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The Royal Commission Into Family Violence: Implementation and Aftermath


This is a transcript of a panel from the Victorian Homelessness Conference 2023. It was originally published in the February 2024 edition of Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

Tania Farha, CEO Safe and Equal

Panel Members:
Wayne Merritt, CEO, Wayss
Vicky Vacondios, graduate member of the Peer Education Support Program at the Council to Homeless
Persons, Trainer and Assessor for The Diploma of Community Services
Livia La Rocca, General Manager of Safety and Resilience Services at Good Shepherd, Australia New Zealand

Tania Farha: Thank you. Hello everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. Safe and Equal is the peak body for specialist family violence services. Can I just start though by acknowledging that we are meeting on the lands of the Wurundjeri people. I acknowledge their Elders past and present, acknowledging of course, these lands were never ceded and always will be Aboriginal lands. I’d also like to welcome any Aboriginal colleagues who are with us today. It’s great to have as many people as we can from Aboriginal communities to talk about the different issues. We don’t have anybody from Aboriginal background on our panel today. But, as much as we can, we will try to include some of the additional barriers that we think are faced by different communities, particularly as we are talking about mainstream services here today. I also recognise victim-survivors who are here today, because it’s for them that we do all this work.

Special thanks to Vicky who is here to talk about her own experience. It’s never easy to do that. Okay.  We have got a really good panel today. I’ll start by introducing Vicky Vacondios.

Vicky is a powerful advocate for women and children who have experienced being without a home and domestic violence. Vicky is an accomplished public speaker and mentor. Through her role as a graduate member of the Peer Education Support Program at the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), she’s worked on a range of advisory committees, including the City of Melbourne’s Homelessness Advisory Committee. Vicky is a member of the project Advisory Group for Ask Izzy. She has been co-designing since 2014. She also teaches the Diploma of Community Services to students of varying backgrounds, including international students. Vicky has done so many things. But suffice to say, she has worked in the justice system, written her own book, and is doing many other things. So, she is pretty amazing.

We also have Wayne Merritt. Wayne is the CEO of Wayss family violence, homelessness, and housing services that cover south-east Melbourne. Wayne’s got about 25 years of experience in direct service delivery, leadership and has a continuous focus to do better. It is a pleasure to have you here, Wayne.

Last, but by no means least, we have Livia La Rocca. Livia is the General Manager of Safety and Resilience Services at Good Shepherd, Australia New Zealand. She’s a psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience as a therapeutic counsellor and senior manager in the community sector. Her role currently includes overseeing Good Shepherd’s family violence, family and youth services, including youth homelessness, and a range of services in New South Wales, including sexual assault counselling.

So, without any further ado, we might start with the panel. I’m looking forward to a really good discussion. So, let’s start with what the Royal Commission envisaged in relation to reforms for accommodation and housing for people experiencing family violence.

It said that people would be relocated less and placed in more permanent and stable housing in a faster and more seamless way. And I guess if we all remember the point in time the Royal Commission report was delivered in 2016, that probably things in the housing space have changed quite significantly since then. But I think we can all probably safely agree that this vision hasn’t been realised. People are staying longer in crisis accommodation and a whole range of things are ensuing as a result of that.

So, Livia, I might start with you. You have some interesting statistics. Maybe you can share.

Livia La Rocca: I do. Thank you, Tania. I too would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and hope that my voice can hold out for this session.

At Good Shepherd, we have been delivering Core and Cluster Refuge for two years now. So, that’s a really good timeframe to start to look at some of our data around where families have come from, how long they stay with us in refuge, and then where they move on to. It was great to look at some of that data in preparation for today. And given that refuge is supposed to be for six weeks or less, and the Royal Commission did make it clear that we are aiming to try to keep it below six weeks if we can, we need to think about this data in the context of what should be a six-week model or at least six to eight weeks.

What I can tell you is that 42 per cent of our refuge clients were accommodated for between 14 and 26 weeks,  and 16 per cent of our refuge clients were accommodated for between 26 and 52 weeks. So that’s 58 per cent who were accommodated for well over six to eight weeks, and I think that speaks volumes about throughput and the capacity to be able to move people on from Refuge. Seventy-eight per cent of our refuge clients were in emergency accommodation before they came to us. And I think that’s a huge piece of data because what it tells us is that families are leaving their homes, going into emergency accommodation before they come into Refuge. And then the next piece of data is about where do they go from there. What I can say is that we were not able to support any families at all to achieve and find long-term housing. So that means that from Refuge they’ve needed to go to another option some sort of transitional housing. There are at least four moves that we can track victims-survivors coming to our refuge, which speaks very much to the vision that hasn’t yet been realised as you said, Tania, around trying to minimise the number of moves and find stable long-term housing as quickly as we can.

