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Introduction and context

Introduction and context of Review of the Family Violence Information Sharing Legislative Scheme Final Report.

The Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS - the Scheme) was established under Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008. The Scheme commenced on 26 February 2018. The establishment of the Scheme was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (State of Victoria 2016; Recommendation 5). The Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) considered sharing information about family violence risk a critical to reform:

Sharing information about risk within and between organisations is crucial to keep victims safe. It is necessary for assessing risk to a victim’s safety, preventing or reducing the risk of further harm, and keeping perpetrators ‘in view’ and accountable.

The Scheme aims to better protect victim/survivors and enhance perpetrator accountability by facilitating, regularising and increasing the sharing of information about family violence risk across specialist family violence services and all other organisations and services that come into contact with victim/survivors or perpetrators.

The Royal Commission was particularly focused on the increased sharing of information about perpetrators. Organisations working directly with those experiencing family violence were authorised to share information where risk was assessed as ‘serious and imminent’ under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001. However, much of the shared information about family violence risk was information obtained from and about victim/survivors, usually with their consent. Perpetrator information was often less extensive and was less often shared.

At times, existing information about perpetrators was not shared because it was often considered unsafe to ask them to consent to share and the prevailing view was that their information could not be shared without consent except in exceptional circumstances. The Scheme has addressed barriers to sharing family violence risk information from and about perpetrators and created an obligation for proactive sharing of perpetrator information for a much wider group of organisations.

An independent Review of the FVISS is legislatively mandated to ensure that it meets its aims and avoids or minimises any adverse or unintended consequences. The Scheme has been rolled out to an Initial Tranche (February 2018) and Phase One (September 2018) of Information Sharing Entities (ISE).

There is a sub category of ISEs that are Risk Assessment Entities (RAE). These entities can request, collect and use information for a family violence assessment purpose, to establish and assess risk at the outset. The findings of this Review and consequent recommendations aim to ensure the optimal operation of the Scheme as it is extended to Phase Two in the first half of 2021 to include a much wider pool of universal services.

Family Violence Information Sharing reform background

It is well established that appropriate and timely sharing of information is critical in assessing, responding to and managing the risks of family violence. In Victoria and nationally, family violence has received unprecedented attention.

This attention has arisen from and contributed to greater awareness of the enormous costs of family violence for individuals, families, the community and to the economy. There is a growing body of research on the prevalence and impact of family violence. Intimate partner violence by men against women is the most common type of family violence and the evidence base about this type of violence is well established.

There is growing evidence and awareness about a range of different forms of family violence, including elder abuse and adolescent family violence. In addition, there is increasing knowledge about the distinctive impacts and manifestations of family violence in and on different communities, such as people living with disability, women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities and the LGTBIQ community. While family violence, as the most common type of violence against women, is driven by gender inequality other types of discrimination and oppression such as ableism, ageism, heteronormativity, and precarious immigration status often intersect with gender inequality, in ways that compound and intensify the risk and impacts of family violence.

The continuing history of colonial relations of power mean that First Nations people, and First Nations women and children in particular, are disproportionally affected by family violence and often encounter barriers to accessing services. It is estimated that violence against women costs Australia $21.7 billion a year, of which $12.6 billion is related to violence by a partner (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2015). Family violence has significant negative effects on women’s mental health (Franzway et al. 2015).

It is the leading cause of homelessness amongst women, contributing to a cycle of unemployment and poverty (State of Victoria (Department of Premier and Cabinet) 2016). Family violence is a recurrent factor in Child Protection notifications (State of Victoria (Department of Premier and Cabinet 2016). Exposure to family violence can cause significant harm to children, which can begin during pregnancy and progress through all stages of child development (State of Victoria 2016b).

Each week in Australia at least one woman is killed by a man, typically an intimate partner (Cussen, Tracy & Bryant 2015). Each year, 40 percent of all homicides in Victoria occur between parties in an intimate or familial relationship (State of Victoria 2016a). Australia wide intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 18 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor (VicHealth 2004; Webster 2016). Family violence is a major social, criminal justice, human rights, economic and public health issue. 

