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Key findings

Key findings in Review of the Family Violence Information Sharing Legislative Scheme Final Report.

Impact and outcomes of the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme for women who have experienced family violence

Acknowledgement

The Monash Research team offers heartfelt thanks for the courage, honesty and expertise of the women who contributed to this Review. Their insights have been critical in understanding what information sharing means to women as they seek to secure their own safety and how system changes are understood and interpreted by those who the reforms are working to support.

In developing this section of the Review Report, we have presented data in the context of the Review questions where relevant. We have also presented key themes linked to information sharing that did not fit readily under a Review question heading.

We have presented lengthy quotes here in order to capture more fully and accurately the complex ways in which women have experienced the circulation of information in relation to family violence disclosures and their contact with services.

In presenting this data, we have redacted any information about specific locations or events that were potentially identifying. Where possible, we have given indicators of the timing of the information sharing events described: however, this detail was not always provided. In a number of focus groups and interviews, women did not want to be audio-recorded: they expressed anxiety about their voices being captured on tape. In these instances, we used field notes and direct quotes only where these were recorded in those notes.

The voices of twenty-six victim/survivors represents a considerable dataset: accessing these voices is extremely difficult, given women’s need to protect their privacy as part of their safety planning and their focus on critical issues of security. As victim/survivors’ safety and enhanced outcomes are a central focus of the FVISS, women’s views and experiences are substantively relevant to all aspects of the Scheme’s operation. This includes where women’s understandings differ from technical, legal or other interpretations.

I felt like I didn’t have a backbone, of course I’m not going to know what [information] to ask for. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Lynda, 18.11.2019)

Introduction

The purpose of family violence information sharing is to keep women and children safe by ensuring that all relevant risks are communicated and effective risk management and safety planning can be undertaken. The views of women who have experienced family violence about why and how information is shared are important for insight into the effectiveness of implementation. Women’s and children’s safety and security is at the centre of this process of reform. The ethical constraints of high risk research apply to all these participants. In line with this, interviewers abided by women’s decisions, and cues, about what aspects of their experiences and interactions with services they want to reveal or discuss (see section 6.2).

The RCFV identified practices and processes of family violence information sharing as both barriers and enablers for the required transformation of family violence responses and service provision (State of Victoria 2016c). The focus of Recommendations 5-9 was on ensuring information relevant to the risks facing victim/survivors was shared appropriately and effectively to secure safety. Changes in state wide approaches to privacy were recommended in the form of: ‘new laws to ensure that privacy considerations do not trump victims’ safety—with a Central Information Point to funnel information about perpetrators to the Hubs’ (State of Victoria 2016, p. 15).

In this statement, the RCFV makes it clear that proposed privacy changes are to ensure that perpetrator information related to risk, held, for example, with police in relation to past history of family violence offences, in MBCP, Alcohol and Other Drug services or with counsellors, is circulated where necessary to secure the safety of women and children, the primary victims of family violence. Yet, privacy of information is also a key aspect in the safety of victim/survivors, as for them the time of disclosure, safety plans, whereabouts and home address, technological platforms and support locations are critically linked to potential risks. Women’s responses around the topic of information sharing reflect this dual focus: while those who participated were supportive of information sharing, and some were deeply thankful that information about perpetrators would become more readily available, they were simultaneously uneasy about the privacy and security of their own information. For many, this unease was grounded in past experiences with services. The findings in this section consistently reflect this dual focus.

Data collection with women who have experienced family violence was undertaken at two different time periods: the first period was from April to November in 2018 (18 women) subsequent to the commencement of the Scheme to the Initial Tranche, and the second in November and December of 2019 (8 women) subsequent to the commencement of Phase One. We spoke with a total of 26 women from both urban and regional locations and from a range of backgrounds. The first group of participants included First Nations women, women from CALD communities and women with disability. Most of these women have children who have been impacted in diverse ways by their experiences of family violence, although not all were currently living with their children. Some of these women were living with their abusive partners at the time of their participation.

Our methodological approach to qualitative research focused on family violence is aimed at giving primacy to the voices, experiences and knowledge of victim/survivors. We consider that all victim/survivors are likely to face stigma and disadvantage that will intersect with their age, ethnic identity, socio-economic position, and other experiences of social inclusion and/or exclusion. We focus on understanding how these intersections operate to shape, influence and potentially amplify the impacts of family violence.

Women’s views about family violence information sharing

Most of the women who participated were positive about the potential of family violence information sharing to support their safety. They recognised its value in facilitating referrals, in accurately assessing the risks they faced, in reducing the number of times they had to tell their stories of violence and fear, and in supporting the system to respond in positive and helpful ways.

I think it has been a very good positive. Not knowing about these services that are out there, it has actually made me feel better with myself, making sure I am getting the help that I need. And I think that it’s very important that women actually get the help these days, because a lot of women do not actually get it. So yes, it’s really good…I feel that the knowledge with the domestic violence side of it that they have to share like some of the information like your story, what has actually happened any things like that, the sharing of that information is fairly important. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Kerry, 10.05.18)

 

You know [I’m] so very time poor, so to have a quick conversation, and you know solutions or actions to be done is probably what I was most interested in, not necessarily the long going in-depths and regurgitating a lot of stuff. And probably hearing a lot of the same things as well was probably a bit frustrating and a bit, and a bit of a challenge, you know, because you’d have a toddler crawling around getting into stuff. So, when I call someone, “I have to call you back.” So the sharing at least if it’s – everyone’s sort of got the same page, you’re like checking things – you know have an opportunity sort of review it first and know what you’re dealing with straight up…And if you tell one person you think that you would perhaps rewriting to that person, but you may be missing key elements and very integral things to the whole story and the whole picture, you know, so it's best that – and the initial things outlaid and it can be distributed or shared in a beautiful way that you don't have to keep re-opening the wounds and getting through it that way. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Rosalie, 03.05.18)

Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?

Direct knowledge of the Scheme was limited among the women who participated. Women’s key concerns were not with the mechanisms of family violence information sharing but with the outcomes for them as outlined in the above quotations. They focused on:

  • issues linked directly to everyday security
  • the misinterpretation or misuse of information, and
  • greater equity in the approach to family violence information sharing regarding their partners

Overall, women who knew about the Scheme and made direct reference to it (n=3) were supportive of the value of information sharing, and the need to streamline processes to ensure this occurred efficiently and effectively. Yet, even where women were very positive about change, particularly in relation to the potential for reduced trauma through re-telling their stories, they discussed the caution they felt was necessary around their own information because of their dealings with their ex-partners. Rosalie was generally aware of the changes introduced by the FVISS and was supportive. Yet she was ready to give up opportunities for compensation in order to protect herself if pursing compensation meant more information exchange and/or communication with her ex-partner:

Look, I think it's fantastic. I think the more times you have to repeat the same story over and over to further, you know, trauma and probably frustration and probably things you know to get niched in certain – you know every time you have to repeat, I think the fact that if things are shared you feel like you’re immediately got an instant sort of record that someone’s being able to review where you’re at and what's going on without having to revisit and go on and repeat the same thing all the time…I said I don't want him to be alerted or questioned on that, and if that was to ever happen I don't want to proceed with the compensation procedure. And that's still pending. And legal have assured me that that – he won't ever be contacted around that and that's still probably a little bit of a fear I might have. But he recently contacted me, the lawyer just saying that the courts have approved it. The next stage would just be finalising things. And I know from dealing with the ex that certainly nothing's been red flagged or his behaviour hasn't changed in any way. That was probably one thing that made me nervous just with proper court procedures and stuff like that…You're not thinking straight at that time, you're not. You're under a lot of stress and duress. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Rosalie, 03.05.18)

Both the FVISS and the CISS permit, and in some circumstances, require information sharing without consent to promote child wellbeing and safety and to assess family violence risk when children are involved. Both schemes provide additional circumstances where otherwise confidential information can be shared without consent. Survey data indicated however that practitioners do discuss family violence information sharing with their clients and there is a very strong focus on consent, reflecting specialist family violence service views that seeking consent from adult victim/survivors is always best practice.

In Survey One, of the 430 respondents who selected yes when asked whether they share family violence information, 245 (56.98%) indicated that they discuss information sharing with victim/survivors, 61 (14.19%) indicated that they discuss information sharing with perpetrators, 32 (7.44%) indicated that they discuss information sharing with both victim/survivors and perpetrators and 7.44% who work with both perpetrators or victim/survivors indicated that they do not discuss information sharing with either groups. The small number who indicated that they do not discuss information sharing, when prompted to explain why, cited safety concerns.

In Survey Two, of the 125 respondent who selected yes when asked whether they share family violence information, 57.60% indicated that they discuss information sharing with victim/survivors, and 6% discuss information sharing with perpetrators. A further 26% indicated that they discuss information sharing information with both victim/survivors and perpetrators. Of the remaining respondents: 7.2% who work with victim/survivors and 3.2% who work with perpetrators indicated that they do not discuss information sharing with them. As in Survey One, respondents who indicated that they do not discuss information sharing were asked why they did not: they consistently cited safety as the reason and indicated that not discussing information sharing is a context dependent decision.

Consent

The surveys provide some information about the extent to which consent is sought prior to sharing family violence information. However, the surveys do not differentiate between whether the consent sought is from victim/survivors or from perpetrators. In Survey One, most respondents reported that they seek the consent of their client to share family violence information (82.28%). Similarly, in Survey Two, most respondents reported that they seek consent prior to sharing family violence information (80.95%). The survey’s qualitative responses noted that in some cases, consent was not sought because it was not required from perpetrators and/or there was a risk to children.

Has the Scheme been implemented as intended to date?

There were eight women who were clearly in active contact with the family violence sector after the FVISS was in operation (that is post February 2018). They offered a complex and uneven picture of the operation and efficacy of both the service system and the Scheme. As is clear from their accounts, for most of these women, all the different elements of an integrated family violence system (including family violence information sharing processes) come together, are interconnected and do not have distinct outcomes. The analysis of this dataset reinforces the importance of recognising that all elements of family violence response, reform and transformation are dynamically linked for those experiencing it, even when the focus of questions and discussion is on a discrete element of the reforms such as the FVISS. Given the focus of the Scheme on victim/survivor safety, women’s responses, whatever the connection to FVISS, are relevant.

Two of the women entered the service system through an Orange Door and were disappointed about some aspects of the support and assistance they had received. Tahlia (FG 18.11) was very positive about the phone support she received on her initial contact – ‘very helpful’ but once she gave her address was advised that she was geographically out of area for the Orange Door she contacted and was given another phone number to call. For her that was difficult: ‘I was so shut down - when you finally reach out – finally had the balls to say this marriage is over and then no help.’ Maryanne had to move from one regional area to another for safety and was disconcerted when she found her records couldn’t move too.

