Family Violence and People with Disability-

This was the second session at the Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 18 May 2017.

Other sessions at this forum included:



Alison McDonald from Domestic Violence Victoria discussed the family violence reforms and how they impact on people with disability experiencing family violence. She also covered protections available for people with disability, and other information that advocates working with people with disabilities in vulnerable situations need to know.



References mentioned in  this session:


Support contact numbers:

  • 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
  • Safe Steps  – 1800 015 188





Now because of time, I would just like to quickly introduce Alison McDonald from Domestic Violence Victoria.  As you know the State Government has a number of really positive budget items for family violence.  I will just hand over to you.

Thanks Melissa.  Thanks for having me here today.  I’m Alison McDonald I’m the Policy and Program Manager at Domestic Violence Victoria, or DV Vic, and we’re the peak body for family violence services in Victoria.   Our members are all the frontline specialist family violence agencies in the state, the women’s refuges, outreach agencies, the counselling programs that might sit within bigger community services and community health agencies.  We’ve got about 90 or so members in those categories.

We also work really closely with Women With Disability Victoria.  We’re a member of theirs and they are a member of ours and we’ve had a long history of collaboration on various different law reforms and policy campaigns.

Today I thought I’ve got the best part of an hour to speak to you and there will be time for questions too.  I was going to just in terms of framing my conversation, do a bit of sort of Family Violence 101.  What is family violence, who does it affect, what does it mean in Victorian law and then talk a little about family violence in gender as well.  Then I’ll talk you through the Royal Commission into family violence.  I will talk a little bit about some of the general recommendations, what we call the big-ticket items that are coming out of that.  Then we can have a look more closely in particular at what the Royal Commission found about the interaction of family violence and disability.  Then I thought we could go through the most pertinent recommendations and I can give you a little bit of a background to them and update on where they’re up to as well.

So I don’t forget, I’ve also brought a bunch of resources along that I’ve left on the front desk for you, so some of you may have picked them up.  At the end I’ll kind of talk about what they are and what they can do.

What is family violence?  Family violence includes violent or threatening behaviour or any behaviour that coerces or controls a family member or causes that family member to be fearful.  In Victoria we work to a common definition of family violence, which is legislated under the Family Violence Protection Act of 2008.  There is quite a lot in that Act about the meaning of family member.  It’s quite broad in the Act.  It covers both biological relationships, relationships from marriage, de-facto partnerships or interpersonal relationships.  It also covers children who regularly reside with a person or who have previously done so like stepchildren, for example, or foster children.  It covers current and former relationships.

Under the Act, an intimate relationship can exist regardless whether the relationship has an involved sexual relationship and regardless of the sex or gender identity of the people in that relationship.  People living in the same house or people living in the same residential facility and people reliant on care can also be covered in the Act.

The Act expands the definition of family member to include a person whom the victim regards, or has regarded, in the past as being like a family member.  So if it was reasonable for the victim to hold that view given the circumstances of the relationship is how it’s worded in the Act.  For example, this does cover the carer of the person with the disability if the person regards the carer as a family member.  It can also include relationships between residents in aged care or disability accommodation where there are social or emotional ties between them.

Just a word on family violence and gender.  We know that family violence is overwhelmingly a gendered issue.  Women and their children are mostly the victim survivors of family violence and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.  We know this from all the available data.  One example is that three quarters of victims in family violence incidents attended by police in Victoria, are women and over three quarters of perpetrators reported by police are male.

We know from international evidence that the major cause of family violence is inequality between women and men.  That’s the unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities.  We know that stereotypical ideas about the roles of women and men in society and the way that they should behave fosters the environment in which violence against women continues to flourish and to occur.  For example, an individual heterosexual relationship, this inequality can play out in the belief that a man’s entitled to exercise power or control over his partner and children.  Where individuals condone tolerate or excuse violence against women and where they don’t consider women and men are equal or see them as having set roles of characteristics, that’s when we see, they’re the conditions that allow violence against women to flourish.

But gender equality is also itself influenced by other forms of inequality such as race, disability, socio economic status, geography and the impacts of colonisation for Aboriginal people for example.   We know, for example, that women with disability experience family violence in a range of ways however those issues about the abuse and power and control commonly underpin it.

