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Impact of COVID-19

At the time of preparation of this report, metropolitan Melbourne has been subject to varying degrees of restrictions since March 2020. Prior to that, regional Victoria was seriously affected by the bushfires. This has had a significant impact on MARAM implementation, as it has on all parts of the service system. The COVID-19 pandemic naturally led to an urgent re-prioritisation of planned activities.

We know from national and international evidence that family violence risk and incidences of family violence increases during disasters. International and local experience demonstrates that measures introduced to limit the spread of coronavirus increase the risks perpetrators pose to victim survivors.[3] Monash University surveyed family violence practitioners across Victoria in April and May 2020. Almost 60 per cent of respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women; 50 per cent said the severity of violence had increased, and 42 per cent of respondents noted an increase in first-time family violence reporting.[4]

Evidence also suggests that recessions and unemployment, which have arisen from the pandemic, can have negative impacts on mental health, relationships and parenting, which are recognised risk factors for family violence.[5] Emerging research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women’s employment.

Early evidence related to job loss and the economic impacts of COVID-19 suggest that women are facing increased economic insecurity. Financial hardship coupled with more time spent at home due to social distancing and isolation measures is placing individuals at risk of domestic violence.[6]

The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic directions and associated restrictions on the response to family violence has not been underestimated by the Victorian Government. Departments have taken significant steps to pivot their services to remote models rather than face to face, so as to effectively respond to the increased family violence risk while maintaining MARAM alignment.

The MARAM Framework enables a foundation for a shared understanding of risk and a consistent approach to response across the service sector. FSV produced COVID-19 resources that retain MARAM at their core, which departments used in their own business continuity plans. FSV has also supported communities of practice for non-specialist workforces in their response to increased identification and response to family violence through online engagement.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, some planned MARAM alignment projects were paused to prioritise the production of resources for frontline workers specifically focused on the challenge of increased family violence risk during the pandemic. There has also been a concerted effort to move training online. The increased burden on framework organisations may have impacted their capacity to report and provide data in time for this report.

One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a delay to commencement of Phase 2 organisations from September 2020 to April 2021.[7] This purposeful delay recognises the critical role educators and universal health services play in Victoria throughout the pandemic, as well as points of intervention for family violence identification.

In the context of this report, a further impact of the pandemic is a delay to the implementation and use of the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework which is linked to the Family Violence Outcomes Framework. The M&E Framework has been provided to all departments, and it is intended to form a part of alignment activities for departments going forward. Part of the M&E Framework is to gather data regularly through use of a MARAM Framework annual survey. Evaluation against outcomes in this year’s consolidated report will be limited in terms of data references to the findings of evaluations as a result.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all aspects of every workforce cannot be underestimated. Research undertaken by Monash University has shown that the pandemic has in particular caused specialist family violence practitioners to feel a heightened sense of isolation and loneliness working from home and missing the incidental support and debriefing provided by colleagues. It has also shown the blurring of boundaries between work and home life, leading to family violence work invading practitioners’ ‘safe spaces’. While the Monash report did show the COVID-19 pandemic had some upside, particularly in service innovation, such as practitioner-led development of an alert system for women to signal when they need support, further work is needed to progress health, safety and wellbeing supports.[8]

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted opportunities for further engagement with victim survivors and responding to family violence through non-prescribed organisations, such as:

  • supporting and raising the capability of contact tracing and testing workers to provide support to people who may be experiencing or using family violence
  • working with non-MARAM prescribed essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies that are accessible under stage 3 and stage 4 restrictions and have the potential to promote family violence support numbers and potentially be a safe place to call a specialist family violence service.

[3] The Crime Statistics Agency records that the monthly number of family violence incidents was higher in every month during 2020 than 2019. In June 2020, the number of incidents was 15 per cent higher than in June 2019 https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/media-centre/news/police-recorded-crime-trends-in-victoria-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.

[4] Pfitzner N, Fitz-Gibbon K and True J 2020, Responding to the ‘shadow pandemic’: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 restrictions, Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University, Victoria, Australia, https://research.monash.edu/en/publications/responding-to-the-shadow-pandemic-practitioner-views-on-the-natur (accessed 12 June 2020).

[5] Demand for social services such as mental health and family relationship services, financial and material support, housing, and employment/training services will increase with increased unemployment and slow wage growth (Access Economics, 2008). Recession is possibly associated with a higher prevalence of mental health problems, including common mental disorders, substance disorders, and ultimately suicidal behaviour (Frasquilho et al. 2016). Unemployment has negative economic, social, physical health and mental health impacts, which can flow on to other family members, including children. Most of these are reversible if the unemployed person is re-employed relatively quickly (Gray et al. 2009). Relationship breakdown increased slightly in recessions (Charles and Stephens, 2004). The longer the duration of unemployment, the greater the risk of detrimental impacts on relationships (Kraft, 2001). Increasing unemployment may correlate to increased risk for children as the psychological impacts of unemployment on parents can adversely impact upon parenting and, consequently, children’s wellbeing (Gray et al. 2009).

[6] Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2020, Gendered impact of COVID-19, Australian Government, www.wgea.gov.au (accessed 8 October 2020).

[7] Subject to final Ministerial approval at the time of report preparation.

[8] Pfitzner N et al. 2020, op. cit.

Reviewed 05 March 2021

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