…I was with the Orange Door [1]. … [W]hen I went to Orange Door 2, is that they said, ‘We are so sorry that you have to tell your story again, but our computer systems are not linked up. So that means what Area 1 takes in, we can’t access for you.’ And I went, ‘Right. Well, why did I give all that information, why did I go into everything, why I have done everything if you can’t access that information?’ They said, ‘Look, eventually it will be that way, but at this point in time, no, they’re not all meeting up.’ (Victim/Survivor Interview, Maryanne, 05.11.19)

Orange Door Client Record Management is a state-wide data base accessible by all Orange Door practitioners. In theory, Maryanne should not have had to retell her story. However, the benefits of this system appear not to have been operationalised in her case.

Both of these women were identifying issues with information sharing: Tahlia was seeking a referral that she didn’t have to follow up herself and Maryanne was seeking the ready transfer of her data from one area to another. Yet these specific concerns were embedded in broader aspects of their experiences. Tahlia felt she needed more active support at her initial contact point. She concluded however by talking very positively about her current service engagement. Maryanne felt she had to navigate the system by herself and worried that it only worked out because she had some pre-existing knowledge and experience of advocacy. She said, for example, that she had to inform one of her workers about the Disability and Family Violence Crisis Response initiative funding, of which she was aware because of her own community activism. She recognised however that when a system is changing, there are likely to be gaps and bumps. A number of others in the group of eight engaging with the system post February 2018 were very positive about their Orange Door experiences and the kindness, expertise and referral pathways that came from those contacts.

The intention of the Scheme is to make women and children facing family violence safer by facilitating assessment and management of family violence risk to children and adults. Yet the changes in information sharing raised concerns. For the women who participated in this Review, a central concern about all forms of information sharing was the potential involvement of Child Protection which they primarily experienced in relation to their mothering rather than in relation to family violence support. They described the on-going monitoring of their behaviour by Child Protection and the failure to focus on their partner’s violent behaviour, as a really difficult aspect of their post-separation lives. These concerns were continuous over both periods of data collection. The data from women adds an important insight into broader concerns raised by sector workers in the Review about the integration of Child Protection workers into the FVISS and confusion caused by the concurrent implementation of the CISS. Aliyah talked about the on-going effects of Child Protection interventions on her life and the lives of her children. These concerns were shared by many women who participated and capture a key concern about information sharing as it pertains to their disclosures of family violence.

Child Protection, sorry. Every week they go to me and they call me, “Where are you?” I’m not comfortable with my kids. Even sometimes if my kids done anything bad, I’m scared to tell them, “don’t do that.” or to yell a little bit “it’s dangerous for you”. Because my son, I feel him, he changed a little bit, and he know because their dad, he teach them, “So if you mum touch you, tell me. If your mum yell at you, tell me.” Oh my god, I’m too dangerous woman for my kids. Yeah, and this moment I feel too scared from this situation, and then I give up and I give the kids for him 50:50 between me and you. And I’m not happy really, because when they go to him, I feel they change when they come back to me. Yeah, so yeah. And now we are in this routine. What we can do? I can’t do anything. (Victim/Survivor Focus Group, 21.09.18, left her violent relationship about five years ago)

In two focus groups conducted in November 2019, women talked about the fear of losing their children as a central consideration in their engagement with any form of family violence support. This was congruent with concerns expressed in the first round of interviews and focus groups with women. Sarah talked about the impact of her involvement with Child Protection, and how she eventually received the support she needed to rebuild her life with her children.

So, I got investigated by Child Protection twice which was loads of fun. But yeah, I mean I guess that was a real learning curve too because, you know, the first time around I really didn’t know what to expect and they come to help and you don’t know that sort of some of this stuff is actually voluntary or that you have rights in a way. But the second time around it was - I think the practitioner or the investigator, she was a bit more - I don’t know, what’s the word - she was a better worker and so she was sort of offering me the referrals and the support that I probably should have been offered the first time around. I mean, I think that - I don’t understand why when I got given housing that the refuge just closed my case and didn’t sort of refer me on to [as X from Y service] did, which is refer me to ChildFirst and the CPS and give me that support there. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Sarah, 04.05.18)

A second interconnected concern for some women that again cannot be attributed directly or solely to the FVISS was what they perceived as enhanced access to information about their past, and the consequent or potential on-going impacts on their lives. Nerida left her relationship almost a year ago,

They use your past against you…I’m really disappointed with the department [Child Protection] – yes, I was a pot smoker for 5 years – I quit – my ex uses drugs and doesn’t get tested – he doesn’t get tested – I did all these counselling sessions to get my kids back – he doesn’t have to do anything – he has weekend access. He lives with a drug dealer…There is no accountability for him. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Nerida, 19.11.19, left her violent relationship about 11 months ago)

Marita in the same focus group said she too had lost access to her children and felt that substance abuse issues from her past had played a role in this. She saw this as connected to her approach to the Orange Door late in 2018: “Ever since I went to Orange door things have gone bad”.

The RCFV (State of Victoria 2016) recognised the complexity of interactions between family violence services and systems and Child Protection. Their recommendations focused on development of family violence expertise in Child Protection and a greater recognition of the impacts on children of all forms of family violence in other parts of the family violence system. Information sharing is centrally relevant to the efficacy and safety of these interactions for both women and children. While Child Protection workers have received family violence training in with the RCFV recommendations, the data gathered from women for this Review identifies on-going challenges in this area.

Has the Information Sharing Scheme led to improve outcomes for victim/survivors and increased the extent to which perpetrators are in view?

For most of the women when they talked about information sharing, there was not a strong sense that the family violence system and the FVISS were keeping perpetrators in view. Some women felt that some systems, such as legal and medical ones, protected the privacy of their partners at their expense. In addition, there was strong and consistent concern expressed about the extent of information about them and their children that their ex-partners were able to access. Women were clear about their ongoing fears about the consequences of certain types of information about them being inappropriately shared. While some of the examples they gave about their experiences or concerns are not directly related to the Scheme, they are nevertheless important because these examples inform the way women think about information sharing and safety more broadly. It is part of the information sharing context women experience and therefore impacts on their attitude towards the Scheme.

At a prosaic level, women talked about every day information that was available to ex-partners through systems such as Medicare (where children were on shared cards) and even Family Violence Intervention Orders where a current address is recorded, as the type of information that made them feel unsafe and potentially put them at risk. By contrast, they felt they did not get access to their abusive partner’s information, even when it affected them. Louise who was struggling with the costs of post-separation and debt left with her by her partner, was concerned that the partner from whom she had recently separated, and with whom she still shared bank accounts, had bought a new car: she reported that she was not able to get any information about how this had happened.

Bridget described the on-going impacts of the circulation of her information on her life and the lives of her children.

Bridget’s story

[The family violence service I accessed] were fairly good about the information, holding off the information and keeping it under lock and key. They were fairly good with it, but they would be in constant talks with the police, with my lawyers. They were very pushy when it came to me signing consent for them to talk to everyone. They didn’t give me a chance to go right, hang on a second, I need to think about this. It was a piece of paper in my face saying sign this now and that was it, there was no explanation as to what I was signing, no talk about what it was and what it was going to be used for. They gave me a pamphlet stating my rights and responsibilities, but I had to sign this piece of paper before I even had a chance to read it. I felt a bit overwhelmed…But the police at that time gave him the address of where I was in order to make him stay away, knowing where to stay [away] from. Even without the intervention order there because my details were on the application, he had a copy of the application, the police said, “Stay away from this address” …Of course he did not. He moved across the road…He has a copy of my Medicare number because he still has the children. The Medicare will still not give my children independent Medicare card because he has access to them. So, he has to have a copy of my Medicare card and it makes it easier for him to access my Medicare details, even though they say privacy reasons, the privacy policy. And the Privacy Act, they said he cannot access it. He has. Numerous times and they have freely given him information. So, all he had to do was a formal letter to access under Freedom of Information I think they said. He gained access to very personal details and that makes me concerned…I move every six months still. I take six-month leases. I don’t own a property. I want to own a property, but I can’t leave in a hurry if I own a property. I’ve managed to – I’ve gotten a very big dog, very big protective dog who lets me know. I live on the busiest, busiest street or road in this town so if anybody comes to the door that – if he comes to the door or one of his friends or one of his family even – they’ve come to my house before. There are constantly people around...Usually those phone calls come from private numbers and I still, to this day, the hairs on the back of my neck go up when I see a private number because I never know whether it’s him or not. So, women don’t answer those phone calls. (Victim/Survivor Interview,Bridget, 07.05.18)

Two other women talked directly about their lack of access to information about their ex-partners and how this impacted them. For these women, any possible benefits of more proactive information sharing revolved around changing this aspect of the family violence system. Sarah talked about this issue at length. As is clear in Sarah’s comment, for those who have experienced family violence services and the flow of information aboutthem, statements about perpetrator focus and a ‘victim-led’ scheme will not be enough to create confidence.

[Y]ou know, with family violence, for all the talk of it being victim-led, I mean I just feel like there’s no transparency there. You know, for example, like the assault charges that were laid against my ex, I wasn’t allowed to know that he’d been charged. I wasn’t allowed to even know any - I mean, the only information that I was given by them, by the police, was a letter that came - you know, the final, you know, case was heard and that he’d pled guilty. Didn’t even say - I mean, I found out by other sources that he’d been charged with five different counts of assault and he’d pled guilty to the most serious of them. But if I hadn’t had - and the Court Registrar was not supposed to tell me this, but he told me each of the charges. So, the one that he was found guilty of was recklessly cause injury. And I mean, you know, I felt like why not intentionally because that’s the more serious charge, but that’s another story. But yeah, and then that he had been sentenced to - he’d been given a non-conviction. But yeah, pleading guilty. So, a DCO [Drug Court order], a fine and some drug rehabilitation. And I guess, you know, it just flabbergasted me at the time that I was not even allowed to - when they say that, you know, we’ll keep you updated with the investigation, I mean how can you not even know whether or not - what the charges are or what’s going on with it. It felt very kind of - well, definitely did not make me feel compelled to go out of my way to help them. I guess maybe I should have.