The Act also talks about types of family violence.  We know that family violence doesn’t take the form of a single incident.  It’s ongoing behaviour that gradually undermines a victim’s confidence and their ability to leave the violent person.  The severity and frequency of family violence often can escalate over time.  Family violence usually takes many forms, none of which are mutually exclusive.  While physical violence might be the most visible and easily recognisable form of family violence, others such as sexual, emotional, social, spiritual and economic abuse can be equally as harmful.

Some examples of the kinds of behaviours that the Family Violence Protection Act spell out are things like isolating a victim from family and friends, controlling access to money, diminishing peoples self-esteem, preventing them from practising their religious beliefs, intimidating them, threatening them.  It’s extremely common in Australia.   For people with disabilities often the very highly dependent nature of their relationship with their carers means that they can experience quite unique forms of family violence.  In addition to the more common forms, we know that physical violence can manifest in things like the withholding of food, water, medication or support services, misusing medication as a restraint, using physical restraints or withholding disability related equipment for example.

Sexual violence can manifest in things like inappropriate touching during care giving, controlling reproductive processes, demand for sexual activities.  Emotional violence such as verbal abuse for example, can also include forced isolation, things like denying or trivialising ones disability, humiliation, threats of violence, threats of institutionalisation or the withdrawal of care.  Threats to hurt guide dogs or pets or companion pets is quite common too.  And we know about how financial violence is perpetrated, things like stealing, taking control of money, taking control of investments, refusing to pay for medication or disability related equipment for example.

We know that particular forms of cohesion and manipulation that result from existing hierarchies between people with disability and people without disability can manifest in abusive relationships.

On to the Royal Commission itself, after the Andrews Government came in in late 2014, they announced a Royal Commission into family violence, which commenced early the following year.  It’s terms of reference were extremely broad.  It was asked to look at all parts of the family violence system and it had a very broad remit from primary prevention of family violence through to early intervention, crisis response through to longer-term recovery.  It was also asked to look at impact of family violence on a really broad range of the Victorian population and specifically there was a special terms of reference that required the Royal Commission to look into the impact and issues around family violence for people with disability and complex needs.

We think the Royal Commission had a very strong focus on issues of disability.  It received hundreds of submissions and held 25 days of hearings.  There was I think it was one day that was exclusively dedicated to hearings on disability and the witnesses that appeared were Office of the Public Advocate, Women with Disabilities, people from the DHS clients outcomes teams.  Outside of the hearings they held a specific focus group on women with disabilities and they also heard from a witness called Melissa Brown.  I put her up there because we will come to her testimony later on.  Her evidence to the Royal Commission really exemplified on a lot of issues and had a very profound effect on the Commissioners.

I didn’t put on the dot points there was another whole day focused on mental health, which had a large overlay on issues with disability as well.

In terms of the Royal Commission’s findings on disability, overall it released, it had 227 recommendations, which strongly recognised the essential and central role of specialist family violence and sexual assault services.  Disability was specifically named in 17 recommendations and another four were extremely relevant so they had to do with access and inclusion for example.

We will come to those later on in my presentation.  There was also a note there to say that the Royal Commission’s focus was limited to family violence exclusively so it didn’t look at violence against,  with people with disabilities in residential settings where it was non-family violence.  But because there was the concurrent Victorian Ombudsman enquiry into how allegations of abuse in the disability sector are reported and investigated they did draw a lot from the Ombudsman report in their findings and making their recommendations as well.

The Victorian Governments response to when the Royal Commission reported in April 2016, March 2016, they committed to full implementation of the 227 recommendations and committed to roll out over the next decade.  Soon after the Royal Commission reported we had the state budget and they allocated $572 million to the first couple of years of the implementation of those recommendations, which was pretty extraordinary and was only surpassed by this year’s budget, which saw $1.9 billion allocated to the roll out of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, which is a fairly extraordinary budget.

In order to do all this they’ve released a number of different plans.  There’s a 10-year plan for – whose name I have forgotten which isn’t helpful.  10 year plan for implementation and under that there are three year rolling action plans the first of which was just launched a couple of weeks ago.  There’s also a separate and dedicated primary prevention plan and a gender equality strategy for Victoria, all of which have very strong overlaps and interactions.

