Executive summary

Executive summary of the Review of the Family Violence Information Sharing Legislative Scheme Final Report.

The Victorian Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS - the Scheme) was established under Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 as part of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (State of Victoria 2016) reforms. The Scheme aims to:

  • better identify, assess and manage the risks to adult and child victim/survivor safety, preventing and reducing the risk of harm; and
  • better keep perpetrators in view and enhance perpetrator accountability

The Scheme commenced on February 26, 2018. It was rolled out to Initial Tranche and Phase One organisations, in February and September 2018 respectively. Organisations prescribed to share under the Scheme are known as Information Sharing Entities (ISE). Phase Two is due to commence in the first half of 2021. To date approximately 38,000 workers have been prescribed under the Scheme. In Phase Two approximately 370,000 additional workers are due to be prescribed.

An independent Review of the FVISS is legislatively mandated to ensure that it meets its aims and avoids adverse outcomes. The recommendations and insights of this Review aim to improve the operation of the Scheme generally and the Scheme’s implementation in Phase Two organisations in particular.

The Review was guided by seven questions.

  1. Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?
  2. Has the Scheme been implemented as intended to date?
  3. Has the implementation of the Scheme had any adverse organisational impacts?
  4. What were the key barriers and enablers for implementation?
  5. Has the Scheme resulted in increased levels of relevant information sharing between prescribed agencies?
  6. Has the Scheme led to improved outcomes for victim/survivors and increased the extent to which perpetrators are in view?
  7. Has the Scheme had any adverse impacts?

The Review research involved a multi methods approach including empirical research, document review, training observation and a comprehensive literature review. Quantitative data was gathered through two surveys and from lead agencies. Focus groups and interviews were the main source of qualitative data. There were more than one thousand participants in the Review over two data collection periods. Two hundred stakeholders were interviewed or took part in focus groups and 792 people responded to the survey. Participants included women who had experienced family violence, Initial Tranche and Phase One practitioners and managers and family violence experts.

The following approach has been taken to analysing the data.

  1. The data from all sources is integrated and triangulated.
  2. Quotes are used extensively throughout and have been drawn from the second period of data collection, with the exception of quotes from victim/survivor participants.
  3. Where there are contradictory or diverse perspectives and experiences these are noted.
  4. There is attention paid to continuities, changes and trends.
  5. Data is de-identified.
  6. Case studies and examples are used, where appropriate, throughout.
  7. Victim/survivors’ ‘voices’ are considered central and are included separately at the beginning of the findings section.
  8. The views of Aboriginal organisations are set out separately in order to acknowledge the continuing legacy of colonialism and the particular issues this raises in relation to the Scheme.

Findings and recommendations

Impacts and outcomes of the Scheme for women who have experienced family violence

Twenty-six women who had experienced family violence and interacted with services participated in the Review. Most recognised the value of information sharing in facilitating referrals, accurately assessing their risk, reducing the number of times they had to tell their stories, and in facilitating a helpful response to their reports of family violence. However, family violence information for these women was also their security. They were worried about the misinterpretation or misuse of information, and the lack of information shared about perpetrators. The women were concerned about the approaches of Child Protection to information sharing, as they felt blamed for the difficulties of their post-separation lives. There was fear amongst mothers that the disclosure of family violence combined with information sharing could expose them to negative judgements and potentially the loss of their children.

Recommendation 1

Privacy policy updates related to family violence information sharing are in development or have been developed by all relevant sectors in the Initial Tranche and Phase One. Phase Two sectors and organisations should update privacy policies to address family violence information sharing prior to prescription. Organisations should be encouraged to communicate these policies to victim/survivors to ensure they are informed about relevant privacy protections.