At the time I was a bit more confused about what to do about that issue because, you know, still deciding and hoping that he was going to be a dad. But yeah, I just couldn’t understand, you know, like why. If I’m the victim why aren’t I allowed to be informed. It felt like he was allowed to have more information than I was really. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Sarah, 04.05.18)

Women felt deeply protective about their own information. Managing information carefully and securely is typically an important aspect of how women survive and manage family violence risk and work to protect their children. There was considerable fear about whether the sharing and disclosure of the violence they had experienced, and at times, of their responses and coping mechanisms to that violence, made them vulnerable to negative judgements about their own actions and for the women who were mothers (the majority of the participants) vulnerable to Child Protection interventions. This was a central concern and for many women shaped their processes of family violence disclosure and how they sought and accessed support:

But I guess as much as information sharing can be helpful in terms of speeding things up or not having to repeat your story, I would have been nervous in some ways - you know, you’re definitely not completely honest about certain things I think, you know, in certain situations because you’re worried that your kids are going to get taken off you or how that’s going to impact things. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Sarah, 04.05.18)

Catharine described contacting an emergency service in the latter part of 2016. She recognised she was in crisis but felt pressured by the approach of the helpline she contacted.

So, I said, no I don't want this passed on. Like [my son] he's okay. I'm calling from the backyard. My son's asleep inside. My partner is in there, do you know what I mean. And then they called me back and it was like three in the morning and they called me back and said, look my supervisor has said that I do need to pass this on. And you know, I need your address or they kind have the details and yeah, so it went from there. But I felt really, from that occasion on, I felt I couldn't call one of those lines, do you know what I mean? (Victim/Survivor Interview, Catharine, 10.05.18)

This experience resulted in some reluctance to make contact with services when Catharine later needed assistance and was ready to separate from her abusive partner.

For many women however, concerns about information, whether shared or not, were directly and critically relevant to experiences in the Family Court subsequent to their disclosures of family violence and past the point of immediate crisis. Women talked of the ready availability of their information to ex-partners through custody processes, through shared school access, and through protection orders, alongside the various ways their ex-partner’s information was protected.

So, the way doctors write reports. And he wouldn’t participate in any rehabilitation or any alcohol programs because he didn’t have a problem. Because if he admitted he had a problem and participated in them, then it admitted that was why we were in Court. But the doctors and the hospitals had his suicide information and everything, but that was never revealed in Court. And they didn’t have that over in the subpoenas. So, there’s a lot of protection when it comes to medical information. And from my side, you know, I was very careful on what I would say to doctors as well because I thought ‘Oh my god, you know, I know we’re going through Court right now, so I don’t want anything to be twisted’.
A: Yeah. No, I think like if it's based on privacy yeah, I think they’re the main things. Just need to be a little bit more careful and thoughtful and medical information, even with doctors, just needs to be detailed properly.
Q: Yeah. With attention to the other people who might be unsafe if you don’t. Yeah.
A: Yeah. Because even like they just document it saying, “I had a frank conversation”. And it’s like well that conversation was about saying you’re an alcoholic and you have to go to rehab. And it’s like why wasn’t that written in there, you know. So yeah, just those little changes will make a big change. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Kerry, 09.10.18)

Although the Family Court and legal practitioners fall outside the scope of the FVISS and outside the scope of this Review, the connections between these domains are clear in practice, service response and in women’s experiences. For Kerry, the failure of Alcohol and Other Drug services to accurately outline the excessive use of alcohol by her partner undermined her position in the context of Family Court processes. Such information is potentially relevant to family violence risk assessment and it was not shared while Kerry was in contact with family violence services.

Conclusion

No, I went in quite blind. I don’t think - you know, when you go for those sorts of services, you’re not really thinking about those things. You know, you’re just after help - if that makes sense. So, you don’t really think about anything that you give, you just need something to be given. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Kerry, 09.10.18)
I’m still trying to piece together everything that’s happened – at the time you’re just barely functioning – constantly trying to work out what’s happened in my head. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Nerida, 19.11.19)

The FVISS does not permit the sharing of information that endangers life. The following quote makes clear the support for this principle and the concern that to uphold it each case needs to be assessed individually.

Safety first. Absolutely. Information sharing cannot be put ahead of safety. You cannot share information if it’s going to put somebody’s life at risk. Share information that is only necessary, not information that should – it’s not a blanket rule for everyone. What size jumper fits me doesn’t fit you. The legislation should not be the same for everybody. It should be based on need. I understand that there has to be rules but there has to be a minimum and maximum involved. There has to be this is the most we can share, and this is the least we can share. It sounds like it may not work but this one size fits all approach is not working for everyone. When it comes to mine and my children’s safety it may be very different because I’m up here and he’s down there. But it may not be the same for my next-door neighbour who’s former partner lives two streets away. (Victim/Survivor Interview, Bridget, 07.05.18)

Women’s search for security for themselves and their children was their primary focus when they interacted with services: and many of them talked about how hard that process was. Their focus was therefore both holistic and pressing, meaning that their views on information sharing were often part of more complex and dynamic thinking about systems responses overall.

The key areas women identified as of importance to them were the security of their own information and better access to information about their ex-partners that would enable them to achieve the safety and security they were seeking.

It is clear that women, while broadly supporting the principles underpinning the FVISS, were concerned about their own privacy. In light of this it is important that ISEs have clear privacy policies and that they communicate the details of these with victim/survivors accessing services.

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 Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme for Aboriginal people

Acknowledgement

The Monash Research team offers heartfelt thanks for the generous contributions of time, knowledge, expertise and insights by Victorian First Nations Peoples and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to this Review process: these contributions have been very valuable for the overall Review and foundational in understanding the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme impacts for Aboriginal people, communities and service organisations.

In developing this section of the Report, we have sought feedback from the Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations who were so generous with their expertise to ensure we are accurately capturing their insights and views. This process was undertaken because these organisations are readily identifiable, and therefore, unlike other service providers and participants, cannot be offered secure confidentiality as participants.

How did she heal from it? She comes to our type of services to heal her soul, her everything. (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

Introduction

In this section, in line with RCFV recommendations 146-149 that stress the value and primacy of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCO) as optimal service providers for Aboriginal peoples experiencing family violence, we draw primarily on data collection from ACCO. This approach aligns with submissions to FSV that the Review should address directly and specifically the impact of the Scheme on Aboriginal people. It follows RCFV Recommendation 152 that enhanced family violence related data collection specific to Aboriginal people should be implemented.

In this section, we focus on data, issues and analysis specific to Aboriginal people under each of the Review questions: where relevant, data used here is also reflected in other sections of the Report. Given the importance of ensuring the voices of First Nations people are heard, we use quotations extensively.

There were divided views amongst Aboriginal organisations about the FVISS. There was wide spread concern that combined the FVISS and the CISS could lead to an increase in the involvement of Child Protection in Aboriginal mothers’ lives. For a minority, the Scheme created an opportunity for greater attention to children’s risk in the context of family violence and contributed towards building more collaborative relationships between child and family welfare agencies and specialist family violence services. For most, the establishment of the Scheme raised the risk that women experiencing family violence would avoid or disengage from services to maintain their privacy, autonomy and especially, to avoid risking Child Protection involvement. The Scheme, and family violence reforms generally, have had significant resource implications for Aboriginal organisations dealing with family violence. FSV and DHHS have put in place strategies to facilitate the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives on the reforms. Despite this 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. It was considered that this, in combination with the resource constraints on ACCO and the insufficient number of Aboriginal family violence workers, would undermine good outcomes for Aboriginal women experiencing family violence.

These concerns arose despite the FVISS Ministerial Guidelines devote a specific chapter to ‘considerations when sharing information about Aboriginal people’, and include a section related to Aboriginal people’s concerns about information sharing. The Ministerial Guidelines also provide an overview of the continuing history of removal of Aboriginal children and the operation of unconscious bias that may impact on service providers’ perceptions and decisions. While these Guidelines capture sincere policy intention, there was no confidence among participants that they sufficiently influence or reflect practice realities. Victoria has the highest rate of removal of Aboriginal children of all states and territories (AIHW 2019).

While there was breadth of opinion amongst ACCO about the benefits and dangers of information sharing for Aboriginal people, it was agreed that the processes of implementation and change had very significant resource implications that had not been fully supported.

I think the magnitude of the change and the resources given to resource that change, has really not quite made it. So, that’s been quite difficult. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

These concerns have been reiterated in a range of other contexts, including the 19-20 sector grant project summaries (FSV, unpublished).

The family violence reform process including the FVISS implementation process in the Aboriginal community is at an early stage of development. Areas such as culturally bound confidentiality issues within community have not been unwrapped and analysed at this stage and will take time. Further training for a wider cohort including the mainstream sector engaged with Aboriginal men and women, is expected to be required.

Has the Scheme been implemented effectively to date?

Participants noted that the introduction of the CISS alongside the FVISS had consequences and impacts in relation to the effective implementation of the FVISS. The intersection between the two information sharing schemes was identified as creating confusion for practitioners.

Probably the other thing I would add has been the connection between the Child Sharing Information and the Family Violence Information Sharing. Probably the two of them and particularly Child Sharing information as well, could have perhaps been coordinated a little better in their rollout, I think. I think people got a bit confused at times, what applied to what. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

The particular implications of the FVISS operating alongside the CISS for Aboriginal people were a focus for ACCO. As the RCFV (State of Victoria 2016) made clear, reform of Child Protection approaches to family violence, both in terms of negative assessment of maternal ‘protection’ and a failure to recommend family violence support for mothers where appropriate, is an important aspect of transforming and improving the response and outcomes for mothers experiencing family violence. The implementation of the CISS was perceived as having the potential to undermine the objective of the FVISS in supporting Aboriginal women and children’s safety and the timing of its introduction as having the potential to undercut the effectiveness of its implementation.

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.

Has the Scheme been implemented as intended to date?

The implementation of the FVISS (from February 2018) preceded the implementation of the CISS (September 2018). Since September 2018 the implementation of the two schemes has substantially been in alignment. The CISS was not a recommendation of the RCFV (State of Victoria 2016) and is not specifically focused on family violence relevant risk. The CISS was recommended by multiple Coronial reports and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017). It focuses on sharing information in order to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children. The implementation of the CISS alongside the FVISS and the joint information sharing training from September 2018 does not reflect the initial plans for the implementation of the FVISS.

The broad remit of the CISS provisions, allowing sharing without consent to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or a group of children, created considerable concerns for ACCO service providers. While there are a number of specific safeguards in the CISS focused on cultural safety and family and community connections, there were still concerns that assumptions about child/ren’s wellbeing and safety do not sufficiently recognise or build in cultural frameworks and knowledges. For participants, these assumptions gave rise to fears about the increased risk of child removal in the context of family violence. Such concerns resonate with the 2016 Always was Always will be koori children Inquiry which found that:

High numbers of Aboriginal children experiencing family violence in combination with parental alcohol and/or substance abuse are coming to the attention of Child Protection, leading to their removal from family and placement in out-of-home care (Victorian Commission for Children and Young People 2016, p. 10).