I’ve just put that URL up there because it’s quite useful to find a lot of that documentation if you’re interested.  The other thing that is on that website  you can actually go on and look at each and every recommendation and click on the number of the recommendation and there’s a brief report there on where it’s implementation is up to, whether it’s commenced, where it’s up to if it’s in progress and if it’s been finalised.  It’s actually really, really useful if you’re interested.

With the Royal Commission’s recommendations there’s a theme throughout them that picks up on their terms of reference to respond to the needs to Victoria’s diverse communities.  Across quite a few of the recommendations they’ve looked at embedding, understanding, engagement and responsiveness to Victoria’s diverse communities.  They have specifically established what’s called a Diverse Communities and Intersectional Working Group.  That working group is really looking at the implementation of a whole suite of recommendations and how they are meeting the needs of particularly groups like people with disabilities, culturally linguistically diverse communities, Aboriginal communities, people living in rural and regional areas, for example.

Quite a number of the recommendations are specifically around and I will come back to them, around training and workforce development in order to improve the systems response to diverse communities.

On this slide I’ve just got a number.  This is by no means the full suite of recommendations but these are some of the really big-ticket items that I thought I would talk through quickly.  I’ve mentioned the primary and prevention strategy so that’s again a 10 year strategy that was just recently launched that looks at how as a community we can affect the conditions that give rise to violence against women.  We know that violence against women as I mentioned before is rooted in gender inequality so how can we stop violence from occurring in the future by affecting the way we understand the relationships between women and men in our society.

The primary prevention strategy is doing things like being responsible for the roll out of the relationships, respectful relationships education in Victorian schools, it’s happening at the moment.  It’s doing things like supporting workplaces to provide support for their employees much better both through industrial mechanisms but as well as policies and procedures that can support people who are employed who might be experiencing family violence.  It’s also looking at particular prevention and engagement strategies for the Aboriginal communities in Victoria and a suite of other initiatives that will be rolled out over the next 10 years.

I’ve put a dot point up there about information sharing because this is one of the really big foundational reforms that’s going to enable a lot of the other reforms to be implemented.  There’s currently a bill sitting I think it’s at the lower house and going up to the upper house next week, maybe the week after that will create a new information sharing regime for Victoria.  It’s about how organisations that work with people experiencing family violence share information between each other.  What it’s going to do is once the law has passed the Minister responsible, the special Minister of the State, Gavin Jennings will be able to prescribe by regulation the groups of organisations that will be part of this information-sharing regime.  So we don’t yet know who’s in and whose out of that regime that’s all yet to be determined but the information sharing legislation will enable that to happen over the next year.

The other thing that’s related to information sharing is the redevelopment of what we call our common risk assessment framework.  This was something that was put in place about 10 years ago in Victoria, maybe a bit less.  It’s commonly known as the CRAF common risk assessment framework.  It’s a framework by which a whole range of different professional groups including specialist family violence but also police, courts, child protection, a range of people can use common risk indicators to understand the levels and prevalence of risk when they’re working with people experiencing family violence.

The Royal Commission found that its implementation over the last decade or so has been patchy at best so the first recommendation it made which I will come to later is about the review and redevelopment of that framework.  Again, it will under the information sharing laws, the organisations will now be prescribed by law, so mandated to use it.  That will mean that you’ll have to align your own screening and risk assessment tools with the common family violence risk assessment framework.

Another of the big ticket items that a lot of people are talking about are the establishment of 17 support and safety hubs across the state.  These are effectively new entry points to the family violence what’s currently the Child First System and services for perpetrators of family violence to bring the risk assessment triage and referral into the one place.  So one of the things that the Royal Commission found is that we’ve got a very patchy approach where referrals at the moment that might relate to each member of the same family currently go off in multiple different directions and the agencies that receive those referrals don’t necessarily talk to each other and they don’t necessarily get access to the same information.

What the establishment of the hubs will do will mean that all that information will come to the one point.  You’ll have a multidisciplinary team sitting there who are able to kind of bring their particular professional perspectives to bare and they’ll be able to triage and make decisions with access to much much more information.  There will also be the establishment of what’s been called a Central Information Point and that will enable the bringing together of all the data that Victorian Government and agencies might have on say a particular perpetrator of violence and enable a much much better informed risk assessment and triaging of that family’s case.