Tania: Thanks, Livia. When you refer to emergency accommodation, we are essentially talking about motels and hotels.

Wayne, before I refer to Vicky and her personal experience of pretty much what Livia has just mentioned – is there anything you wanted to add from a service provider perspective?

Wayne: At Wayss, we are a homelessness, family violence and housing service provider in south eastern Melbourne. We have a unique situation where we get to see the whole spectrum of the support needed for individuals coming through family violence and homelessness. From our data, we can say that people are staying longer in refuges and hotels and having trouble getting into longer-term supported housing or longer-term homes within the region. There’s been a lack of investment in housing within our region for a long time.

Dandenong has a large number of social and affordable housing properties, which is fantastic. But the new growth corridors represent one of the big growth areas across Victoria and are well behind in terms of number of properties that are available. Add the layer of rental stress on top of that, and the increasing cost of living, and we have got people staying in hotels and motels for longer than they should be. Over the last 12 months, we have had specific projects looking at numbers of people in hotels how we can support them, and why they are stuck in the hotels. At any one time we have a large number of families in need of support. We can have up to 50 families, across both family violence and homelessness, stuck in hotels across our region. That’s because there are no exit points. We know that, with support, with access to housing, a lot of people in these hotels will be able to live a normal successful life. That is, as long as we can get them housed in safe homes.

Tania: Vicky, you’ve experienced a lot of what we are talking about today.

Vicky: All I could just think about after Wayne just spoke was: Wow, hang on, I’m trying to add up the numbers, and it’s between 12 to 16 years ago and it’s the same story. To me, that says a lot, and it’s like is this ever going to end? What do we need to do? What does the Government need to do? I suppose a lot of us here know. But I don’t know why we don’t see the needed action. But yes, I have experienced many different types of housing situations. I’ve actually lived in temporary accommodation. But when I first escaped from domestic violence, it was straight into hotel rooms.

And of course, back then, I wasn’t aware, the way I am now. I was very naïve when it came to the system, and I had no idea what was going on while sitting in a hotel room. There were a lot of people with complex issues, a lot of other women who had escaped from domestic violence but were also homeless. There were mental health issues, drug use so you can imagine what it was like. I had three children at the time, so basically you just can’t sleep. You’re sleeping with one eye open, and then also not knowing what’s happening. There was nobody there to assist the women, not just me, but other women, and tell them what the process was from here. You are basically put in a motel room and then it’s a waiting game. A lot of women go back to the perpetrator because they are in an unknown situation. When you are with the perpetrator, you’re in the know, even though you’re walking on eggshells. At least you know what’s coming and you know the behaviours. But when you’re living among strangers, whether they are men or women, it doesn’t matter it was very, very hard. And from there, that’s when you wait to get the call. You just wait on a call from a domestic violence service to say that you are going to go into a women’s refuge; that is, if there are any refuges available at the time, and there are spaces available. From there, you just live every day.

So I think I was one of the 14 per cent. I was there for 12 and a half weeks and that was the same for the three women’s refuges I stayed in.

Tania: It’s such an important point. Like the one about whether or not you make the choice to stay in an unsafe location or go back to violence. Many are choosing to go back home because at least there, they know what they’re facing, rather than being in the unknown… It’s an impossible choice that we are putting to people.

Vicky: That’s how it started for me in 2009. It was a very, very vicious cycle for me. The real anger I had led me to becoming a Consumer Advocate. I had so much anger and hatred towards the system. I was lucky enough to have support from CHP and my team leader because I couldn’t connect to many people due to my anger. But I turned that into a positive. My advocacy and consumer participation kept me sane because I was also in transitional housing. It was temporary accommodation in communal living that was living day-to-day, not having any stability, and I was placed amongst drug dealers, domestic violence victims, and lots of other things that were going on. That was my situation for four and a half years. When I started the advocacy role, that’s how I learned about the system, and I turned my experience into a positive. That’s what kept me sane during those years.