There was fear that this pattern was continuing and that the broad framing of the CISS provisions, which do not include a clear definition of safety or wellbeing, will have negative impacts for Aboriginal women reporting family violence.

… the child safety and wellbeing? What does that mean? There is no criteria. It is subjective. If you’ve got unconscious bias, what is child safety within mainstream views versus something that the Aboriginal communities call safety and wellbeing? Someone could be sitting there going, “Oh no, they’re not being looked after. They’ve been bounced around from family to family.” That’s all right, but someone’s sitting there going they’re being bounced around because it’s the system going they’re not in a stable environment, whereas they are. So – and rhetoric with all of these, even within the [FVISS] Ministerial Guidelines, talks about Aboriginal culture and being aware and sensitive. But what’s cultural – what is child safety and wellbeing? There is nothing there as a framework. It is so dangerous. (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

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

A number of adverse impacts or potential impacts on Aboriginal organisations related to the implementation of the Scheme were identified. These include that there are not adequate Aboriginal focused services to address emerging needs around family violence. There were also suggestions that the requirement for a broader range of services to share information about family violence, sometimes without consent, potentially has an impact on the way services are working with Aboriginal clients.

So, if a woman comes in, hypothetically has a drug and alcohol issue, and it might be – a woman goes to a mainstream organisation who then does the risk assessment who then says, “Well actually this woman should be referred to an ACCO”. Well we’re not a drug and alcohol service, so therefore we then have to bounce her back to a mainstream organisation and/or another Aboriginal service that may or may not have access because of the waiting period. During that time, it could be that as a result of the woman using substances, Child Protection is then brought in, then they’re screening – as in testing. So, the system is actually failing this woman because there’s no beds, there’s no support. MARAM is saying they need to be referred to an ACCO. If it’s family violence, it would be [X service]. We’re not an alcohol and drug service. We do family violence. Some areas we do case management, so therefore they’ll have to refer out. We don’t know the case manager that we’d be referring to because of unconscious bias in the system, so it’s perpetuating the circus and the cycle in regards to bouncing around…And whilst they’re being bounced around, Child Protection has more of an opening to come in because the woman will be homeless. It could be that her substance use has increased due to a whole lot of other factors… (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

This concern was recognised by non ACCO too, as it applied to Aboriginal women and others who experience marginalisation or disadvantage.

I don’t know if I could say that it’s as a result of the Scheme. But historically women are very wary, they’re wary of Child Protection, they’re wary of police. You add into that mix an Aboriginal woman, young people who are scrutinised and seen much more critically in terms of their choices. A woman who speaks English as a second language who’s had difficult experiences as a refugee or a migrant. Difficult experience with police or Child Protection or a school. If we’re being used to share information without having an informed conversation with women about why this request has happened and what the impacts are. Then we become part of the system of scrutiny and we lose that really hard-won relationship and reputation in the community as a safe place for women to come to talk about hard stuff. If I can’t have a good relationship with a client or one of my colleagues, which means she can talk about the fact that she’s spending more money on this and that’s having an impact on the kids. Or she’s seeing her ex-partner because she loves him and that’s having a negative impact on the kids. Or she’s breached privacy and given the address of a refuge or crisis accommodation and breached all safety. If our staff can’t have that conversation with her because she thinks she’s going to get blamed and charged and her kids are going to be taken away from her, then we’ve lost her. So, it’s that really interesting relational part of the work. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Services, 05.09.19)

The concerns of Aboriginal people regarding all forms of government information sharing and surveillance are grounded in histories of oppression, injustice and systematic marginalisation in the provision of support and service. The development of ACCO and the insistence of the RCFV on the critical role of ACCO in the delivery of all forms of family violence service and response reflects Government and community recognition of this history and its on-going effects. A central focus of this concern is tied to practices of removal of Aboriginal children from their families. These practices and policies were initially documented in the Bringing them home Report (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 1997). These concerns are not solely historical. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Report 2018-2019(AIHW 2019) reveals contemporary removal of Aboriginal children remains high in Victoria. The recent In Our Words report (2019) by the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People, states:

Since 2008–09, there has been a tripling of Aboriginal children and young people removed by the state. Despite Aboriginal people comprising less than one percent of Victoria’s population, Aboriginal children and young people make up 25 percent of the care population. In 2017–18, nine out of every 100 Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria were in care (Mohamed cited in Commission for Children and Young People (Victoria) 2019).

During the development and implementation of the FVISS, submissions from ACCO stressed the need to:

  • resource ACCO to provide best practice support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experiencing family violence
  • ensure pathways of referral to ACCO were established in all family violence services
  • ensure supportive and positive responses to mothers and children, and to build cultural safety and competence across all mainstream service for victim/survivors

This was echoed by an expert participant.

We would actually like some more funding for more resources. Because right now what we’re doing, we’re looking at the resources of around hands-on resources, clips, things like that. We’re also looking at policy change, we’re looking at responsibility change, all actually in that sphere of information sharing. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

FSV has initiated specific strategies to include Aboriginal perspectives in the implementation of the MARAM and FVISS reforms through sector grants working groups, the Dhelk Dja partnership forum, and regional coordinators. In addition to this there are Aboriginal Practice Leaders at Orange Door sites. These initiatives were commended. Despite this some felt ACCO contributions and insights to a range of FSV forums and committees were not sufficiently integrated into the implementation of the FVISS.

From my perspective, so this is like the working group – I was part of a working group, the intersectionality working group, and there was a one-on-one sort of like meeting interview. Then I went to a presentation at the reference group of some materials that had been developed, and at no point was cultural safety named. At no point were the issues in relation to Aboriginal women and safety raised, and considering this is about intersectionality and what courses and what information would be provided within this, I was quite gobsmacked, and I actually went to the person – the two people that were involved and said, “Where did that information go?” (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)
I would say that we have questioned it [FVISS] as an ACCO being culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive. That’s been quite an issue. And also, it seems to be - what’s happened is, the training has developed once again along with policy and guidelines [rather than in advance of it] and we’re all trying to grapple with it as a sector. So, that’s been the huge challenge again. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

There is widespread concern among those providing services to Aboriginal people that there are inadequate services to address existing and emerging service needs. While cultural understanding, protocols and safeguards are present at a policy level, the widespread view is that they have not yet been sufficiently embedded in practice. Policies and training designed to address unconscious bias, embed cultural safety and family and community connection for Aboriginal children have been developed and delivered to Child Protection workers. However, these have not allayed concerns that the FVISS in combination with the CISS will reinforce patterns of response which have tended to see child wellbeing and safety in isolation from gendered and culturally informed understandings of both family violence and child wellbeing and safety. Participants feared that the information sharing schemes could have adverse consequences for Aboriginal victim/survivors, particularly Aboriginal mothers, experiencing family violence. 

Yeah, we’re seeing that women are punished by Child Protection for accessing assistance for family violence. And when there’s unconscious bias across the board in system responses through policing and Child Protection, we can’t risk that. And so that’s a gap for us. (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

The sequencing of MARAM vis a vis the FVISS, was identified as an issue across the Initial Tranche, Phase One and all sectors within these (See section 8.4.3) and was linked to concerns about Child Protection for those supporting Aboriginal women.

In the next six months when women start hearing about MARAM, will the choice be “I’ll go back behind the veil because of the risks [of reporting family violence] are too great”? (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

A second area of concern was the impact of the CISS and the FVISS on obtaining consent from adult victim/survivors where there are concern about children’s wellbeing or safety or risk of family violence. The Ministerial Guidelines on the FVISS, in line with specialist family violence services, were clear that seeking consent from victim/survivors remains best practice in cases where children are involved. The CISS Ministerial Guidelines require organisations sharing information in a family violence context to comply with the FVISS Guidelines. Regardless of these policy settings some ACCO believed that the FVISS and the CISS, with its emphasis on proactivity and obligation, created a context of concern for Aboriginal women experiencing violence in relation to their agency and autonomy when disclosing family violence and safety planning. The intention of the Scheme, as the FVISS Ministerial Guidelines make clear (see Chapter 7 of the Guidelines), is not to reinforce the continuing history of child removal for Aboriginal mothers. It is important to note however that there is often a gap between policy intentand policy outcomes. Aboriginal service providers observed that the experiences and histories of Aboriginal victim/survivors, with family violence systems and the potential for Child Protection involvement and particularly removal of children as an outcome of family violence disclosure, as well as the history of interaction with other regulatory and government agencies and systems, has created a significant legacy of distrust. This legacy means that women were alert to, and fearful of, system responses that they did not feel they had control over or trust in. Holder et al. (2017) found that ‘good service contact’ for Aboriginal women focused on active listening, support for children and men as part of the response, quiet time to think and process events, and on-going connection with their chosen agency rather than referrals. Participants considered that the emphasis on family violence information sharing and the implementation of FVISS and CISS together has created perceptions amongst ACCO that Aboriginal women’s agency and autonomy is potentially compromised.

Recommendation 3

The strategies that Family Safety Victoria has put in place to ensure that Aboriginal perspectives are included in the FVISS and MARAM 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 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.

What were the key barriers and enablers for implementation?

A significant barrier to the effective implementation of the FVISS is workforce training and capacity. Issues such as family violence risk literacy, timely access to training, organisational capacity to develop and embed new systems for information sharing, and enhanced workforce capacity to deal with new obligations and responsibilities have been identified across all sectors involved in the Initial Tranche and Phase One. For ACCO, these barriers have created acute impacts in a number of key areas, including insufficient number of Aboriginal workers, training, and organisational resourcing.

A dearth of workers from First Nations communities was a key aspect here.

Part of the Royal Commission is recommendation 209, which is about the workforce. Everybody knows that Aboriginal people are the most under-represented workforce. So just in relation to that, trying to actually have Aboriginal women employed that are going to meet the qualifications and/or to keep the cultural issues alive, et cetera, it’s not going to happen at the rate it’s going. (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

A second issue was the design, delivery and location of the FVISS training. For First Nations participants, issues of cultural safety impacted further on the accessibility and efficacy of the training provided.

A1: When [FSV] are contracting about this training, they need to, and they are talking about it now. They’ve realised there’s been a lot of feedback. So, they’re actually looking about who can be the contractors. And if they’re going to be the contractors, then they actually need to have the staff capacity to be able to roll this training out as a State-wide training.

A2: And also looking at the cultural element of the training, not just rolling it out as a standard package.