The support and safety hubs are slated for development from the end of this year through to I think the last are due in about late 2020.  They’ll be a phased roll out region by region.

Another really, really big area of focus in the Royal Commission is on workforce development and industry planning.  When I first read through the seven volumes of the Royal Commission report my initial response was who is going to do all this work.  There is huge workforce development implications.  There’s a lot of focus at the moment on the long term industry planning.  By the end of this year Victorian Government is going to develop an industry plan.  In order to do that they’ve actually got a workforce census that’s out in the field at the moment and I hope that through VCOSS that you have all been made aware of it.  It’s still open till Friday and disability sector workers are certainly in view for it.  If you haven’t had a chance to participate in that survey I would really encourage you to and please forgive me using this opportunity to spruik it.

The other very strong area of focus for the Royal Commission is on what we call perpetrator accountability.  We know that over previous decades of developing family violence services and responses in a very resource constrained environment the focus has tended to be and necessarily so on supporting victim survivors of family violence.  We knew that we needed to put resources into ensuring the safety and security of women and children in particular when they experience family violence.  Historically most of the service system has kind of evolved around meeting the needs.  The accommodation, the therapeutic, the really broad range of needs of people who experience family violence.

What the Royal Commission have said in doing that it’s had the perverse impact of making the people who are using family violence predominately men in relationships a bit invisible.  It means that we’ve got systems that may all hold a piece of the picture about a perpetrators behaviour and his activities and his attitudes whereas we’ve never developed the wherewithal for each of those professionals and those organisations to share that information.

The Royal Commission, the intention of a lot of the recommendations is to bring the perpetrator much more into view.  So a lot of its recommendations are kind of tilted towards that end.  At the same time they found that in Victoria we’ve tended to put all of our eggs in the “men’s behaviour change” basket to the exclusion of other programs for working with perpetrators.  So men’s behaviour change programs are group programs that work with certain men who are willing and able to confront and challenge their own attitudes and behaviours.

They can be extremely effective but we’ve tended to over rely on these programs and haven’t developed other ways of responding.  To that end, the Royal Commission recommended the establishment of an expert panel on perpetrator interventions and they’re doing a lot of work to kind of trial and test how these interventions might work because there’s a real dearth of evidence about it from Australia and international in fact.

Just quickly to that end there are a whole range of recommendations that relate to child protection practice and particular how child protection engages with men in families who might be using violence.  There are recommendations that relate to training and practice guidance for child protection workers in engaging with fathers much much more than they currently do.

Under last year’s budget there was about $150 million put into developing programs, housing and homelessness programs and there was the establishment of the Ministerial Family Violence Housing Assistance Task Force.  Under that there has been a trial of a kind of continuum of responses from the crisis end right through to long term social housing.

There are a whole suite of recommendations that, of course, relate to police and police practice.  A number of recommendations that relate to the police standing orders and how they manage the investigation of family violence.  But also things like training and professional development as well as things like career progression for police who want to specialise in responding to family violence and leadership in the organisation as well.

A number of recommendations as well about the Magistrates Courts, which I will come back to later, both in terms of legal and administrative processes when dealing with family violence intervention order matters.  And a number of recommendations related to the physical space of Magistrates Courts as well which includes disability access.

There’s about maybe 14 recommendations that sit outside the Victorian jurisdiction that require the Victorian Government to work through COAG, to get the Commonwealth to act on a number of issues.  I will come back to a couple of those as well because of course I think there are a couple of recommendations that relate specifically to the implementation of the NDIS.

The other thing just to note is that there was a victim survivor advisory council established last year and it is chaired by Rosie Batty.  It includes disability advocates on it, and that group provides advice to the Victorian Government on the roll out of all the recommendations from the perspective of people with lived experience.

In terms of Royal Commission findings on disability in particular over the next few slides I’ve summarised the themes the Royal Commission found which largely confirm the evidence bases that we currently understand.  Despite the lack of data evidence before the Commission was women with disability experience all kind of violence at higher rates than women who do not have disabilities and this violence can be more severe and last longer than for other women.

The Commission was told that women with disabilities experience many of the same kinds of family violence as women without disabilities but then there is also as I was talking about before there are those unique ways that violence may be experienced in relationships particularly between carers and people with disabilities.