With unprecedented state and national attention directed to ameliorating the impacts of family violence, numerous Australian enquiries have recommended the introduction of legislation to improve family violence information sharing with the aim of enhancing victim/survivor safety and perpetrator accountability. These recommendations have resulted in most Australian jurisdictions adopting family violence information sharing legislation (Jones 2016, p. 20). While there had previously been information sharing between agencies about family violence risk, the legal basis for sharing such information was not always clear and concerns about client privacy were often prioritised over victim/survivor safety. Legislative family violence information sharing schemes provide an authorising environment for sharing family violence risk related information and signal a major change in the priority given to victim/survivor safety. 

In Victoria, the RCFV (State of Victoria 2016) and the Coronial Inquest into the killing of eleven- year-old Luke Batty by his father (Coroners Court of Victoria 2015) recommended the introduction of a family violence information sharing scheme. Another key reform linked to the introduction of the FVISS is the review and redevelopment of the Common Family Violence Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF). Family Safety Victoria (FSV) is responsible for the implementation of the FVISS and the redeveloped CRAF, now renamed the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Risk Management (MARAM). The Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) intersects substantially with the FVISS. Understanding the nature and dynamics of family violence and family violence risk is critical to the effective operation of the FVISS. In turn, family violence risk assessment and management cannot be effectively carried out without adequate knowledge of family violence risk (Family Safety Victoria 2019). 

The FVISS has been implemented as part of wide ranging reform to the family violence prevention and response policy landscape. Other critical reforms, in addition to the MARAM and CISS, currently being implemented in Victoria include Roadmap for Reform: strong families, safe children; Free from violence – Victoria’s prevention strategy; initiatives as part of Building from Strength: 10-year industry plan for family violence prevention and response; and the extension of the Specialist Family Violence Courts model. This program of reform is a once in a generation opportunity to make progress towards eliminating family violence and creating a society free from violence. The RCFV made 227 recommendations, all of which the Andrews’ Labor government is committed to implementing. The Victorian government has invested $2.7 billion to achieve the reforms and a number of new family violence governance arrangements have been implemented including the creation of a Ministerial portfolio for the prevention of family violence, and the establishment of two dedicated entities focused on family violence prevention, Family Safety Victoria and Respect Victoria. The FVISS and the MARAM are critical centrepieces of the reforms. The RCFV set out an ambitious five-year time frame for the implementation of all of its recommendations. The aims of transformative policy change involving a wide range of workforces and government departments is complex and has required significant and sustained commitment from all involved.

The FVISS received Royal Assent on 13 June 2017 and commenced operation on 26 February 2018. The FVISS has two aims:

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

A phased approach has been taken to the implementation of the FVISS. This approach has comprised three distinct stages; Initial Tranche, Phase One, commenced in early and late 2018 respectively and Phase Two, to commence in the first half of 2021. This approach has been taken to ensure workforce readiness and sector capacity to meets the aims of the Scheme with a critical focus on minimising the risk of adverse or unintended consequences. The Initial Tranche was limited to entities with a level of ‘criticality, family violence literacy and ability to operate in a regulatory environment’ (Family Safety Victoria 2017b, p. 3).

The relatively small number of Initial Tranche entities are the most well-informed about family violence, its gendered dynamics, family violence risk, and the principles underpinning family violence information sharing. Initial Tranche entities were considered to be in the best position to implement and absorb the initial FVISS implementation (c. 5,000 workers) and were prescribed on 26 February 2018.

Phase One (c. 38,000 workers) commenced on 27 September 2018. Phase One includes organisations and services that hosted Initial Tranche entities, and whose core business is not family violence risk assessment and response but that spend a significant proportion of their time responding to victim/survivors or perpetrators, as well as non-family violence specific support or intervention agencies.

Phase Two entities (with c. 370,000 workers) are due to be prescribed in the first half of 2021. Phase Two includes universal services and first responders, such as health, education and social services, that are often early contact points for victim/survivors (Family Safety Victoria 2019, pp. 15-6). Research indicates most victim/survivors do not report family violence to police or seek assistance from specialist family violence services (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017). In these cases, Phase Two organisations and services may be an early or sole point of contact for victim/survivors.

See Table 1 below for a summary of each of the three stages of implementation of the FVISS. For a full list of entities prescribed in each stage see Appendix One.

Table 1: Stages of FVISS Implementation

Initial Tranche

Phase One

Phase Two

Date Prescribed

26 February 2018

27 September 2018 

First half of 2021 

Type of Entities

Specialist family violence services and other organisations with high level of family violence risk literacy.

Entities whose core business is not directly related to family violence, but which spend a significant proportion of their time responding to victim/survivors or perpetrators.