Impacts and outcomes of the Scheme for Aboriginal people

Aboriginal organisations had very specific concerns about the FVISS based on the historical and ongoing experience of state intervention in Aboriginal lives, especially child removal. It is recognised that structural disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people contributes to the over representation of Aboriginal children and families in notifications to Child Protection and consequent outcomes. There have been a number of initiatives legislated in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to enhance outcomes, including the implementation of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (s.13) and provisions for Aboriginal agencies to take full responsibility for Aboriginal children on protection orders (s.18). Yet, there was still wide spread concern that the FVISS in combination with the Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) could lead to an increase in the involvement of Child Protection in Aboriginal mothers’ lives. Some participants valued the opportunity the Scheme for greater shared attention to children’s risk and more collaborative relationships between child and family welfare agencies and specialist family violence services. Most were concerned the Scheme raised the risk that women experiencing family violence would avoid or disengage from services to maintain their privacy, autonomy and, critically, to avoid Child Protection involvement. The Scheme, and family violence reforms generally, have had significant resource implications for Aboriginal organisations dealing with family violence. Family Safety Victoria has put in place strategies to facilitate the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives on the reforms. Despite some additional resourcing and consultation with Aboriginal organisations, there was a view that cultural safety and competence was not being sufficiently embedded in mainstream services and that Aboriginal perspectives and knowledges were not being sufficiently incorporated into information sharing training.

Recommendation 2

Monitoring of the interaction and impacts of the FVISS and the CISS on Aboriginal people, especially mothers experiencing family violence, should be undertaken centrally to produce robust specific datasets of these interactions and outcomes. The development of these datasets is critical to ensure any adverse effects on First Nations peoples and communities are addressed.

Recommendation 3

The strategies that Family Safety Victoria has put in place to ensure that Aboriginal perspectives are included in the FVISS and MARAM (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management) reforms, including sector grants, working groups, the Dhelk Dja partnership forum, regional coordinators and Aboriginal Practice Leaders at Orange Door sites, should continue to be funded and resourced.

Recommendation 4

In order to ensure best practice support for Aboriginal people experiencing family violence, increased funding should be provided to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCO) to address existing and emerging service needs associated with family violence reforms generally and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme in particular.

Recommendation 5

ACCO need more resources to contribute to the development and delivery of training on Family Violence Information Sharing so all training builds cultural safety and competence across all mainstream services in order to better support good outcomes for Aboriginal women and children experiencing family violence.

Recommendation 6

In order to ensure that Aboriginal people receive culturally safe and appropriate services when they disclose family violence the continuing shortage of Aboriginal workers in the family violence sector should be addressed urgently.

Recommendation 7

In consultation with Aboriginal organisations, Family Safety Victoria should ensure that there is an annual forum or other opportunity where key stakeholders consider any adverse impacts of the Scheme on Aboriginal people. This forum or other opportunity should specifically consider the impacts of the Scheme on mothering and any issues related to Child Protection.

1. Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?

These findings relate specifically to the central support that has been provided mainly but not exclusively by FSV. It includes training, Ministerial Guidelines, an Enquiry Line, sector grants and Practice Guidance. There is solid evidence that the Scheme’s implementation has been broadly effective. There are lessons for effective implementation that can be used to improve implementation to Phase Two. The effectiveness of training has been variable, due to the interlinked issues of availability and accessibility, timing and sequencing, quality and communication. The sector grants have been a critical component of effective implementation and will be important to assist the ongoing process of implementation in each phase of the rollout and to support the extra organisational activity produced by the Scheme. The Enquiry Line provides an important support mechanism and should be continued and expanded in anticipation of Phase Two. The Ministerial Guidelines provide a firm foundation for the Scheme’s policy framework. The Practice Guidance now available to organisations is extensive and will assist Phase Two implementation.

Recommendation 8

Timing and sequencing issues must be addressed before the prescription of Phase Two organisations in order to allow for the development of quality training content, including quality accompanying materials. Adjustments from piloted training need to be made prior to prescription. Training timelines will need to take into account the limited number of family violence expert trainers.

Recommendation 9

Those engaged to deliver training should be both expert trainers and experts in family violence. A distinct training pipeline for expert family violence trainers will need to be established to serve the training needs of Phase Two.

Recommendation 10

In order to be effective, cross sector training needs to be more oriented towards experiential learning based on best practice adult education strategies, such as case studies and practice specific exercises.

Recommendation 11

All training and training materials need to emphasise the circumstances in which it is appropriate to use either the FVISS or the CISS and that both schemes have the same consent requirements. In particular the Ministerial Guidelines on this issue should be highlighted and practical exercises and case studies should be developed focused on this aspect.

Recommendation 12

In the prescription of Phase Two organisations, Family Safety Victoria and other relevant departments should communicate the training strategy, plan, content and timing clearly and well in advance of the scheduled training.

Recommendation 13

Consideration should be given to extending the operating hours of the telephone aspect of the Enquiry Line to business hours. Where there is the need for expert legal advice, an appropriate referral to obtain such advice should be provided to the enquiring organisation, where that organisation does not otherwise have ready access to such advice. The Enquiry Line should be fully resourced for at least two years after the prescription of Phase Two organisations.