A1: Yeah. And have some ACCO involved in it maybe, because that’s been quite an issue and also being flexible of where they’re going to do the training. So, we would like the training to be done for all of our . . . staff in as not a general mainstream training. We have the staff here that we need to do it within [an ACCO] for staff to feel safe as well. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

The third issue related to the resourcing of information sharing organisational change and the additional layers of action required to address cultural safety in such change. This was seen as a major barrier for the effective implementation of FVISS for ACCO by all participants.

But the funding, I have to tell you, when we are embedding MARAM and information sharing, for the change that needs to happen, …., there needs to be a much larger investment of resources from government. And that it’s only two years, while we’re still waiting for the development of many other resources from government, and we’re trying to implement it . . . With that, with the resources being an ACCO, we have also needed to seek consultation about making sure that the resources are culturally appropriate and sought the consultation from Aboriginal staff and community as well. (Expert Interview, ACCO Service Provider, 17.12.19)

This work was seen as impacting particularly on a stretched ACCO workforce and service sector especially when they were not always confident in their relationships and interactions with other agencies.

With such limited resources we have. We’re absolutely on the bones of our bums trying to sort of keep these services going and across – seven services across that magnificent map of where people are. And you see all the money that’s just going down the drain. It really is. And it will amount to nothing in five, ten years, time. For me when I think about is the Scheme working as intended, the two biggest things that come to mind that are barriers are relationships between services, like I think it’s been severely underestimated how poor some of the relationships between the services are. And I have some agencies that are just like they’ll get a request and they’re like I just won’t share because I don’t like that service and I don’t trust what they would do, even with a legislated responsibility that you must share. So that’s a huge barrier. (Focus Group, ACCO Service Provider, 09.10.19)

The role of legal services as a primary form of response emerged as a complex and contentious area in information sharing. For ACCO focused on providing specialist support to women who were experiencing family violence and had children, the practice of providing access to legal advice and information in conjunction with initial disclosures of family violence had emerged as a key protective response given patterns of Child Protection interventions and their outcomes. This integrated approach to safety planning was seen as both valuable and central to women’s on-going engagement with all services. While legal services are not prescribed under the FVISS, participants argued that for Aboriginal women, disclosures of family information needed to supported by ready access to legal support because of concerns about child removal linked to such disclosures. Research funded by ANROWS, Women’s specialist domestic and family violence services: Their responses and practices with and for Aboriginal women: Key findings and future directions(Putt et al. 2017), found that clear and immediate advice about criminal and civil proceedings was very important in providing effective services for Aboriginal women across Australia. In our Review, participants expressed concern that the obligations of information sharing and the opportunities for information to be requested could or were working to undermine the necessary wrap-around service provision specific to First Nations women experiencing family violence.

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

This question did not produce any direct distinctive data relevant to the experiences of First Nations people. General findings including quantitative data about altered levels of information sharing can be found in section 8.7.

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

There is no clear finding in relation to this question. There were mixed views amongst ACCO about the advantages and disadvantages of the Scheme generally and in terms of victim/survivor safety and perpetrator accountability. On the one hand the FVISS was seen by some services as leading to better processes for and engagement with perpetrators. However, concerns were raised about the ongoing criminalisation of Aboriginal men. In addition to this the dichotomous language of perpetrator and victim/survivor was not always considered appropriate when referring to Aboriginal people.

There was contradictory qualitative data from ACCO on improved outcomes from information sharing. Some services reported more effective levels of engagement with perpetrators and were very positive about the enhanced processes arising from the new systems. Others identified workplace pressures and women’s disengagement from services as likely or potential adverse outcomes and were generally negative about outcomes for victim/survivors.

The distinction between victim/survivors and perpetrators has been identified as problematic in terms of responding to family violence experienced in First Nations communities. Concerns about the criminalisation of Aboriginal men and more complex patterns of family violence arising as outcomes of colonisation, means this binary language and approach is not necessarily considered useful in offering services to Aboriginal people (see, for example, Domestic Violence Victoria et al. 2018).

Has the Scheme had any adverse impacts?

The Scheme has had the adverse impact of contributing to the fear of Aboriginal mothers that Child Protection may become involved if they report family violence or engage with mainstream services and that such involvement will lead to negative consequences, particularly child removal.

As detailed above, there was considerable concern that the FVISS in combination with the CISS was creating risks that Aboriginal mothers reporting family violence would have their information shared with Child Protection and as a result risk having their children removed. The cases below were provided by ACCO to demonstrate what they consider the adverse impacts or potential impacts of the FVISS. Although not all of these case studies are directly linked to FVISS, each of the cases highlights fears about child removal and how this contributes to the distrust of and disengagement from health, welfare and family violence services by Aboriginal women experiencing family violence.

Pregnant client presented to emergency after seeing a GP at a local service. When she arrived, Child Protection Services were waiting for her after a report had been made regarding her children. Client now refuses to attend this medical service (an ACCO) due to loss of trust.

Ms A was a child in care herself. She was pregnant but did not seek any assistance until very late in her pregnancy. Hospital staff contacted DHHS because of her lack of engagement with health services earlier in her pregnancy. The midwife suspected family violence after overhearing a conversation between Ms A and the father of her child. DHHS removed her child shortly after birth. She lost trust with all services after the midwife had exchanged information with DHHS. She came to Djirra and said to us “I don’t trust anyone to know my business”. At first, she would not tell us much as she thought we would report to DHHS. Initially she refused assistance from any other service. Eventually she accepted a referral to an Aboriginal Family Services agency. However, making the referral took considerable time due to the adverse impact her experiences at the hospital had on her capacity to trust.

Ms B told a community support worker from DHHS about family violence she was experiencing. As a result of this disclosure Ms B’s children were removed. Ms B told the worker about family violence because she wanted help, but she says she won’t do that again.

Ms C put her children into the care of relatives while she sought assistance with mental health issues. One of the relatives contacted DHHS to say she could not manage Ms C’s children so DHHS removed the children and put them on Child Protection orders. Ms C is now reluctant to talk about her mental health issues or seek treatment.

 

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.

Conclusion

Policy documents related to the FVISS, particularly the Ministerial Guidelines, recognise the unique position of Aboriginal people and the continuing history of colonialism and colonial relations of power. The MARAM framework Principle 7, for example, maintains that:

Services and responses provided to people from Aboriginal communities should be culturally responsive and safe, recognising Aboriginal understanding of family violence and rights to self-determination and self-management, and take account of their experiences of colonisation, systemic violence and discrimination and recognise the ongoing and present day impacts of historical events, policies and practices (Domestic Violence Victoria et al. 2018).

The specific and distinctive impacts of the FVISS on Aboriginal people and on ACCO are clearly grounded in the heavy and enduring legacy of colonisation. Where information has been shared about Aboriginal people it has not typically been for their benefit. Overcoming the legacy of distrust and addressing the attitudes and professional practices that sustain and reflect this history is not straightforward or short term. The policy intent to support rather than further disadvantage or harm Aboriginal people is evident. In addition to this, there are some strategies in place designed to embed cultural safety in FVISS practice and to resource ACCO in the complex and layered changes required by the FVISS. This resourcing and these strategies need to be maintained and strengthened if the Scheme is to achieve its goals of improving safety for all victim/survivors and their children. At this time, the ongoing legacy of surveillance, particularly in relation to mothering, is inhibiting the effective and optimal operation of FVISS as a measure to support the safety of Aboriginal women and children. Importantly these conditions may be impacting on women’s decisions, particularly mothers’ decisions, to access services when they experience family violence.

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 to 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. However, Phase Two timing will need to take into account the need to develop sector specific Practice Guidance.

There are a number of aspects to effective implementation. Implementation takes place at a policy level, a practice level, within ISEs, in specific sectors or types of organisations, across the Initial Tranche and Phase One and state wide. FSV is responsible for the FVISS and coordinating its implementation. However, implementation is necessarily operationalised across various government departments, across sectors, and within organisations. Implementation is at different stages amongst the broad range of ISEs and has been operationalised with differing levels of effectiveness across sectors and within organisations. In the Initial Tranche and Phase One, a total of 857 organisations were prescribed across 19 different organisation types involving a total of c.38,000 workers. Variation in the effectiveness of implementation is inevitable. Broadly at this stage, implementation has been most effective to the Initial Tranche and is most obviously successful and advanced at the policy level. The family violence risk literacy in the Initial Tranche ISEs meant that they were in a good position to absorb the Scheme and translate it into practice in ways that other less specialist organisations in Phase One could not. In addition, Phase One organisations have not had the same amount of time to implement and currently do not or did not previously have the family violence risk literacy that is foundational for family violence information sharing. Despite tight timelines and the challenges of being the first to use the Scheme, by the second period of data collection most Initial Tranche ISEs appeared to have effectively embedded the Scheme in their operations. Some Phase One organisations noted they were still in the very early stages of implementation nearly a year after being prescribed and many still lacked any training in family violence risk assessment.

The surveys provide some suggestive aggregate data in relation to effective implementation. Across both Survey One (prior to implementation) and Survey Two (after implementation) the majority of participants were aware of the FVISS: this had improved over time from 83.30% to 92.97%.

Respondents in Survey Two were asked, “Do you think the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS) has changed your practice or views in relation to sharing information in the last twelve months?” Their responses were overwhelmingly yes (72.73%, compared to 16.23% answering no and 11.04% selecting unsure). When asked why, the comments typically pointed to four key issues, each of which suggest effective implementation of the Scheme:

  • more efficient
  • better information and therefore better practice and support
  • better collaboration
  • better outcomes for victim/survivors

The high and increased levels of awareness about the FVISS over time and respondents’ views that the Scheme has led to positive changes in relation to family violence information sharing practice and outcomes suggest that implementation has been broadly effective. There is significant evidence set out under section 8.6 in relation to the barriers and enablers of the Scheme, section 8.7 in relation to levels of relevant information sharing, and section 8.8 in relation to the outcomes of the Scheme that indicate that the Scheme is operating effectively, supporting improved family violence risk assessment and improved outcomes in terms of perpetrators being held in view and assisting to keep women and children safe.

This section of the Report focuses on the effectiveness of implementation through the lens of the support and coordination provided primarily but not exclusively by FSV. These aspects of implementation include:

  • training
  • Ministerial Guidelines
  • the Enquiry Line
  • sector grants
  • Practice Guidance

Training

The need for training is frequently identified in existing research (see section 7.9) as a key to building organisational cultures and workforce confidence to share information appropriately under relevant legislation. In line with this there was general consensus amongst all participants that training is central to effective implementation.