Universal services and first responders, such as health, education and social services, that are often contact points for victim/survivors.

Number of workers

c. 5,000

c.33,000

c. 370,000

Rationale 

These workforces best placed to absorb and begin the implementation process.

Typically providing services to client group that are understood to include significant proportion of victim/survivors or perpetrators.

Victim/survivors often do not seek out specialist services so these services may often provide opportunities for intervention that would not otherwise occur.

Pre-existing family violence risk management knowledge

Some 30% used CRAF*

Very limited

Very limited

*Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor (2020)

A key stakeholder in the FVISS Review is FSV which is responsible for the FVISS reform and its Review. The Information Sharing/MARAM Working Group, convened by FSV, including representatives from FSV, DHHS, DET, Victoria Police, the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts and Department of Premier and Cabinet, assisted to guide the development of this project providing feedback on the Project and Evaluation Plan developed by Monash, the Baseline Report, the Interim Report, the Updated Evaluation Framework and this Final Report. 

Early in the Review process a document for managing independence was jointly developed and agreed by FSV and the Review team. Those managing and assisting the Review at FSV proactively provided a large amount of relevant documentation to assist the Review process. They promptly and fully responded to requests for further information, provided pathways for accessing key stakeholders, assisted with distribution of information about the Review to relevant individuals and organisations, and arranged for the Review team to be briefed about a range of intersecting reforms or components of the FVISS including MARAM, CISS, Orange Door and CIP. Regular face-to-face meetings were held where issues were discussed and clarified and Review related challenges were identified and addressed. An Interim Report on the implementation of the FVISS to the Initial Tranche was provided to FSV in June 2018. The Interim Report included a number of recommendations. The Review team presented to FSV on the findings for this Final Report in February 2020. The presentation provided an opportunity for discussion and clarification of issues prior to the finalisation of the Report. Annexure One provides a record of FVS, DHHS and DET feedback on this Report and the Monash response. Annexure Two provides information about conflict of interest. 

Those services and organisations that were prescribed as ISEs in the Initial Tranche and Phase One are key stakeholders in the FVISS, along with FSV and other government departments. Practitioners and managers from these ISEs have been engaged as participants in the Review through the surveys, focus groups and/or interviews. In addition, a number of family violence experts have been interviewed. A host of submissions made to FSV by stakeholders as part of the consultation process at various stages of the FVISS implementation have also been considered in the Review (see Appendix Nine for a full list of submissions reviewed). Finally, victim/survivors are critical stakeholders and a total of 26 women took part in focus groups and interviews.

Family Violence Information Sharing Review framework

The FVISS legislation includes a mandated independent Review after two years of operation. The Review considers both the process of implementation and outcomes. As set out in the limitations section 6.5, however, for various reasons the outcomes of the reform are difficult to identify with a high degree of confidence at this point in time. 

Though a number of family violence information sharing schemes have been introduced in Australian and internationally, few have been systematically evaluated (State of Victoria 2016: 158; see Appendix Three for a list of these schemes and relevant evaluations). Government-funded evaluations and recent academic literature on family violence information sharing primarily focus on the broader mechanisms of multiagency coordination and collaboration, rather than information sharing specifically (see the Literature Review, section 7). The Review of the FVISS provides a unique opportunity to assess the effectiveness of a legislative family violence information sharing scheme. Existing research, mainly based on reviews and evaluations of child information sharing schemes, consistently concludes that the enabling effect of legislation on information sharing alone is limited and that messaging about information sharing, practice guidance, training, operational and organisational issues are more significant as barriers and enablers of information sharing than legislation or policy.

Review purpose

This two year Review is designed to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the Scheme to ensure that it is being implemented effectively and adverse or unintended consequences are limited and/or addressed. In particular it is designed to inform the process of implementation to Phase Two organisations and services. The Initial Tranche and Phase One implementation involved c. 408,000 workers in total. Phase Two includes c. 370,000 workers. Phase Two workers will typically have considerably lower levels of family violence risk literacy than the Initial Tranche and many Phase One workers. The large number of people who will be authorised to share family violence risk relevant information in the next phase of FVISS implementation, combined with the relatively low level of family violence risk literacy amongst these workers may increase the risks of adverse or unintended consequences. While these risks cannot be eliminated, they can be mitigated by capturing and diligently applying the learnings from this two year Review of the implementation and outcomes of the Scheme in its earlier stages. As pointed out by the (former) Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor there is significant risk inherent in family violence reform activity generally and family violence information sharing in particular (Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor 2019). The Review of the FVISS is critical in assisting to ensure that the FVISS meets its primary aim of improving the safety of victim/survivors and enhancing perpetrator accountability and mitigating any risks to victim/survivors arising from the FVISS.