Wayne: One of the issues that we see is that people need to know how to navigate systems who to contact and what they are entitled to in those sorts of places. We have a service system: we have homelessness, we have family violence, and we have intersecting service systems. But unless you are a confident person that can help yourself to navigate some of those spaces, then you slip through the gaps and cycle through them until you find your voice.

Vicky: I’m a very strong believer and I didn’t have any addictions. That was a very big benefit for me. But even in saying that, there were times where I did have suicidal ideation and didn’t want to be alive, and I felt like a failure to my children.

Tania: We will talk a bit more about the system elements. I just wanted to bring in some of the information Shorna Moore (Melbourne City Mission) provided to me when she and I were preparing for the panel. Her points to me were:

In relation to young people, the issues have not changed much, because young victim-survivors have always had issues accessing housing, even when there were not the supply issues we face now. Young people with very limited, if any, rental histories and no money face a huge amount of discrimination in the private rental market. Landlords, generally, won’t lease to young people unless they are, and these are her words, ‘dodgy,’ or unsafe places like rooming houses. Young people are rarely provided social housing, given the amount of rent a housing provider can collect from a young person’s income doesn’t even cover the cost of operating their tenancy. These are systemic barriers to housing young people. The current affordability crisis means that there is only a sprinkle of properties that may be offered to them.

I think these are very pertinent points. That is, the system and its inaccessibility for young people. Even if we think about the system more broadly, as a result of the Royal Commission we can see that there are now more components. There are things now like the Orange Doors that are the access and intake points, and the triaging points, and there’s a whole range of other legal and regulatory reforms. But I think we probably all agree that these system components are yet to be integrated. There are specific access points for Aboriginal communities. The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) has started a whole range of those now, but these responses are not consistent across the system. And nor is this system coming together in the way I think the Royal Commission envisaged.

Wayne, you mentioned before the question of how people navigate the system? What would make it easier for them to do that? What do you think we need to do for that to happen?

Wayne: I think we need to have integrated service systems across mental health, drug and alcohol and other tertiary universal service systems. We need to have consistent first response services. We need services that are designed around the needs of individuals, not just around an end result of getting a roof over someone’s head. We need to have support. We need to have an intake assessment tree and shared data sets. There are a whole range of things. We all know what they are. We have gone through the Royal Commission process. Now we are at this endpoint. So, let’s have phase two of the Royal Commission and look at what we need to do that links the programs and services together so that they can provide appropriate responses for individuals.

Livia: I agree. What I would add is that there’s already been so much reform, that we haven’t stopped trying to move with the reforms. So, now is probably a time where we need to stabilise all the change and integrate some of the new initiatives because there has been a lot of change. And as Wayne said, I think it’s intake and assessment that we are doing well now. We are assessing in a more comprehensive way than we ever have, but at a service delivery level, the integration piece is yet to occur.

Tania: Shorna’s notes to me identified the same problem. She’s saying the system itself is not set up for young people. Her point is that, yes, we have got all of these things and the components like the Orange Doors that are hugely valuable, but we probably can’t expect teenagers to show up alone at the Orange Door access point and feel safe. So, we probably need places that have a dedicated response for young people so that they feel safe and where they can access the system in a way that is age-appropriate and suited to their needs. We need workers who have the capability to respond to young people. If young people are alone, it’s a very, very hard system to navigate and almost inaccessible. There are some examples of good work that are emerging, and there’s been a project funded by Family Safety Victoria that brings together Melbourne City Mission’s Front Yard and others. These are dedicated family violence case management responses designed for children and young people. But this is just one pilot, a mixture, for a whole range of needs.

We have a system that’s got huge demand pressures on it. I want to explore, with the panel, the impact of the demand on the system that we are seeing. Family violence impacts demand for homelessness services, both in terms of initial presentations, but also in terms of people exiting family violence services, because the family violence system itself can’t cope with the demand that’s being placed on it. Wayne has already mentioned getting better connection between homelessness and family violence services, and then, beyond that, the housing system, in order to be able to move people along.

Wayne, what things can we do better between family violence services and homelessness services to bring the pieces together?

Wayne: I would just like to comment on young people and children. The other overlaying piece that we need to look at is that the young people presenting to homelessness services and family violence services have experienced significant trauma in their lives. That’s why they are there. The service response for young people needs to be targeted and tailored around the individual, and needs-based on their experiences of disconnection from family and those sorts of issues. It’s a little bit different for adults, but there is still the need for interconnecting pieces between children, young people and adults. However, young people do need a specific response designed around their individual needs at a time which suits them, and when they are ready to address some of those pieces.