The Royal Commission found that women with intellectual disabilities are at extremely high risk of experiencing sexual assault, in particular compared with other women with disabilities.  There’s also a small bit of discussion in the Royal Commission report about acquired brain injury both where ABIs may be a result of ones experience of family violence, but there’s also a little bit of discussion but I think in particular the Office of the Public Advocate raised with the Royal Commission about the correlation between perpetrators who have an ABI and the perpetration of family violence as well.

The Royal Commission found that family violence against people with disabilities can occur in a range of settings.  It may be within their own home, may be that they live with family members or in residential facilities so supported accommodation, day care services, aged care services, boarding houses and so on.  People with disabilities who live in supported accommodation and may live with residents for extended periods of time in a home like environment can come to regard each other as family.  So in that circumstance that’s where the Family Violence Protection Act can come into play where people may have family-like relationships.

While the Royal Commission found that the most common form of violence against women with disabilities is intimate partner violence, it’s much more likely for women with disabilities are more likely to have – for perpetrators to be other people other than intimate partners as well.  For example, personal carers, support staff, medical transport staff, etc.  Again this is where the Royal Commission drew heavily on the concurrent review of the Ombudsman as well.   The final point was the one I mentioned before about the correlation between perpetration of family violence and acquired brain injury.

One of the really strong findings of the Royal Commission, which I think links to Llewelyn’s presentation before, is the lack of systemic approach to data collection on the prevalence of family violence in people with disability.  We know there is no reliable data national data on gender and disability and the ABS.  You might be able to correct me, I think the ABS has no standard collection regarding violence and people with disabilities but I think they maybe might be developing something.  I meant to look that up.

One of the really strong findings that the Royal Commission heard was the difficulties for people with disabilities in speaking up about family violence.  Things like fear of retribution, loss of support can really prevent people with disability from reporting family violence.  That can really be compounded if their perpetrator is a carer or someone whom they’re dependant on.  We know for example that it can be the choice between enduring the violence or losing one’s carer and in the next couple of slides I’ll come to Melissa Brown’s testimony because that really drew that issue out.

The Royal Commission pointed to a bigger issue with a lack of training and what can be a kind of culture of acceptance of abuse particularly in residential accommodation and talked about the kind of systemic need for training.  When I come to going through the recommendations, you will see that’s a strong theme in there.  Another strong theme is that people with disabilities might not report family violence because they don’t think they will be believed.  They discussed how they may be subject to negative stereotypes about disabilities and that can really contribute to a barrier towards reporting.

Other issues are, so there was a section of discussion on access to the specialist family violence system and both in terms of physical access and access in terms of the approach that specialist family violence services take.  So there’s recommendations that go to that.  As well there was a strong focus on the lack of accessible accommodation particularly in the family violence refuge sector.  Again, I’ll talk about that when I come to the recommendations.

Issues of course that we know about in terms of police response, police understanding of the issues that are specific to people with disabilities and their experience of family violence, trouble that police might have with identifying those issues are communication barriers and so forth.

Also they looked at kind of systemic issues with the court system as well both in terms of physical access to the court system but also issues like accessible forms of giving evidence, access to forms and templates those kinds of things as well.

I just wanted to point to Melissa Browns and I should note that’s a pseudonym statement because it did have a really profound effect on how the Commissioners considered the issues and the recommendations that they made.  Maybe I will just read out the statements.

In her statement she said, “Maybe if there were better disability services while we were together I would’ve felt more confident to leave earlier.  I was regularly told we can’t provide that your husband can do it.  That puts a lot of pressure on any relationship.  Our relationship became one of invalid and carer.

There’s a lot of stigma involved with the kind of violence that was happening especially with the sexual assault.  Not many people understand it.  A friend asked whether it was sex games gone wrong.  Others blamed me for Henry’s actions, you’ve been in hospital, you’ve got a mental health problem or you’ve pushed him to do this.  It was almost like it was okay because I suffer with mental illness.”

She also went on to say, “The fact that we were both disabled also presented issues.  Henry was constantly put on an inspiration pedestal there was a lot of pressure to live up to that in people’s eyes.  When Henry was removed from the house it took eight weeks to get something as basic as someone to give me a shower.  They removed my carer but didn’t put anything in place to back that up.  I was struggling to look after my kids.  If I didn’t have my eldest son it would’ve been a lot worse but it’s not my son’s job to give me a shower, I didn’t want him to do that.  When he was removed they should’ve asked me what my physical needs were.  It’s taken 12 months but I now have a disability worker through DHS.”