There has been a host of different face-to-face training and on-line training options related to the FVISS provided directly to Initial Tranche and Phase One since February 2018. In addition, many organisations, services, sectors and government departments have tailored existing training to their needs and organised internal training delivery. The training of tens of thousands of workers is clearly a major challenge that will continue into Phase Two where there is a much larger pool of workers.

There are some broad quantitative indications of the effectiveness of the training. The Initial Tranche training evaluations indicate that most attendees were positive about training commissioned by FSV and considered the information they received did enhance their understanding of FVISS. Most attendees reported better understanding and increased confidence in the implementation of the FVISS after training. Likewise, in the training evaluations report for the two-day face-to-face training, led by DET but developed in partnership with FSV and other government departments (delivered October to December 2018) covering both the FVISS and the CISS, the majority of attendees reported that the training increased their understanding of information sharing. Overall attendees at the two-day training [hereafter referred to as 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training] reported they found the training very valuable, with most rating the training and trainers, their understanding of the information sharing reforms and subsequent confidence to appropriately share information as medium to high or very high. The rating for the response to ‘How do you rate the training overall?’ was 77 percent from medium to high, with 37 percent selecting high and 39 percent medium; seven percent rated their overall impressions of the training as very high and 11 percent rated it as low (Department of Education and Training Evaluation Report 2019).

The subsequent one day DHHS Information Sharing Schemes face-to face training (May to October 2019), available exclusively to DHHS workers, was rated highly or very highly by 91% of attendees.

The high level of satisfaction with the DHHS training is consistent with the qualitative feedback, set out under the relevant sections below, which indicates that training improve markedly from 2018 to 2019. Survey Two indicated that 83% of respondents (n=154) had received FVISS training. While these survey results do not indicate what particular training those respondents undertook, 70 percent indicated the training was useful.

The qualitative comments in Survey Two, the interviews and focus groups and the Whole of Victorian Government training evaluation report, provide more nuanced understanding of the effectiveness of the training and lessons for Phase Two. The survey respondents and other participants that provided critical feedback on training were concerned mainly with training:

  • availability and accessibility
  • timing and sequencing
  • quality
  • communication

Each of these is considered below.

It should be noted that the physical distancing requirements of COVID-19 may impact on future training and the training of Phase Two workers. At time of writing, these impacts cannot be predicted with any certainty. The following discussion and recommendations with regard to Phase Two training should be read taking into account the uncertain impact of COVID-19.

Availability and accessibility

The limited availability of the training prior to the prescription of ISEs and some issues with accessibility of the training impacted on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Scheme.

A number of participants talked about the training opportunities and the volume of training available as a positive.

I think there have been many opportunities for practitioners and managers and team leaders to participate in training, to understand what the reform means. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 11.09.19)

However, despite the availability of a host of centrally (Whole of Victorian Government or DHHS) face-to-face, on-line training and tailored training provided by sectors or departments, it was more frequently reported that there was not enough timely training for all those who wished to access it.

It’s difficult to get into, and I think that people are a bit nervous about when they need to have done the training by. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

I think probably earlier days of training, as you said, it was quite difficult for even with how you book in. So, we had limits on how many could go. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

I think there’s been a bit of a traffic jam trying to get into training. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

There was also the suggestion that less than optimal communication about training options and availability may have in some cases impacted on accessibility.

The Whole of Victorian Government training evaluation report indicates that communication about face-to-face and e-Learning was ‘not optimal’ and that this may have negatively impacted training accessibility. The report included the following attendee feedback.

We could have registered all of our MCH nurses to attend the training but were restricted. This was extremely frustrating as there were not many people at the training. The ELearning could have been more broadly advertised to promote attendance (Department of Education and Training Evaluation Report 2019).

There was appreciation of the multiple regional training opportunities and positive recognition that these were valuable and necessary. Organisations and services in regional areas, however, experienced some additional issues. The regions emphasised the importance of the availability of face-to-face training for workers. The following example refers to the difficulty of Skype hook ups but was put forward by participants to make a broader point about the difficult of any training that relies heavily on an internet connection.

This is a perfect example [the failure of technology to remotely link to Focus Group participants in one region to another region 70 kilometres away] of why we need face-to-face training because this is our struggle, this is our reality. People say, “You can Skype. You can do this.” Again, in Melbourne, maybe you can Skype from Coburg to Preston but here, we cannot Skype from A to B with any reliability. Imagine if those people were trying to do a training course for a whole day, going, “Can’t really hear, can’t understand. Missed most of it”. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

Participants from regional areas, however, also raised concerns about the locations and travel times for face-to-face training. They felt strongly that their locations, and in some instances, relative isolation were not factored into the training schedule. A full day nine-to-five training session could involve two hours travel each way for those working outside large centres. They saw this as hindering accessibility, creating considerable additional work costs, as well as occupational health and safety issues when travelling long distances at night in areas with unreliable mobile phone reception.

On-line training was considered an important resource with participants often linking the accessibility of training to the type of services they worked in and pointing to the need for a range of training options.

The training was quite inadequate because what you’re aiming to do is that most organisations are predominantly set up for operations. So to take a whole day out of operations to go to training is actually not achievable for most practitioners, so it would’ve been more useful to have had a mix of learning materials so the knowledge in and online disseminated and managed within organisations, webinars and in smaller chunks, so an hour of multi-agencies getting together on a webinar about how this would actually work. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)
By offering them the online training means that what they can do is work around … Because our staff work different hours, because they’ve got to run groups in the evening and things, so that makes it really complex about trying to access some training. So being able to do that really helps. (Manager Interview, Multi-agency, 08.08.19)

It was noted by some participants that a wider range of training resource materials were progressively becoming available. A short introductory video on YouTube by FSV, for example, was considered a useful contribution to in-house workforce training and for use at forums and the like. The need for a flexible and innovative mix of resources and training materials will become even more critical in Phase Two, which includes a large number of front line services and services where family violence is not central to the day-to-day work of organisations and services.

Many participants referred to decisions to tailor training information for their workplaces and/or passing the knowledge gained in training onto others in their own workforces after attending the training themselves. This is a practical strategy in light of the need to target training to the needs of particular workforces, the challenges of centrally providing the quantity of training that is needed prior to ISEs being prescribed, and the limited pool of qualified trainers. A number of participants noted that this process of passing on information to their colleagues or developing training in their own workplaces would have been more effective if they been supplied initially with a high-quality package of materials to accompany the training (see below on training quality).

What probably would have been really useful then was if there was something that could have been taken away is materials to train in your own organisation. And we took away the materials that we did have, but we kind of changed it a bit, and varied it to do our own in-house training. But if there had of been a package available, I think that would have been a really efficient way of being able to roll that out. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

Timing and sequencing

A major concern across all focus groups and interviews was that training was not sufficiently available, or available at all prior to implementation of the Scheme. This led to the feeling that ‘organisations were running behind to catch up’ (Manager Interview Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service05.09.19). Another typical comment about the timing of training was that ‘we’re getting one thing [prescription to share] before the next; the training rolling out way after we need it to roll out’ (Focus Group, DJCS, 19.09.19).

In the Initial Tranche, there were less workers trained prior to those ISEs being prescribed than initially planned. In Phase One no workers were trained until after their organisations were prescribed (see section 8.4). Not all Phase One workers had been trained in FVISS a year after being prescribed: the majority still did not have any family violence risk training.

Apart from training for the majority of workers taking place after the prescription of their organisation or service, the provision of FVISS without the availability of MARAM training was considered a major issue related to the effectiveness of the training and the effectiveness of the implementation of the entire Scheme, particularly for Phase One (see also sections 8.4 and 8.6). It is widely accepted that an understanding of family violence risk is essential for effective family violence information sharing. The MARAM training was considered critical for Phase One organisations because, unlike Initial Tranche workers, Phase One workers had no or very limited family violence risk knowledge. This issue is addressed in more detail in section 8.4.

In the absence of substantive MARAM training which would have provided base level family violence literacy for Phase One ISEs, many of these organisations were not adequately prepared to participate in the Scheme a year after they had been prescribed.

So, I think it’s going to take a long time before this [family violence information sharing] starts to happen because the context is not developed yet. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)
I think that because those schemes [MARAM and FVISS] are out of sync, and particularly for AOD, mental health and all those other workforces that are prescribed but aren’t specialist services. The family violence literacy, it’s not there yet, so because there’s no MARAM training, the tools and the practice guides have only just been released. It’s made it really difficult, I think, for those sectors to implement effectively. (Manager Interview, AOD, 20.09.19)

The data gathered on the effectiveness of training to the Initial Tranche supports the conclusion that the effectiveness of the FVISS training was undermined by the lack of family violence risk training. A relatively small percentage of Initial Tranche workers undertook the FVISS training without having had any risk assessment CRAF training. The training evaluations for the Initial Tranche found those who had previously undertaken CRAF training rated their understanding of the new FVISS more highly than those without CRAF training.

Timelines for the development and delivery of the training were a major issue for the Initial Tranche and Phase One. Short timelines for the development of training, which was occurring concurrently with the development of practice guidance and other materials relevant to the Scheme, resulted in major challenges related to developing quality training. The Training Evaluation Report in for the Whole of Victorian Government training in 2018 notes:

The rapid preparation . . . meant there was no time to assess its feasibility in terms of practice or logistics prior to delivery (i.e. a pilot ‘market’ testing wasn’t undertaken) (Department of Education and Training Evaluation Report 2019).

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.

Quality

Variability in the quality of different training was a consistent issue.

Really [the quality] depended on which training people went to. There was some training that people just said, that was a waste of time “I don’t know why I went”. And other training people said, “that was fantastic, really helped me, got a lot out of it”. So, it was very varied. (Manager Interview, Mental Health, 03.09.19)
The two-day initial training was confusing and convoluted, didn’t allow people to be able to digest it and bring it back in-house, so it pretty much didn’t support that knowledge getting transferred in-house. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)

This variability in the quality of the training was observed in both face-to-face training and on-line training.

There was a commonly expressed view in focus groups, interviews and in the qualitative comments in Survey Two that training quality improved over time.

I think the training at the start was a bit complicated, and I’ve been to more recent trainings which are less complicated and better. So, the ones that I’ve been to that particularly more recently combined the family violence info sharing, the children’s information sharing, was really well done. They pulled out a lot of the detail that I think was just confusing people and made it quite clear. So, I think that was great. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence, 19.08.19)
The DHHS training that is out there I think is a big improvement. [on the earlier two-day training] (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)
What we are hearing from people who attend the training package or the one-day sessions that we’re doing is that they’re leaving with an understanding that they didn’t have before, even if they had already done other [two- day] training last year [in 2018]. (Manager Interview, Department of Health and Human Services, 23.09.19)
The new one day training is good and answers the questions that were not addressed in last year’s [2018] training. (Survey Two)

A positive trajectory in relation to training quality is welcome. To some extent the improvement of training overtime is to be expected as critical feedback from attendees is incorporated, and trainers become more familiar with the content. In the case of the initial FVISS training the rushed nature of the implementation generally (see section 8.6) and the timelines for training development and delivery in particular were significant in terms of the quality of initial training.

