Out of the shadows: what’s next in transforming the Victorian family violence sector?

Tuesday’s budget lock-up for the Victorian State budget revealed significant investment not only for direct family violence services but also for the inter-related services which work together to make women and children safer. In today’s blog, Tanya Corrie, of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, breaks down the numbers. Tanya is the Research & Policy Specialist for Financial Security and the acting Head of the Women’s Research, Advocacy & Policy (WRAP) Centre.

It’s clear that family violence is no longer seen as an individual issue and that if we are to ‘turn the corner’ on family violence, government, communities and business need to recognise their role, and respond accordingly and collaboratively.

In Victoria, the Royal Commission into Family Violence (the ‘Commission’) provides a blueprint as to how this could be achieved. The Victorian State Government moved swiftly in accepting the Commission’s 227 recommendations, and committed to their implementation.

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, along with the rest of the community sector, has been watching in anticipation as to the extent of this funding commitment: not just what this means for us as a provider of family violence services, but critically for the (too many) women and children impacted by family violence.

Things are looking up for women and girls in Victoria. Street art by Mr Shiz. 

Things are looking up for women and girls in Victoria. Street art by Mr Shiz. 

So it was with much trepidation, followed by relief, to hear that the Andrews’ government committed on Tuesday to $1.9 billion over the next four years to implement the Commission’s recommendations in the budget, and linked to the state government’s 10-year plan, revealed yesterday.  We applaud this significant investment, which includes $48 million for the roll-out of 19 safety hubs, including one in the Bayside-Peninsula region; $270 million to fund survivors’ counselling and case management support; $95 million for the development of family violence courts; and 415 specialist family violence police officers.

The continued funding for specialist financial counselling for family violence survivors, at $6 million over four years, is welcomed. It recognises the link between family violence and financial insecurity; and highlights the need to build financial stability for women and children to prevent and deal with family violence.

The commitment over three years of $5.9 million to implement the state’s Gender Equality Strategy is central to ensuring women’s equal participation in our communities so they can live safe and full lives.

Given that family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children, we are also really pleased to see an investment of $269 million to family violence refuges, including a $48 million investment in long term housing.  The investment in more advocacy programs to keep vulnerable people in housing is an important supplement to this housing investment, particularly for the women, girls and young people who access our housing support services.

The increase in funding to support 1200 additional families through services that support vulnerable children and their families; $81 million toward child and maternal health; $51 million to help teachers and principals in 346 disadvantaged schools; and $87 million to help prepare young Victorians for schools is also welcomed given the critical role of these services in supporting families and children experiencing a range of challenges.

Prevention is always better than cure, and the commitment to funding a family violence prevention agency is a notable contribution to a comprehensive response to women’s equality and safety.

The sector as a whole is enthused by this significant commitment to eliminating violence against women in Victoria. What is critical now is how the reform package will be rolled out and implemented. To that end, there is a funding commitment to set up an agency to co-ordinate these efforts. As with any transformational change this may be a difficult process and many of the initiatives are contingent on each other. The development of hubs, for example, works best if there are services that have the resources and capacity to work collaboratively. Hub models also work best as a ‘wrap-around’ model if data is available for practitioners and participants to make informed decisions, and so that program participants are not re-traumatised in having to tell their stories multiple times.

On the face of it, the family violence reforms have the real capacity to shake up a sector which has largely operated through women’s collective movements, and has only fairly recently been within the remit of government business. The way this transformation is managed will be critical. To date, the signs are promising that Victoria could be an example to other states - and beyond - in tackling family violence. Certainly we hope that the Federal budget revealed next week will follow suit and provide adequate funding for the network of services that are necessary to address violence against women.