I read that out because her statement had a lot of influence on the Commissioners and it brought out a lot of the systemic failures for women with disability who report family violence.

In the next section I’m just going to go through the recommendations themselves the most relevant ones.  Recommendation 1 is what I talked about earlier, which is about revising the risk assessment and risk management framework.  There’s a particular term of reference in there that the new redeveloped framework will need to reflect the needs of a diverse range of family violence victims and perpetrators, including older people people with disabilities, people from Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, culturally linguistically diverse and LGBTI groups as well.

This links to Recommendation 3, which is up there as well, which is when that framework is developed and that is being done between now and we think early next year.  The core competencies for risk identification assessment and management will need to, will be implemented across a really broad range of organisations and professional groups.  We don’t know exactly who they are but the Royal Commission recommended GPs, hospitals, mental health, drug and alcohol, child protection, aged care and disability services to align their roles and their standards of practice to the Family Violence Risk Assessment Framework.

Along with that in the budget that’s just been there’s about I think a $30 million allocation to support the workforce development and the roll out of that framework when it’s developed.  I think that’s going to be quite big news for the whole of the community sector in Victoria.

There are a suite of recommendations that relate to improving disability access.  Recommendation 140 is about the revision of standards for men’s behaviour change programs and the Royal Commission particularly drew out in its commentary that they need to be made accessible to people with disabilities, so perpetrators who have a disability as well.  That was a 12-month time frame and I understand that the revised standards are very close to being released but I haven’t seen them yet.

Recommendations 15 and 16 relate to accessibility of crisis accommodation.  That comes back to the issue that I was talking about before about lack of accessibility in Victoria’s family violence refuges.  What’s really good news from last year’s budget and then again this year’s budget is that all of the refuges in the state will be – there will be a phased process to their redevelopment and building and they will all become disability accessible.  They will be much much better purpose built buildings.

At the moment, a lot of the refuges are suburban three or four bedroom homes that raise a whole heap of complexities and challenges when you’re bringing in a number of different clients who might have different size families, who are all sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities for example.  We’re really, really pleased about this recommendation and the budget allocation to it because it means that while it doesn’t necessarily increase the overall quantum of refuge in crisis accommodation it will actually make what’s available much much better kind of experience for people who are there.  It will give them some privacy and dignity as well as the accessibility issues.

Recommendation 70 is about ensuring that all Magistrates headquarter courts provide disability access and that’s one with a longer-term time frame.  In this last budget there was I’ve forgotten the number, some number of millions of dollars put into I think the first five of those courts into upgrading the physical infrastructure there.  The recommendation also talks to the need for things like safe waiting rooms for people going through family violence intervention order hearings, access to remote witness facilities.  Also about the service provision that they receive at the court, more investment into applicant and respondent workers for example who can help people with safety planning and risk assessment in the actual courts.  That one there’s a lot more work to do but they made a good start with this last budget.

In terms of access Recommendation 142, which is about how the programs that sit under the primary prevention plan need to be as a base line suitable and accessible to a range of different diverse communities including people with disabilities in Victoria.

There’s some specific recommendations on workforce development.  139 is about training so Victorian Government funding for training for elder abuse for culturally and linguistically diverse education and for Women’s with Disability Victoria to provide training to equip the specialist family violence service providers,  as well as more generalist service providers to recognise and provide appropriate services to people with disabilities who experience family violence.  We’re really pleased about that one as well because there has never been a concerted education program in that area.

That recommendation also focuses on building partnerships and providing specialist advice to family violence service providers as well.  That one I think is in the process of being rolled out so I think there’s been some money allocated but the training programs haven’t quite commenced yet.

Recommendation 175, is specifically about the training for judicial officers on reasonable adjustments to the way that people with disabilities give evidence.  That comes back to the other recommendation about the court infrastructure.  I think that again, this is what I meant to look up.  The Judicial College of Victoria was set to publish its disability bench book.  Does anyone know if that was – I don’t know whether that has happened yet or not.  It can really help those judicial decision makers kind of understand the social context around issues both of disability and family violence.  I think there’s also the Judicial College is also looking at the implementation of the training component of that recommendation.