As I mentioned before, the integration of services is about how and why we do our work. We have current data systems that we are all prescribed to use through family violence and homelessness. This is a perfect opportunity to have a shared data set that goes between services so that people aren’t telling their story over and over again. So that people’s goals and actions are clear in terms of what they want to achieve and how we can help them achieve these things. We need to have specialist practitioners built into homelessness services around family violence. We have the ‘no wrong door system’ now, which has been rolled out, which is great. However, it is another layer of complexity that we need to add to our service system that’s already under-strain from the numbers of people coming through the door. So we are in a lucky situation where we have a homelessness, family violence, and housing access point together in the southern part of Melbourne.

Now we also have ‘no wrong door’ functioning throughout our access point, which is great. And we now have specific family violence resources onsite. But this doesn’t take away the fact that we have the Orange Door system, which is not suitable for all people. People are starting to bypass the Orange Door system and come straight to homeless services so they don’t have to go through the process of going through the Orange Door in the family violence system. And so, we are feeling that push of people they are moving with their feet, and they are coming to homelessness services. We have seen this the whole time, and this hasn’t changed with the opening up of the Orange Door. What it has done is give a really clear focus on family violence. But one of the things that has happened from the Family Violence Royal Commission is that homelessness is dropped out of some of the conversations. Now is the time that we need to pick it back up again and ensure that homelessness is at the forefront of these conversations, because this is the reason why people are becoming homeless through family violence. So it’s not family violence or homelessness, rather it’s individuals that we are talking about, and we need to have the service system designed around individuals.

Tania: Livia, you have anything you wanted to add?

Livia: Yes, I think Wayne touched on the importance of data and integrating our data, and I think that’s the only way we can get a true picture of what’s occurring while we have fragmented services and entry points and systems.

We lose the real story of people and what’s occurring in their lives. So that integration piece is important because it means we can get a full and comprehensive picture of prevalence, needs and of what’s occurring in people’s lives. So that would be great for us to be able to achieve.

Vicky: Okay. The number one priority, I think, is that we need housing. The government really needs to pull their finger out. Without housing we can’t address most of these things or any of these things really without stability. How are we supposed to even decrease or try to work towards ending domestic violence, and how are we supposed to help and assist youth, as well, escaping domestic violence or even be able to help educate them on what is going on in their lives and make them aware and how serious it is, without housing. Without housing, it’s a struggle for service workers. There’s such a very big turnover. Even for me, I’m a trainer and assessor, but if you ask me to go and work on the ground level of an organisation, I would say no. You could offer me so much money and I would still say no. Why? Because there’s no housing. I personally don’t feel like I can help somebody unless there is stability with housing. Once there is stability, then we can work on all the other complex issues.

Tania: It’s such a critical point.

Wayne: I was just going to say on housing; yes, I agree, there is no housing. There’s a lot of conversation and a lot of ideas coming out, and there are dollars that we have heard have been allocated to building more housing. But it’s that parallel process we need to build houses now and we need to build thousands and thousands in the next 10 years. But what are we going to do in the meantime, while we have got people coming through our doors who are living in hotels and motels, living in unsafe options while we wait to build these properties? So, we need to have a parallel process that looks at how we can quickly get some housing on the ground so that we can house people, while in the long-term more homes are built.

Tania: Yes, I 100 per cent agree. I think there is no move to recovery without some permanent housing. If you think about impacts on children being moved around all the time, unstable schooling, a whole range of things. I know, Vicky, you’ve had some direct experience with this in transitional housing.

The other thing I want to talk about is the lack of safety around some of these options. You know, we have just been mentioning the time people are spending in hotels. I’ve heard stories of someone in a temporary accommodation for 50 weeks. That’s unacceptable for the safety of children and young people. I just wondered how would we start working with families in such a temporary setup?

Livia, what are your thoughts on these?