As indicated above, Survey Two recorded that 70 percent of respondents who had undertaken FVISS training indicated it was useful (though these responses do not link to specific training). When asked why training was useful, respondents generally used terms such as ‘provided an understanding’, and statements such as:

Good information. (Survey Two)
Informative and educational. (Survey Two)
It was good to workshop so I could understand how it would function in practice. (Survey Two)
Provided more information on what to request. (Survey Two)
It was clear and the resources were good. (Survey Two)
It provided guidance to when, what and how to share information safely and for the correct purpose. (Survey Two)

For the 30 percent of respondents to Survey Two who said that training was not useful the qualitative comments reflected four consistent concerns. These concerns align with the themes articulated in the focus groups and interviews, specifically:

  • training was insufficiently tailored to diverse practice needs
  • the training was insufficiently practical
  • trainers not subject matter experts
  • the content was unclear, incomplete or confusing

The quality of the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training was considered a major challenge for specialist family violence services but of particular concern for Phase One ISEs with very limited family violence risk literacy. Some participants’ comments suggest that perceptions of the poor quality of that training, and peer to peer communication that it was a ‘waste of time’, may have impacted on the number of people who attended that training and potentially subsequent training even though it was widely acknowledged the training quality improved significantly in 2019.

So, I feel like that – like when we’re telling staff it’s very different [more recent training]. It’s much better than the last time. Because they are like ‘Do we have to go and do that again? (Manager Interview, Child Services, 18.12.19)

The major quality issues in the training are addressed separately below.

Training insufficiently tailored to diverse practice needs

A number of organisations undertook tailored training for their workforces, including Victoria Police, DHHS, and the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS). In addition to this Whole of Victorian Government training was available. Cross sectoral training has a number of advantages. It potentially contributes to a common language, common understandings, a community of practice, allows for networking and builds trust between sectors, all of which is important for effective implementation. However, in order to achieve these advantages training has to be carefully structured so that attendees from different practice backgrounds and sectors are accommodated. Skilled trainers are knowledgeable about strategies to overcome the challenges of diverse practice groups. Such strategies may include, for example, opportunities for small group work. Respondents to the survey and participants in interviews and focus groups maintained that the training, particularly the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training, was not designed with attention to the diverse practice backgrounds of attendees.

[It] needs to be more specific to Financial Counsellors and how we can use it in daily practice. (Survey Two)
It wasn't specific to my role; we do not case manage and it is difficult to relate. (Survey Two)
It’s pitched so low [the Victorian Whole of Government training]. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 12.08.19)
You’ve got specialist practitioners in the room. Don’t assume they are content free. Think who your audience is, target the training for the audience. (Manger Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.12.19)
It wasn’t pitched appropriately for the level of different people . . . It was just everyone to attend and, if you had already done some of those consultations, it wasn’t meaningful. (Manager Interview, Multi-agency, 25.11.19)
I think it would probably have been good to have just a housing training as opposed to whole of DHHS training . . . Because I mean my understanding is people weren’t 100 percent clear how to apply it to their jobs. (Manager Interview, Homelessness Service, 17.09.19)

Training, especially the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training, was criticised both for not recognising prior family violence knowledge and for assuming such knowledge.

Don’t assume people have come from a position of knowledge about risk and about what family violence is. I’ve found a lot of the training is really centred towards that, and I come from a position of no knowledge. (Focus Group,DJCS, 19.09.19)
It [training] treated practitioners like they were, they didn’t have content knowledge, they didn’t have practice wisdom. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

While these two perspectives appear contradictory, they point to the need for cross sectoral training to be designed and delivered by skilled trainers capable of implementing strategies to incorporate and engage with a diversity of attendee knowledge, experience and practice contexts.

Quality of training issues associated with perceptions that training was not targeted for diverse attendees were linked to concerns about the lack of sufficient practical content in the training.

The training was insufficiently practical

A consistent theme was that training was insufficiently practice focused and needed to include more case examples, practical exercises and group work. This is in line with research indicating that experiential learning is most suitable for adults (see Merriam & Bierema 2013).

Did not provide specific information about practice. It said that workers needed to make an informed decision about what to share and when, which was very unsettling for workers. (Survey Two)
They [the training] were more like an info session rather than actually getting into the nuts and bolts of what was required within the context of info sharing. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 12.09.19)
I went to a full day’s training with a group of other agencies and it was - I felt - inadequate. There was a whole lot of highly pessimistic process stuff talked about and then when we got to the syndicate work about nothing about how information sharing would actually work or the kinds of information we might be seeking and how we’d go about finding that out. There was almost no time for it. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)

The evaluation of the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training noted that:

The repetitive nature of the materials . . . meant many participants felt the training could have been delivered in one day with most modules being prescribed as pre reading and the focus shifting to case studies, role plays and networking which was repeatedly noted as the most significant benefit of the training (Department of Education and Training 2019).

The consistent view from participants that the 2019 one day DHHS training was a significant improvement over the earlier Whole of Victorian Government training suggests this feedback was taken on board.

Trainers were not subject matter experts

Some trainers were perceived to lack expertise in family violence and in the details of the Scheme, meaning they could not effectively deliver training.

Needed . . . to be delivered by trainers that have a sound understanding of family violence practice. (Survey Two)
Trainers were not immersed in the Scheme, unable to answer questions or talk to scenarios. (Survey Two)
The facilitators did not understand practice, risk or the Scheme and it was hastily administered and delivered. (Survey Two)
Non-specialist networks were brought in to deliver the training and our understanding from some of the feedback was that that became quite problematic as well because even if curly Qs or live practice things got raised on the day, there wasn’t that expertise in the room. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence, 12.09.19)
It was very poorly run. The facilitation was extremely poor. (Manager Interview, Child Services, 18.12.19)

The challenge of sourcing a sufficient number of trainers with family violence expertise to deliver FVISS training is likely to continue. It is estimated that there are only 100 trainers in Victoria who are specialist practitioners with knowledge of family violence.

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.

 

Content unclear, incomplete or confusing

In conjunction with concerns about the quality of the trainers, concerns about the content, clarity and focus of some of the training was a consistent theme across survey, interview and focus group data.

One training [program] advised having formal requests and others have informed me of just case noting it...hard to know which is the correct way. (Survey Two)
The training did not make me feel informed or confident in using the FVISS. (Survey Two)
Confusing and hard to apply. (Survey Two)
Notes/written materials didn’t match with what was delivered. (Survey Two)
The thing that horrified me the most was in the two days’ training . . . they didn’t mention the policy intent of keeping perpetrators in view and making them accountable the whole time. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service)

There were comments about training in relation to the FVISS and the CISS and the practice implications of this.

Certainly, the training I did - did not help with that separation act [between the two information sharing schemes]. They did cover them separately but really, they kept referring back to information sharing as a whole and talking about the schemes and it was very confusing at the very beginning. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service and AOD, 20.09.19)

The following participant comments raised questions about the practice related content of the training and the importance of a nuanced understanding of family violence risk.

There was some training where one of our [MBCP] facilitators went off to . . . and the trainers were sitting there making claims about the fact that we would share information about giving weekly updates about the men’s progress in the group as part of information sharing. And I’ve actually followed that up and said, “No, because we share information around risk and it may actually increase the risk or expectation if we share inappropriate information”. The person that is most likely to be aware of the change – we’re not the experts – that woman or family member that is exposed to the violence is the one that’s best to determine”. We had men come along to the group and you just think to yourself, “Oh, God. He’s so hard. He’s difficult”. Each week you’ve got to work really hard and you think you’re not making progress and you hear back from the woman that, in fact, the violence is reducing, so something is happening. You get men that come along and they’re saying all the right things, they’ve seen the light, and you hear back from the woman, “No, the violence is not - ” So it’s hard to determine based on that. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 08.08.19)

The concurrent introduction of the CISS and the FVISS was considered to have contributed to confusion amongst training attendees about which scheme should be used, particularly for those not expert in, or without previous knowledge of, family violence.

The feedback from people working on the ground who have no previous knowledge, which is which and really confusing and consent requirements from one to the other and then thinking, ‘Why do we have family violence information share? [C]ouldn’t we just override [with] the children’s anyway?’ So, it would be much lower [consent] thresholds and less restriction and all of that ... (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service and AOD, 20.09.19)

Addressing the legislatively correct approach to obtaining victim/survivor consent when the information in question relates to family violence risk, including specific reference to the best practice approach set out in the FVISS and CISS Ministerial Guidelines, will be critical to include in future information sharing training.

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.

Communication about training

Communication about who should go to what training when was considered a major issue for Initial Tranche workers in the first period of data collection. This resulted partly from a change in the training strategy and subsequent communication about that change (see section 8.4). Such issues arose less frequently in the second period of data collection, suggesting that communication strategies had improved for Phase One.

However, there were residual concerns about communication linked to training, about who should go (see accessibility above) and confusion around whether training was a prerequisite to sharing family violence information.

[A] lot of questions coming up around: do we have to have done the training to be able to share information? And officially the answer is yes. Unofficially, we know that we’re not going to train every practitioner for it to happen. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)

The confusion arises partly because many key implementation activities, including training in FVISS and MARAM, took place after the prescription of ISEs.

The confusion surrounding messaging about training, timing and sequencing, particularly in relation to the MARAM, is apparent in the following quote.

I’m getting feedback like ‘which training do I go to?’; ‘does that mean I can do it now? ; and ‘when do we use MARAM instead of CRAF?’; and I haven’t got definitive answers for that as yet. I’m able to tell people, “Look, it is a work in progress; there’s no set deadline. But then that makes it very difficult for people to get that traction . . . that we want to have done this by the 1st of July or something. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)

The confusion arises partly as a result of the tension between ISEs being legally mandated to share family violence risk information and the sequencing of information sharing training and MARAM which meant that many were not practically positioned to do so.