I’m nearly at the end.  There’s a couple of recommendations in particular about flexible disability packages.  Number 178 is about extending the eligibility of existing disability family violence crisis response packages.  If people don’t know about them they are disability packages that are available if you’re a client of a specialist family violence service.  They can be – so the recommendation was that if you’re eligible for services under the disability act you can access those packages, but they’ve now extended the eligibility of them.

At the same time, there was a very big increase in general family violence flexible support packages, which you can access through specialist family violence agencies.  They can be used on a really broad range of things typically for things like establishing housing, financial stability.  They can include sort of quite material supports things like technology support and it can be also be used for things like disability aids, equipment, medical or pharmaceutical costs as well.  Those packages have made a really really big difference to the sector this year.  We expect will continue to do so.

I meant to put this slide back with the workforce development one.  Recommendation 172 is about Victorian Government funding training in education for disability workers including residential workers, home and community care workers, interpreters and communication assistance and attendant carers to encourage identification and reporting family violence against people with disabilities.  That gets back to their commentary on issues with the lack of training.

The workforce development that can come through in some of the disability sector, when I looked up the progress of the implementation of that recommendation it’s very much tied into the roll out of the revised risk assessment and risk management framework.  They will look at how in the roll out of that framework they will implement training around how workers can identify, respond and identify family violence.  And that one has a two-year time frame.

Recommendation 173, specifically requires the Victorian Government to work with the Commonwealth to ensure that all disability service workers under the NDIS will have completed training in identifying family violence and responding to it.  I understand that the Victorian Government has formally raised that with the Commonwealth and I don’t think that there’s been a response to that.  DV Vic has been doing a bit of work with the NDIA as well to look at what that might look like.  That’s in progress but we can keep talking to DARU about that.

Finally, nearly at the end, there are some specific recommendations around improving data of course.  Number 170 was about the Victorian Government adopting consistent comprehensive approach to the collection of data from people with disabilities who experience or perpetrate family violence.  They’re looking at the development of a family violence data framework that will include things like incident reports made to DHHS by disability services and will provide consistent data definition standards and recording practices that will enable the collection of that family violence information.

That one is in train because it’s a two-year delivery on it.  That’s one very worth keeping an eye on I think.  Maybe we can keep talking to DARU again about the development of that framework.

174 is specifically about police capturing disability data in their family violence incident reports.  That’s actually one that hasn’t commenced and that’s because it’s quite a cumbersome thing for police to amend their standard forms.  They’re actually holding off the implementation of that recommendation until the risk assessment, risk management framework is determined because then they have to revamp the whole thing.  That’s the kind of official word on that recommendation.

Then 171 gets back to the at issue about there being a lot more research required to understand both the prevalence of acquired brain injury in family violence victim survivors and perpetrators of family violence as well.

That’s all I pretty much have to say.  One other thing I wanted to stress was about how people working within the disability sector can link in with the family violence sector.  In the future, you will all have support and safety hubs in your region and they will be your point for referral, for secondary consultation for information and advice.  But over the next four or five years as they get rolled out, we really encourage you to make connections with your local outreach agencies.

To that end I’ve put up a link to the, the fourth dot point there,  and I’ve got some little handout cards there.  The lookout is a useful website because it has a service directly there and it can help you get in touch with agencies in your area.  I’ve also put up the most common referral numbers there.  1800 RESPECT is a national online and telephone counselling service that can be really useful for both workers and clients alike.  People just need to sort of make decisions about the situations they’re in 1800 RESPECT can be really helpful.

Safe Steps is Victoria’s crisis service for family violence so that’s a really handy number to know.  But of course where there’s been criminal activity or emergency situations we always encourage you to call 000.  I’ve just put up a link to our colleagues at the Domestic Violence Resource Centre because on their website they’ve got some quite useful information that’s specific to – for clients who might be experiencing, who might have disability and be experiencing family violence as well.

I think I’ve probably gone over time Melissa.

Thank you so much Alison.  It’s great to see the disability specific parts of the Royal Commission recommendations and get a good idea of what’s going to happen in that space.  I think I will allow about five minutes for questions, anyone got any questions?