Livia: I wish I had the answer to that one really, but I think it does come back to the fact that motels are just not safe places. Vicky has shared this very clearly from her own experience, and we know that it’s not a safe place for children. We need to have Working with Children checks. We all need to go through processes to be able to keep children safe and provide safe places for them. Motels don’t. There is no way of controlling that environment and there is no safe space for children to play or interact with others. There is nowhere for them to study. They are incredibly isolated. So, there is no way that we can, on any level, talk about motels for children as an acceptable option. The crisis response model in family violence now is at least requiring services reach out to more motels and to go out and interact more at a local level. So that localised response now is stronger than it has been. I’m in no way suggesting that that makes motels acceptable as an option for children. There has been a recommendation made, that I particularly like, which is therapeutic day programs or programs to bring children and families out of motels and go elsewhere, maybe to a community centre or a space that provides them a little more relief for the day instead of being stuck in a motel. But these are still not acceptable options. They are just workarounds for a system that’s really not doing what it needs to do to keep children safe.

Tania: Shorna’s points about refuge are that, essentially, in her view, and I think we all agree, we shouldn’t be putting under 18s into hotels alone. But maybe instead of calling for more refuges for this group, we need more investment in rapid rehousing for young victims-survivors.

Wayne, do you have anything to add to that given you have worked in the youth space for a long time? That is, whether or not we don’t even put children in refuges, we just look for permanent housing solutions straight away?

Wayne: I 100 per cent agree. Anyway, young people under the age of 18 shouldn’t be in a hotel/motel by themselves. They need to be supported. They need to be guided. We can’t expect young people who have limited life experience and living skills to look after themselves in a hotel/motel. We need more investment in refuges. We need more investment in other type of programs besides Foyer programs. We need more Foyer-like programs that aren’t just focused on Education First but are preparing young people to step into those spaces. Not every young person is ready for education, nor do they want to, nor should they need to. We need to ensure that the housing that is set up is appropriate for the needs of young people and Foyer-like programs.

There are some great programs out there that showcase shorter to medium-term accommodation, 12 to 18 months-worth, for young people to be supported (and) to then move them on to that next pathway, which hopefully for all young people is shared accommodation, like most of us got to do when we were younger. We need to have aspirations that young people have normal pathways into adulthood and, to do that, we need to support them to be the best they can be and step into those pathways. And for those young people that this step into the pathway isn’t for them? Then we need to have appropriate longer-term housing and support for them, prepared at the time that they need it. And the support needs to be step-up, step-down because not everyone needs support for a long period of time. For some there needs to be just a little check-in and, for young people who don’t have that family connection, that check-in needs to be from a trusted person/organisation and is enough to keep them on that pathway to success.

Tania: I also want to think about the barriers for people from other communities. If we think about Aboriginal communities, people from different multicultural backgrounds, LGBTQI+, people with disabilities, for example. We know the barriers for people from these communities are amplified for a whole range of reasons. How do we make sure that, in addition to support for community-controlled organisations, we are able to support communities as they see fit, because they know their communities.

How do we in mainstream organisations support the specialist family violence and homelessness services? How do we help support those people who choose to use our services?

Livia: I think it’s a really good question, Tania. We have got so much to learn. What I would say is we are still learning as we go, with a lot still to learn. The Royal Commission required specialist family violence services to be Rainbow Tick accredited. I think that’s a good start. Good Shepherd is Rainbow Tick accredited and I have to say it was a great learning opportunity and we value it enormously. Again though, that’s just a start; it doesn’t provide all the answers and you never get there, so to speak. It’s just something that we continue to improve from. We have employed a senior cultural and Aboriginal cultural advisor. Again, it’s a start. I think we are still early in the piece around our learning. But one of the things that we are doing in our refuge, acknowledging that we have more than 30 per cent of our refuge clients who come from culturally diverse backgrounds, is that we are trying to introduce more of the nonverbal therapeutic approaches. We have art therapy. We have drumming. We have weaving. We have play therapy. So different opportunities and options that really cut across some of the language-based approaches that we found that really helpful.

We are also trying a new tool that’s called The Joint painting procedure. It’s not only an assessment tool, but it’s an intervention that a parent and child does together, and it’s a painting activity. So, it cuts across different cultures. They do the activity together, so a mother and her child do it together, which we also know helps them in their bonding. If there’s one thing that we also know about family violence is that it can disrupt the really important bond between a mother and her child. So, it’s an activity that they can do together nonverbally. We are just really trying to be a bit more creative in the way we deliver our services, but we have to refer to people with lived experience. We have to co-design what we do to make sure they are relevant, and we have to keep learning.

