I have been thinking a lot over the past week or so on the role our sector plays in helping keep women and children safe from family violence. In part this has been prompted by a series of media reports about women who have been violently murdered by their intimate partners. My heart breaks for these women and for their families and friends and I can’t help but ask a million questions about why the lives of these women (and their children) needed to end in such a tragic, violent way. I have also been catching up with members – some face to face and others virtually, and the impact and the prevalence of family violence as a risk factor in the families they are working with is ever present in these conversations. What they are doing and how they are responding of course depends on what sort of program they are delivering but the key message here is, as many say – family violence is not something impacting on small numbers of people in limited locations. It is rife – especially when we start talking about working with vulnerable and disadvantaged children, young people, adults and communities.
From the Australian Child Maltreatment Study we know that 39.6% of Australians experience exposure to domestic violence as children. Back in 2017 (pre-pandemic) our members delivering family law services reported that family violence was present in 60-80% of cases at the point of intake. For FRSA this confirms the need for more early intervention supports for children and families and for ongoing (and funded) family and domestic training for all our family and relationship services workers. Working with families experiencing or at risk of family violence is par for the course for our sector and the more our workforce is supported in this work, the more they can help to keep the families they work with safe.
Last Friday our Manager, Policy & Research, Robyn, and I gave evidence to the Senate Committee inquiring into the Family Law Amendment Bill. One of the principal objectives of these legislative amendments is to make the family law system safer for separating families. This is certainly something FRSA supports. But, as I explained to the Committee, to be truly effective, legislation must be supported by broader system change, including increased social and therapeutic supports.
I was therefore reassured to see that in the much-awaited First Action Plan under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, which was released on Wednesday alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan, inclusion of a number of Actions that speak directly to a range of social and therapeutic supports that the Australian, state and territory governments have committed to. Given the Senate Committee’s interest on Friday last week about family violence training – I also note that the First Action Plan also contains a direct action to increase and strengthen the capability of mainstream as well as specialist workforces. The Action Plan also notes the need for training and support for practitioners and first responders to maintain their own mental wellbeing while supporting victim-survivors. Looking after our essential workers in this field is vitally important if we are to ensure we are able and ready to support those in need.