This Review Report, based on the reflections, insights and experiences of practitioners, managers, experts and victim/survivors, supplemented by review of relevant documents, training observations, sharing data from lead agencies and a comprehensive literature review, is designed to maximise the effectiveness of the FVISS. The Report, including key findings, recommendations and discussion, is offered with a view to building upon the substantial achievements in the rollout in Initial Tranche and Phase One organisations as the Scheme is extended to a larger number of practitioners employed in more universal non-specialist entities and services in 2021. 

Key review questions

The Review was guided by seven key questions related to implementation and outcomes of the FVISS. These questions were set out in FSV’s Request for Quote for the Review of the FVISS in 2017. The key questions were considered by the Review team to be succinct, clear, pertinent and comprehensive and remained unchanged during the Review. These key questions, sub-questions, and topics are set out below. Some of the sub-questions and topics were adjusted during the Review to reflect emerging issues.

Table 2: FVISS review questions

  1. Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?

Consider: Effectiveness of training, guidelines, sector grants, Enquiry Line, extent that legislative requirements have been embedded in practice guides and procedures of ISEs. 

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

Consider: Whether elements have been delivered on time, to the necessary work forces and parts of work forces. 

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

Consider: Any adverse impacts on workforces in ISEs, e.g. increased workload (additional time taken each time information is shared and/or greater volume of information sharing) and changes in ways of working with clients. 

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

Consider: What are the key lessons to inform further roll out of the Scheme, including:

  • Has the process of training staff in how to effectively share information under the Scheme been manageable and what have been the costs of this?
  • Have existing systems (including IT) been sufficient to facilitate the retrieval, storing and recording of information under the Scheme, or has it been necessary to invest in new/upgraded system and, if so, at what cost?
  • What level of upfront effort has been required to update policies, procedures and practices in order to effectively and appropriately share information under the Scheme? 
  • Are the roles and responsibilities of those responsible for leading the implementation of the FVISS clear? 

Plus: have initial barriers identified through the Review been addressed?

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

Consider: Has the Scheme resulted in the following results for service workers in ISEs: 

  • Increased pro-sharing attitudes and culture?
  • Increased understanding of information sharing responsibilities and benefits?
  • Decreased fear of legal consequences of sharing?
  • Increased quality, accuracy and thoroughness in the assessment and management of risk?
  • Any impacts on previous inappropriate informal information sharing?

Plus: have these factors led to an increase in relevant information being shared (i.e. information that has informed risk assessment or risk management)?

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

Consider: Has information sharing increased the extent to which perpetrators are in view? Has information sharing improved victim/survivor’s experience of services (e.g. avoiding re-telling of story, obtaining risk relevant information about perpetrators)? How has the scheme impacted on adolescents as victim/survivors and perpetrators of family violence? Is there evidence to show that information sharing under the Scheme has decreased the risk or incidence of family violence? 

  1. Has the Scheme had any adverse impacts?

Consider: Has there been any decreased engagement in services by victim/survivors or perpetrators, increased risk or incidents of family violence, increased privacy breaches, other adverse impacts? Has misidentification of the primary perpetrator been an issue? What has been the impact on victim/survivors or perpetrators from diverse communities? What has been the impact on Aboriginal people including Aboriginal women? Has sharing of information without consent (as permitted by the law when assessing and managing risks for children) led to a decrease in victim/survivor engagement with the service system? Has there been an increase in sharing of information that is irrelevant or inappropriate? Are any changes to the legislation or other aspects of the Scheme necessary to address adverse impacts or otherwise improve the scheme?

The table below provides an overview of the evaluation framework

Table 3: Evaluation framework

Key evaluation question 

Indicator

Measure

Data source

  1. Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?

Participants’ perceptions regarding effective implementation generally and, particularly in relation to sub-question elements.

Question to participants as per key question 1 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs service providers, managers and experts.

Survey One and Two enabled measures of behaviour, attitudes, and relevant information regarding information sharing processes and systems pre-implementation of ISS for Initial Tranche and Phase One workforces and post-implementation.