Tania: Yes, I agree. I’m in the specialist Family Violence Services sector. We are trying to do some work with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to build up a proper cultural safety approach so that people who access by any door can get the service that they need, wherever they need it. I agree, it’s a huge learning process, and there are things we should be learning from community-controlled organisations as well that we can bring over and support. And I think we need to think about making sure that, with whatever investment we are calling for in specialist services, we are also asking for prioritisation for different communities.

Wayne: I think there’s another piece. That is, when we are designing programs and services and calling for things, we need to ensure that ACCOs and key leaders are involved with the conversation from the very beginning, and not brought in once we have got an idea on what we want to do. We need to ensure that part of the initial piece of work is with key people in the community who know their communities best. In Dandenong we have got one of the most culturally diverse communities in Victoria. Our workforce needs to be reflective of the community, and so at Wayss we are very lucky with our workforce. But that in itself is a unique and really difficult thing to try and navigate as well, as are the numbers of different people coming through with different cultural needs. For example, we have had a Mum in a hotel for three and a half months who had ten children. That in itself was very difficult. How hard is it for somebody with 10 children? How hard is it hard to find anything for someone with 10 children? And so, they were in a hotel for three and a bit-months across multiple rooms with no real cooking facilities. This is what we need to put people into because there are no other options, and this is but one out of our many, many different cases.

There are families with extreme numbers of children. But that’s the community that we work within. It’s not one person with two children. It is large families made up of different needs, needs that we have to take into consideration in all the conversations that we are having, especially when it comes to designing and building new housing moving forward.

Vicky: I just wanted to say collaboration is the key.

For one, if we are not going to collaborate, we are not going to work together and work as a whole and in unity. We need to collaborate. Back in 2012, I got to run a pilot in a women’s refuge. I had art therapy as one of the programs, but I actually collaborated and worked together with external businesses within the community, but also internally with the organisation, the manager of the women’s refuge, the supervisors and the case managers and myself as a Programs Manager. We worked together and we allocated different activities for each of our roles. We had women where English was their second language who didn’t have their residency here. By working together and with the community as well and having these different programs involving the kids that worked amazingly together. I am still in contact with two of the women who got their permanent residency. They went from refuge to government housing, so they didn’t even get to go into transitional housing. It has had an amazing impact on their lives. But again, without that collaboration and working together, it does not work.

Tania: Yes, that’s a really good example. Thinking of the next steps we know the housing crisis is very much at the heart of all of this because we can’t move people through the system, and we need to focus quickly on permanent solutions.

So, what are some of our short-term solutions to more permanent housing? We had a bit of a discussion about this as a panel and, Wayne, you had some thoughts.

Wayne: Yes, there are lots of thoughts in the room. It’s about providing the opportunity to hear those thoughts and look at what we can do. I hear the conversation about motels being inappropriate. We learned though through COVID that serviced apartments and those sorts of places can be used successfully for people to be housed for a period of time. Over the last few years, we have learned a great deal. And yes, there are some hotels and motels that are inappropriate. Absolutely. We don’t know who’s going into them. We don’t know how they are being referred, or any of their backgrounds. But we also know you can house people in some of those sorts of places as long as they have got the appropriate facilities people need and the supports in place. I think there are some options to look at; serviced apartments, for example, and how they can be used to house people for a period of time while we look for longer-term houses. I think there’s also the use of prefabricated buildings. There are also demountables. There’s a whole range of things that we can look at. There are also lifestyle villages designed for people over the age of 55. They are quick builds, they are quick fixes, and it’s a solution to a problem for a group of people for a period of time while longer-term housing is built.

So I think we need to think a bit wider and not just look at the traditional. We need a house built of bricks that’s going to last 35 years in this area, but I think we need to look at how we can do things differently and quickly. And yes, the life cycle of those properties might be a lot less, but we can house people safely and so the long-term impacts on their lives, their experiences, and on children’s lives, is made better.

Tania: Yes, agreed. Shorna has a view on the allocations of housing that is coming out of some of the Federal Government investments. She says that it’s great that we see them for women and children, but we also need to see some dedicated investment for young people experiencing family violence as part of this overall investment because of the barriers for young people to access housing. Probably no one would disagree with that. My last question is: do we need to be more purposeful and think about things like safe-at-home options for people escaping family violence?

