towards the establishment of the Family Safety Hub. 

The co-design commenced with gathering insights from 20 people affected by domestic and family violence and 50 frontline workers.  The insights were published in the Insights Report, honouring the contributions of service providers and families experiencing violence who had contributed.

The insights told us that a lot of people and communities who experience violence do not recognise it as violence.  In particular, power and control, is not recognised as violence by victims, perpetrators or the system.

We learnt that people are offered generic pathways that do not meet their needs or aspirations.  For example, some people are afraid to access services and they want a non-legal response that does not involve police or child protection.  The insights told us that having a gendered system excludes some people and communities; it does not allow for those who are gender fluid or identify differently.

Communities are seeking culturally competent and trauma informed services that work with the whole family.  The insights also told us that there is not enough focus on the children and the impact of the significant trauma they experience.

The insights gave us valuable information about how and where people seek help or support.  We learnt that trust is critical for seeking help in relation to domestic and family violence; people will disclose their experience of violence with individuals where they have an existing and trusting relationship.

A recent report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare confirmed what we learnt through the co-design for the Family Safety Hub about help seeking.  The AIHW reported that 5 in 10 women and 7 in 10 men who experienced violence from a current partner did not seek advice or support after an incident.  Of those who did seek support, women were most likely to seek that support from a family member or friend, followed by a health professional.

The insights gathered through the co-design for the Family Safety Hub, have prompted the Government to think differently about the role for a Hub in the ACT.  It is evident that we don’t need a new service with a shiny front door in order to improve access.  What we need is a broad range of systemic reforms requiring a new way of working.  The co-design highlighted that collaboration is needed to design and test solutions to systemic problems.  The insights also provide an evidence base for future reforms.

The Family Safety Hub will bring together community, government and private sector experts and people with a lived experience of violence to develop new solutions to challenges in the system.  A ‘try, test and learn’ approach will be used to test new ideas, acknowledging that good ideas don’t always work as well as expected in practice, and that adjustments may be required to achieve the best outcomes.

Under the leadership of the ACT Coordinator-General for Family Safety, work has commenced to bring about the changes we seek in the system.  The focus for the first challenge is women and families during pregnancy and early parenting.  This recognises that pregnancy and early parenting are periods of increased risk for exposure to domestic and family violence. 

Implementation will focus on building: a shared understanding across the service system so people get the right response wherever they seek help; building capability to integrate services for clients; and alternative pathways to safety that meet diverse needs.  Implementation of the Family Safety Hub will include a robust evaluation of both the process and outcomes.  It is anticipated the first phase will provide valuable learnings for the next and subsequent phases of the Family Safety Hub.

Implementation of the Family Safety Hub will be supported by the delivery of training to frontline workers across the health, education, community services and justice sectors.  A Frontline Worker Training Strategy will be implemented to build enduring core capability to expand on, rather than displace existing training.  To commence in 2018-19, the frontline worker training will equip workers to sensitively inquire about domestic and family violence and provide the skills needed to deliver basic support to reduce the impact of domestic and family violence across the community.  Training of frontline workers such as midwives and librarians, recognises the valuable role that ACT Government employees can play as a first responder for people who may not otherwise seek support.

During the past twelve months we have learnt more about the impacts of domestic and family violence upon children as a result of research published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and work undertaken by the Domestic Violence Prevention Council.

The AIHW reported that 68% of women surveyed, who had children in their care when they experienced violence from their previous partner said their children had seen or heard the violence.  It also reported that 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 9 boys experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15.

Children exposed to domestic, family and sexual violence can experience long term effects on their development and have increased risk of mental health issues, and behavioural and learning issues.  The Domestic Violence Prevention Council held an extraordinary meeting in April this year to further explore the impacts of domestic and family violence on children and young people.  This meeting was attended by Members of this Assembly, senior executives from across ACT government directorates and the community sector.

The Government will work with the Domestic Violence Prevention Council to respond to the recommendations from the Domestic Violence Prevention Council Extraordinary Meeting.  It is expected the recommendations will seek improvements to service and policy design for children and young people impacted by, or at risk of domestic and family violence.

The recent report by the AIHW told us that alcohol was involved in about 1 in 3 incidents of intimate partner violence, and 3 in 10 incidents of other family violence.  Whilst the relationship between alcohol use and domestic and family violence is complex, we have a clear mandate to address the issues together and with access to the best available evidence.

Significant progress has been made in the ACT towards building capacity in the alcohol and other drug sector to better respond to domestic and family violence.  Through funding from the Safer Families Package, the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association of the ACT, ATODA, developed a suite of Australian first tools to assess and build capacity among workers and organisations within the specialist alcohol and other drug sector.  Launched in the Legislative Assembly, in April 2018, the tools developed by ATODA are an important step in the ACT Government’s commitment to expand upon pathways to safety for those experiencing domestic and family violence.

A number of the commitments made by the ACT Government in 2016 have now been fully implemented.  An example of this is the introduction of the Family Violence Act 2016 which saw a broadening of the definition of family violence in the ACT to include the full range of coercive, controlling and abusive behaviours.  Having now been in operation for over twelve months, the Government is monitoring the application of the Family Violence Act 2016 to gauge whether it is achieving the changes that were intended.

I have described only a handful of the initiatives taking place across the ACT community to address domestic and family violence.  I am pleased to note that the community, including community groups, not-for-profit organisations through to the corporate sector have taken steps to address domestic and family violence.  I would like to acknowledge the contributions made by the community to improve the lives of people affected by domestic and family violence.

There have been significant gains in the last year. However, we are really only just getting started.  There is still much to be done to reduce the occurrence and impact of domestic and family violence.  Madam Speaker, the ACT Government remains committed to this essential area of reform and looks forward to continued strengthening of activity and partnerships over the coming years.

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