Relevant questions in Survey One and Two.

Survey One and Two.

Analysis in relation to the Review questions.

Relevant document content.

Any documents relating to sub-elements of the question.

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

The material gaps between the plans and actions. 

Reconciliation of implementation plans against implementation actions.

FSV implementation plans. 

Participants’ perceptions regarding awareness of the FVISS and its implementation relevant to overall delivery.

Question to participants as per key question 2 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs service providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Relevant questions in Survey One and Two.

Survey One and Two.

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

Upward trends in the number of complaints. Upward trends in the number of substantiated/ upheld complaints. Considerations related to the seriousness of complaints and any particular impacts on groups considered particularly vulnerable.

Number and nature of complaints to ISEs and Privacy Commissioners.

Complaints to Privacy Commissioners and ISEs. 

Participants’ perceptions regarding impacts of the scheme generally and, particularly in relation to sub-question elements.

Question to participants as per key question 3 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Relevant questions in Survey Two.

Survey One Two.

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

Participants’ perceptions regarding information sharing practice and experience, and attitudes to information sharing, noting that key barriers and enablers for implementation identified in the Interim Report were timing; communication; legal, policy and practice frameworks; and existing systems and data security.

Question to participants as per key question 4 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Relevant questions in Survey Two.

Survey Two.

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

Participants’ perceptions regarding information sharing practice and experience including information requesting and, particularly in relation to sub-question elements.

Question to participants as per key question 5 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Survey Two will measure the experience of Initial Tranche and Phase One workforces after the Phase One roll out, to capture the impact the scheme has had on information sharing, changes to risk assessment and risk management as a consequence of ISS implementation and the adequacy of training to prepare workers for ISS. This data will be compared to findings from Survey One.

Relevant questions in Survey One and Two.

Survey One and Two.

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

Participants’ perceptions regarding improved outcomes for victim/survivors and the extent to which perpetrators are in view, and particularly in relation to sub-question elements. 

Question to participants as per key question 6 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Relevant questions in Survey Two. 

Survey Two.

Perceptions of victim/survivors and perpetrators particularly in relation to the relevant sub-questions.

Question to participants as per key question 6 and sub-questions.

Interviews and focus groups with victim/survivors and perpetrators.

  1. Has the Scheme had any adverse impacts? 

Participants’ perceptions regarding information sharing practice and experience generally and, particularly in relation to sub-question elements.

Question to participants as per key question 7 and sub-questions.

Focus groups with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Interviews with ISEs services providers, managers and experts.

Relevant questions in Survey Two.

Survey Two.

Perceptions of victim/survivors and perpetrators particularly in relation to the relevant sub-questions.

Question to participants as per key question 7 and sub-questions.

Interviews and focus groups with victim/survivors and perpetrators.

Scope

This two-year Review focuses primarily on the first twenty-two months of the implementation of the FVISS. The Review formally commenced in October 2017.

The Scheme commenced in February 2018. The temporal scope of the Review in terms of data collection from key stakeholders was November 2017 to December 2019.

The Review’s primary stakeholder groups in terms of data collection are practitioners and managers in the Initial Tranche and Phase One organisations and services, family violence experts and victim/survivors.

Data collection from these key stakeholders commenced with a survey prior to the implementation of the Scheme to the Initial Tranche and Phase One in order to construct a working baseline from which to measure the impacts of the establishment and operation of the FVISS.

There were two periods of Interviews and focus groups after the implementation of the Scheme to the Initial Tranche and the Phase One. Data gathering with stakeholders was completed in December 2019.

The collection and review of relevant documents continued through the whole period of the Review. The literature review was initially undertaken in April 2018 and was updated over the duration of the Review (see section 6.4 on timings below for further information on the timings related to key Review tasks).

The MARAM, CISS, and the Orange Door reforms are closely related to the FVISS. In addition, the Central Information Point (CIP) is an important component of the FVISS. The CIP allows the MCV and CCV, Victoria Police, Corrections and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to consolidate and share critical information about perpetrators of family violence, when requested from within an Orange Door or Berry Street, providing a single comprehensive report to frontline family violence specialists.

The impact of these reforms on the FVISS, or as part of it, are referred to throughout the Report as relevant to the specific Review questions. However, the MARAM, Orange Door, CISS and CIP reforms have been or are subject to separate reviews and are not a primary focus of this Review.

Reviewed 18 August 2020

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