Livia: Yes. I think safe-at-home is a great initiative, in that there is funding. Government did provide additional funding for flexible support packages and there is flexible funding that can be put towards security upgrades that support families to remain in their home. And I don’t think any of us would disagree with the notion of families staying in their own home and not having to be the ones who leave when violence is perpetrated against them. But I think we also have to be realistic about that part of why we have a crisis in motels and refuges, because the only way to keep many families safe is to move them. We have to be realistic in that you can put security upgrades into homes but, for some families, the fact that their address is known to the person who uses violence means that they are not going to necessarily respect those security upgrades in the same way that they don’t respect intervention orders either. I think there’s a whole piece around accountability for people who use violence and I think we still have so much more to do in that space. You know, we could be using GPS monitoring. I know that’s a bit controversial, but I think it has a place, in that, if someone does have tracking or monitoring and they are within a certain radius of the home, at least there is an alert much earlier than when they have already broken in and perpetrated the violence. The challenge here, of course, is that there can lead to a false sense of security, and we have got to be careful about that because it won’t necessarily protect everybody. So good risk assessments and safety planning are part of it. I think perpetrator accountability is something that we should always still keep in our minds around doing more.

Tania: Would that have worked for you, Vicky?

Vicky: Actually, I was reflecting and thinking about this. I think you’re definitely right of how intervention orders always get broken. I experienced that. On the one hand, yes, it would have worked for me because, when I look back on it, the services that I was going through put more fear in me than I should have had, if that makes sense. They made a very big deal about the possibility of violence. And yes, of course domestic violence is a very big deal, but in my situation back then, like I said, I was uneducated. I had no idea. I was naïve. I listened to the services because, to me, those support workers were ‘the professionals.’ But now when I look back on it, I could have stayed in my home. I could have put in more security cameras. I could have had security doors. If I had had all of that, I don’t think I would have even ended up being in the system and nearly eaten up by it and being stuck in that vicious cycle for so many, many years. And my children wouldn’t have had to experience what they did. So, there was more fear put into my situation and it was basically one perpetrator… a perpetrator is exactly the same as every single other perpetrator; they are dangerous and they can kill you. Yes, he did do bad things but was still unique just like your clients. They might be experiencing the same thing, but it is a unique situation with each client and everything you do as a case manager or support worker is going to be different for each individual. I think that was lacking when you say, ‘Would that have helped?’ Yes, and if mine was treated as an individual case and not as domestic violence as a whole, comparing it to perpetrators and all the other stories, yes, it would have made a very big difference.

Tania: Yes, that is an interesting perspective. Some more options for survivors.

Vicky: Definitely. And also, to be told, and given more options. As a professional, like I make sure that I teach my students to be in the know especially when they are working with somebody and look at them as an individual and not look at them as somebody that’s just homeless or somebody that has a drug addiction or a mental health issue or as being just one thing. You look at that person as a unique person in a unique situation and totally focus on that and definitely it will make a very big difference because you will be able to give them more options because you’re focusing on them. As we know, it’s all about active listening. The focus that you will be giving that client, and their situation, will help you navigate, reflect and use your knowledge to be able to give different options. Not just try and pluck them out of anywhere or make them up because you don’t know. Get to know the different options within the whole of the community in which you are working.

Tania: Thanks for this. Wayne, do you have anything to add to that?

Wayne: Definitely, perpetrator accountability is number one, and how we achieve that.

To do that, however, there will need to be legislative reform. There needs to be a whole change in how we hold the perpetrators accountable for what they have done. But there’s also a layer in there of how we acknowledge that. A lot of perpetrators have also been victims of family violence themselves, and so there is work to be done around how we provide a response to perpetrators that is appropriate to what has happened to them …that recognises what has happened to them in the past and how we can move through context. Often, perpetrators have been victims themselves at some stage in their life, and we see this through the people who work with them all the time, when they talk about how, as a child, as a young person, this has happened to them in their family home. They’ve seen this. They’ve witnessed this. When we talked earlier about working with children and young people, this is why we need to work with children and young people so that we can stop this vicious cycle of people committing horrendous crimes against women and children and also women committing crimes against males as well. So how do we hold the perpetrators accountable? We need legislative reform. We need to look at this as a whole piece of work and we need to keep women and children at home if it’s safe to do so.

Tania: Shorna’s points to me are that this would also work for young people. She has worked with many teenagers and young people who told her that if dad, stepdad, or stepmum was removed earlier, they wouldn’t have found themselves homeless. But again, they needed the opportunity to speak with someone in order to have their story heard. But at the moment that’s not happening, where young people are seen as survivors in their own right.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

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