My name is Christian and I am from the Diverse and Disability Program.  We run Migrant Resource Centre.  You were talking about the fact that women with disability are more subject to violence compared to men.  I think that’s true, there is no doubt about that, but I think one of the big problem with the men is that they don’t report it.  There is not much support and a lot of the time because of the way society view men.  So they don’t feel comfortable to ask for help and report those situations.  So then there are more men who are abusing experience violence and they can’t seek help.

Another thing when it comes to prevention I think it’s a very important part.  We have to empower people with disability to speak up for themselves and to feel comfortable to report a situation.  With our program, we have developed a targeted program promoting awareness on family violence and abuse.

Another thing we always say to the people that we work with is not to be isolated, not to have, for example, only one person to support them or be their carer or have only family member or close person to support them.  But to always have a range of people to be involved in their everyday life, because when there is one person involved if that person is the perpetrator then it becomes much more difficult to get out of this situation.

Thanks Christian that’s a really good point about not becoming too isolated and having more than – having a range of supports around you.  On your earlier points I think that’s also really important and I didn’t speak to that.  One of the things the Royal Commission said very strongly was that because, and it gets back to what I was talking about with gender and family violence, but because the overwhelming demand in family violence relates to women and children’s experiences, again our service system has tended to put its focus into that area.

The Royal Commission said that that means that there are whole range of other ways that people experience family violence so we know that elder abuse is very common, we know that adolescents for example, who use violence against their parents is also very common.  We know that men’s experience of family violence can occur in a number of different types of relationships both in their experience of elder abuse or in same sex relationships, for example, or in heterosexual relationships.  Our service system hasn’t necessarily well catered to those other broader forms of family violence.

The point you raised is really important, because I think the Royal Commission challenges the services system and now the Victorian Government has resourced us appropriately to be able to expand the way that services are delivered so that people in particular groups and who can be in particularly marginalised groups don’t miss out on service delivery.

I think the issue that you raised also that links to that about the primary prevention of violence against men who experience family violence.  When we develop a service system that is much more responsive to those broader experiences of family violence, I think that we will, people will feel a lot more confident to be able to reach out for support.

Just one more thing.  When it comes to providing support and I’m talking about service provider there needs to be more support for people with special communication.    It’s very difficult for them on their own to be able to access, the service and support.

Absolutely, very good point.

Okay I think we’ve finally run out of – we have one more question and then we will stop.

Hi, I’m Sophia from the Office of the Public Advocate.  I actually have two questions I’m just going to ask them.  My first question is about the NDIS and the risk that that poses in the sense that we know there is a culture of minimising abuse that happens to people with with disabilities.  Do you think there is a risk that will be replicated in this NDIS environment where the standards are lower for disability workers in terms of qualifications?

My second question relates to resident on resident violence in disability accommodation.  We’re doing a bit of work on this and it wasn’t addressed explicitly in the Royal Commission like you said, no recommendations address that specific issue.  But do you think there is other avenues for advocacy in this kind of space?  Are there opportunities sorry for advocacy?

For advocacy in terms of residential?


Absolutely, because I think when it comes to looking at people with disabilities experience of violence it can be a bit of an arbitrary distinction between what’s family violence and what’s not family violence.  I didn’t discuss that here but there is some interesting commentary in the Royal Commission report about that.  The application of – because how people determine whether violence is being perpetrated in a family like relationship or not and as we saw that may well be in residential settings as well.

Yes, I think there’s absolutely scope and opportunity for more recommendations, for more advocacy on that.  I’d probably take the lead of your sector on how to go about that.

Your first question was about the NDIS.  Yes, I think it’s a risk and I think that’s something we’re really concerned about.  We have been talking to women with disability who also share that concern about standards for NDIS workers.  I have to say I’m not actually sure where that bit of work is up to.  I understand that the NDIA is looking at training on family violence and on abuse and neglect in general but I need to find out more about where that’s up to.

Okay, Alison has got all the links up here they’ll be available on our website after today.  Alison has also mentioned there is a number of resources out the front if you want more information you can get them from there.

Thank you very much Alison.

My pleasure, thanks.

Yes, we’ll break for lunch now and come back at 1.30 pm.




Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum

Date published:
Thu 18th May, 2017