Recommendation 14

The on-line list of ISEs should be completed and made available to all ISEs prior to the prescription of Phase Two.

Recommendation 15

The sector grants need to be continued for the Initial Tranche and Phase One organisations until at least June 2023 to continue the process of embedding the Scheme. These grants will be critical for Phase Two. The level of these grants should recognise the scale of the organisational work and cultural change required, particularly for organisations that have not previously been directly engaged in family violence work.

2. Has the Scheme been implemented as intended to date?

Some elements of the Scheme have been implemented as intended, while others have not. The major divergence between initial plans for implementation and the actual implementation relate to the substantial delay in the delivery of critical components of the MARAM (Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Management). The prescription of the Initial Tranche and Phase One were both slightly delayed. The original timelines were ambitious, and these slight delays are not considered a major issue. The CISS was implemented in September 2018 and aligned with the FVISS. The implementation of the CISS in conjunction with the FVISS was not initially contemplated. The dual implementation has made the implementation of FVISS more complex and time consuming. In the Initial Tranche, training was provided to less workers prior to prescription than originally contemplated and no training was available to Phase One workers prior to prescription. By the end of 2019 the majority of Phase One workers had not received training in the FVISS or MARAM.

The physical distancing requirements of COVID-19 may impact on training of Phase Two workers. These impacts cannot be predicted with any certainty at time of writing. The recommendations with regard to Phase Two training should be read taking into account the uncertain impact of COVID-19.

Recommendation 16

Timing and sequencing for Phase Two needs to ensure the training of a sufficient number of Phase Two workers prior to prescription.

Recommendation 17

Consideration should be given to how the perpetrator aspect of risk assessment will be incorporated into Phase Two training. The sequencing and timing of the implementation of Phase Two, particularly in relation to the perpetrator aspects of MARAM, and the rationale for this, should be communicated clearly to key stakeholders.

3. Has the implementation of the Scheme had any adverse organisational impacts?

The benefits of the Scheme were widely understood to be significant. However, the Scheme has created additional workload for organisations. Although most participants highlighted an additional workload to implement the Scheme, each organisation had different views on the extent of ongoing additional work it was creating. The early implementation stages created extra work related to attending training, creating new policies and procedures and in many cases, tailoring templates to suit specific workplaces or sectors. For many organisations, there is ongoing additional workload, depending on the volume of requests being made and received and the extent to which this exceeded previous sharing practices. Overall however, participants felt the additional workload was worth the benefit of receiving more thorough and accurate information for family violence risk assessments and management. For non-specialist organisations in particular, the heightened awareness of and training about family violence that has accompanied the introduction of the Scheme has provided the impetus for some staff in those organisations to disclose, often for the first time, their own historical or ongoing experiences of family violence. These disclosures, which may be made in the workplace, highlight the need for such organisations to have policies in place that address staff related family violence issues.

Recommendation 18

Prior to the implementation of Phase Two, resources and policies should be in place in all prescribed and all soon to be prescribed organisations to support workers who disclose family violence.

4. What were the key barriers and enablers for implementation?

The key barrier for the rollout of the Scheme was the timing and/or sequencing of interdependent elements such as MARAM and training especially for those in Phase One organisations that have not historically been required to respond to or understand family violence risk. This barrier was consistently identified in each period of data collection. Other barriers include diverse and incompatible IT systems and platforms, and organisational cultures, such as the AOD sector, which have historically placed a high priority on client confidentiality. While Child Protection Practice advice was updated in September 2018 to address obligations under the Scheme, issues were consistently identified with Child Protection which is perceived as not readily sharing family violence risk relevant information, while continuing to seek high levels of victim/survivor information.

Key enablers are the ongoing strong support for the Scheme and its aims. This support is demonstrated through ongoing goodwill and commitment to work around any implementation barriers and engage in the work required to effectively operationalise the Scheme. The Scheme has provided an environment for greater interagency cooperation which has been widely embraced as a key enabler of information sharing. Another key enabler was the policy and protocol development work of lead agencies such as Victoria Police, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (MCV) and the Children’s Court of Victoria (CCV) and Corrections Victoria which have worked collaboratively to set up systems to effectively share perpetrator information. The advisors in the AOD and mental health agencies have been significant enablers of the Scheme. These positions play an important role in embedding information sharing practice and leading the necessary cultural change in Phase One organisations that have not previously dealt with family violence as part of their professional practice. Programs such as the Strengthening Hospitals Response to Family Violence Initiative have done some of the groundwork in preparing Phase Two for implementation of the Scheme. The developing maturity of family violence information sharing processes, less concern about workloads and potential adverse consequences, and growing experiences of 'good outcomes' has resulted in the overcoming of some barriers to the Scheme, which were identified during the earlier stages of implementation.

Recommendation 19

In the lead up to Phase Two, a thorough audit of existing schemes promoting family violence literacy in Phase Two organisations should be undertaken. Careful consideration should be given to extending existing government initiatives such as the Strengthening Hospitals Response to Family Violence Initiative so they remain in place as Phase Two organisations are prescribed and in the process of embedding the Scheme.

5. Has the Scheme resulted in increased levels of relevant information sharing between prescribed agencies?

The Scheme has resulted in an increase in both the quantity and risk-relevance of family violence information sharing, which has in turn led to enhanced understanding of the responsibilities and benefits of information sharing. There is good evidence of an increase in the sharing of perpetrator information. Broad-based support for the Scheme combined with the increase in the quantity of information sharing has worked to decrease fear of legal consequences and bolster pro-sharing attitudes. Workers have seen the benefits of the operation of the Scheme to effective and enhanced risk assessment in individual cases as a consequence of access to additional information and this has, in turn, enhanced sector understanding of the responsibility to share risk relevant information. While some workers continued to rely on pre-scheme processes for sharing, there was negligible evidence of inappropriate sharing.

6. Has the Scheme led to improved outcomes for victim/survivors and increased the extent to which perpetrators are in view?

The Scheme has produced positive outcomes particularly around the increased sharing of perpetrator information. One aspect supporting the extent to which perpetrators are kept in view is the further integration of men’s specialist family violence services, such as Men’s Behaviour Change Programs (MBCPs) into family violence risk assessment and management. There is some evidence that some victim/survivors are experiencing improved outcomes, but there are also concerns expressed by family violence specialists and other agencies about Child Protection’s focus on victim/survivor information and low levels of family violence risk relevant information sharing with family violence services in order to support the safety of women and children. The RCFV (2016) urged the strengthening of Child Protection practitioners’ understanding of family violence risk. In response to RCFV recommendations, ‘Tilting the Practice’ family violence training was rolled out to Child Protection practitioners in 2018 to encourage working supportively with mothers and focusing more on perpetrator behaviour. Yet, according to the evidence gathered in the Review, Child Protection did not always appear to fully recognise or effectively respond to family violence risk. This data suggests that work needs to continue to embed cultural change.

Recommendation 20

Case studies which demonstrate positive outcomes of the Scheme should be used to illustrate the value of family violence information sharing in meeting its aims of enhancing women and children’s safety and keeping perpetrators in view. These case studies will be useful for enhancing practitioner understanding of the responsibilities of information sharing and the benefits of risk relevant sharing.

Recommendation 21

Prior to Phase Two specific practice guidance on and templates for family violence data security standards should be developed by FSV for training and implementation. These practice guidance and template materials should support the development of data security standards for family violence information and information sharing, in line with pre-existing privacy obligations. These materials should form part of the induction of Phase Two organisations into the FVISS. Training materials for Phase Two organisations should stress that data security standards must be transparent to victim/survivors.

7. Has the Scheme had any adverse impacts?

The adverse impacts of the Scheme include concerns about the potential for women victim/survivors as well as perpetrators to disengage from support services. There are concerns that as part of the Mental Health Tribunal processes, the sharing of perpetrator information under the Scheme may be disclosed with a perpetrator applicant and that this could potentially impact on the safety of victim/survivors. There were also concerns about data security. The concerns were in many cases, based on hypothetical scenarios. There was a concern that these adverse impacts would be heightened for particular communities, including Aboriginal and LGBTIQ communities.

Recommendation 22

The Victorian Government should work with the Mental Health Tribunal to ensure that victim/survivor safety is prioritised as part of its processes and to avoid the risks of any adverse consequences arising from the Scheme. In particular it should communicate with the Mental Health Tribunal about the family violence risks associated with disclosing to perpetrator/applicants any part of their file which indicates that family violence risk information has been shared without their knowledge under the Scheme.