The second communication issue about training was in relation to the content of the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training running from October through to December 2018. This training was advertised as ‘Family Violence and Child Information Sharing Reforms and introduction to MARAM’. Review team members who observed the training noted the dissatisfaction of attendees that the expected MARAM content was not in fact delivered. This was borne out in the Training Evaluation Report which concluded that:

Understanding of MARAM was thought to be found least useful and received the lowest rating overall. Responses to this module reflected the misalignment between participant expectations (that they would be provided in depth training on how to embed the MARAM into organisational processes and professional practice) and the intention of the Phase One training with respect to the MARAM module being only an introduction to the new risk assessment and management framework (Department of Education and Training Evaluation Report 2019).

The Training Evaluation Report provided an overview of attendees’ critical feedback of Whole of Victorian Government training communication and the need to further improve communication noting that:

Open-ended responses indicated that some participant expectations did not align to the aims of the training, content and delivery style meaning communication before, during and after the sessions was not optimum. Better communication with participants regarding the intention of the training could have assisted them in determining which sessions to attend alongside this. It was important they thought, that clearer communication about ongoing support be provided to alleviate any anxiety about how they would implement in practice, such as provision of links to resources and an understanding of the change management plans in place for specific workforces (Department of Education and Training Evaluation Report 2019).

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.

Ministerial Guidelines

The Ministerial Guidelines are a comprehensive, high quality guide to the FVISS legislative and policy framework. The full guidelines (147 pages; 12 chapters) are supplemented with a 20-page summary version for ease of reference. The Ministerial Guidelines were developed in consultation with and significant input from Initial Tranche ISEs. They represent a key element of the effective implementation of the FVISS, setting out the legal obligations of ISEs, and the FVISS policy framework. They include case studies that demonstrate the implications of the Scheme’s legislation and policy frameworks for diverse scenarios. Participants generally thought that the Ministerial Guidelines were comprehensive, of good quality and a good resource that aided the effective implementation of the FVISS. The development of the Ministerial Guidelines in the period immediately prior to the establishment of the commencement of the Scheme in February 2018 was a significant milestone in the effective implementation of the FVISS. Phase Two implementation will benefit from the foundation they continue to provide.

While participants generally thought the Ministerial Guidelines provided good policy guidance they recognised that these need to be supplemented by practice guidance, training and ongoing support. This reflection is important for Phase Two because the mechanisms that support the translation of policy into practice will need to address the specific concerns of different workforces.

The Ministerial Guidelines ... do give good guidance ... but ... it all goes from policy to operationalised and there doesn’t seem to be the interpretation but really, the importance of practice because there’s a lot of how you translate this into good practice. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 18.12.19)

The Enquiry Line

The Enquiry Line was initiated by FSV at the request of stakeholders in February 2018 to coincide with the commencement of the Scheme. The purpose of the Enquiry Line is to answer ISE questions about the FVISS and (from September 2018) the CISS. It is an information, not an advice, line. The Enquiry Line can be accessed by email or phone. The details of the Enquiry Line and website with links to resources were made available to all those attending information sharing scheme training subsequent to October 2018. These details are included in slides and participant packs for each module of training, including face-to-face and online. Communications from relevant departments to ISEs regarding training since October 2018 have incorporated details of the Enquiry Line.

The Enquiry Line is a good initiative and a welcome support to the effective implementation of the Scheme. The Department of Education and Training (DET) took over the operation of the Enquiry Line – conceived of as a whole of Government Information Sharing (FVISS and CISS) and MARAM Enquiry Line in September 2018, coinciding with Phase One implementation. In order to support the Phase Two implementation, the operation of the Enquiry Line should be expanded, recording and reporting should be enhanced and consideration given to providing referral to legal advice in the case of complex cases where organisations do not have ready access to obtaining such advice.

Participant views about the effectiveness of the Enquiry Line were mixed. Some considered that the service was not sufficiently responsive or timely. The view was linked to the limited operating hours, 10am – 2pm and the common experience of calls going to a Message Bank. Though it may be possible in some cases for enquirers to get feedback outside these hours via email, none of the participants have experienced this or were aware of it.

You ring and you leave a voicemail and someone will get back to you between (sic) a six or seven hour space. For organisations like us where we have the expertise in the team or we have got multiple people there that know the scheme, we can figure things out. However, the small organisations and the small individual ISE that would just not have the knowledge and so therefore they require that expertise that they just won’t get without the Enquiry Line being there for them on the spot and I worry about that for 2020. It’s okay now because everyone is coming around, but in 2020 we saw that there was (sic) problems in the last phase. This phase is huge so I think the Enquiry Line needs more work. (Manager Interview, MCV, 17.09.19)
I find that they rarely answer the phone, and if you leave a message it takes quite a long time for them to get back to you. And the same with email, there’s often a delay . . . which can be a bit frustrating if it’s a practice question. (Manager Interview, MCV, 17.09.19)

There was positive feedback about the utility of the information provided.

Super helpful. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)
When you speak to them; very helpful. (Manager Interview, MCV, 17.09.19)
But mostly when I’ve rung it’s been quite useful, for example, if there’s something ambiguous about a sector and I’m kind of like, “Oh, are they an ISE or are they not?” They’ve been able to clarify that. Yeah, I think that’s definitely really important. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.09.19)

Others reported the information they received was not always helpful or that the remit of the Enquiry Line was too limited. A number of participants reported the response was often to simply refer to the relevant sections of the Ministerial Guidelines, though they felt their questions required more nuanced responses.

Wasn’t always consistently helpful. (Manager Interview, Child Services, 18.12.19)
The Enquiry Line, really resistant to answering any questions. (Focus Group, AOD, 22.10.19)
So the feedback I have had from the advisers who have used the Enquiry Line is that, while it is very useful, technical and questions which they tend to understand reasonably well anyway, it’s been far less useful in the sense that they can’t give advice, they can’t advise on particular cases on whether or not you can share information. But certainly, the feedback directly to me from the advisers who we have done a lot of work on information sharing alone so they are quite literate in terms of the mechanics of the scheme and the intentions of it so they haven’t found it as useful, or discerning what is set up for but there is sort of a feeling that there is a gap in terms of having it somewhere where they say, ‘This is new legislation, this is the case I have got, can we work through? (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service and AOD, 20.09.19)

The number and nature of emails and calls to the Enquiry Line are currently recorded. Since its launch by DET in September 2018 the Enquiry Line has received a total of 217 calls; 99 to the end of 2018 and 148 to the end of October 2019. A report in relation to the Enquiry Line – November 2018- October 2019 records the number of calls as falling into these broad themes:

  • to verify an ISE (37%)
  • to seek policy guidance (35%)

The report records broadly the type of policy questions and type of organisation making enquiries. There were 429 email enquiries reported relating to both the FVISS and the CISS. These enquiries are reported as similar to the above, as well as including enquiries relating to online training.

An expanded range of recorded data in anticipation of Phase Two implementation, including the time taken to respond to enquiries, questions/cases that cannot be addressed, and a systematic analysis of this data on a six-monthly basis could serve a number of purposes. It would:

  • Allow frequently occurring questions and trends in use of the Enquiry Line to be identified and addressed in a more systematic and proactive way where appropriate.
  • Track trends in the time taken to respond to enquiries and address any issue related to this.

Consideration should be given to providing referrals for legal advice to deal with those questions or cases that require more than standard information. The appropriate location of the Enquiry Line should be considered given the diversity of workforces involved in Phase Two.

The Department of Education and Training is, at time of writing, working on a project to provide an accessible on-line list of ISE. This list will eliminate the need for ISEs to contact the Enquiry Line to obtain this information. This project is due to be completed by the end of June 2020 and will provide a more efficient process to deal with what is currently the main source of Enquiry Line contacts.

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 Phase Two.

Sector grants

Sector grants are designed to support the implementation of the FVISS and assist workforces and organisations to develop practice guidance and embed information sharing practice. There were some issues in the timing of the grants to the Initial Tranche. This meant that organisations and services didn’t have the opportunity to employ additional staff prior to the commencement of the FVISS in February 2018. The timing of the sector grants was not typically considered a major issue for Phase One, though some participants did refer to delays and there was comment about the level of the grants relative to need. The lessons learned from the implementation of the sector grants to the Initial Tranche improved the effectiveness of the grants.

These grants are now timelier, more flexible and more effectively targeted to meet the aims of the Scheme. Significantly they are contributing positively to a community of practice around FVISS. In collaboration with stakeholders FSV has suggested a range of activities related to these grants but does not preclude other activities. Particular suggestions are made regarding activities considered particularly relevant to Aboriginal grant recipients. There is a bi-monthly working group, co-chaired by FSV and DHHS to allow organisations receiving the sector grants to collaborate, share ideas, resources and activities, and work towards a unified approach across the service system.

The collaborative activities of the working group are an important contribution to effective implementation. The majority of Survey Two respondents (54%) considered interagency forums a key priority, second only to better technology to make systems connect (74%) when asked about ways to improve future implementation of the Scheme. A major issue for the future effectiveness of the grants is to ensure they are at a level and continue for a sufficient period to effectively support the continued implementation of the Scheme for Phase Two and for Initial Tranche and Phase One. While FVISS policy is well developed, developing and embedding practice is more complex and will take longer. In addition, developing and embedding practice has been delayed, particularly in Phase One, because MARAM has been substantially delayed (see section 8.4). The support of sector grants will be needed to all ISEs over a longer period than may have been anticipated previously. It is important that the grants are at a level that is appropriate to the substantial work involve implementing the reforms.

I think the sector grants are obviously a useful thing... But I think that there’s a resource implication for the implementation of these schemes, and I think that there’s value in thinking about the sorts of resourcing implications for individual agencies, and how they might receive additional funding to support implementation. Whether it’s training your staff, whether it’s modifying documents because the documents don’t adequately talk to their workforce; whether it’s about even managing the number of inquiries they’re getting, and so on. And I think that when we see the next group of agencies, universal services, come online, it’s going to add a degree of complexity again, and I just don’t think the sector grants are adequate to address that. That would be my feeling. (Focus Group, Mixed, 3.9.19)

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.

Practice guidance

Practice guidance about how legal and policy settings are to be translated into every day practice is critical in the effective implementation of the FVISS. It is especially the case for ISEs who have not undertaken family violence work previously. Research indicates workforces need to be adequately resourced to cope with the administrative demands of information sharing arrangements. Many participants in the first period of data collection believed that there needed to be more practice guidance to support embedding legal and policy requirements into practice. While this concern was present to some extent (see section 8.6) in the second period of data collection there is a growing suite of practice guidance available that will support the embedding of practice to Initial Tranche ISEs and Phase One and crucially to Phase Two. These include:

  • Organisational readiness checklist.
  • Tips for a conversation about information sharing with a child or their parent (who is not a perpetrator).
  • Record keeping tips.
  • How to make a request for or to share information under the FVISS Scheme.

A full list of public resources can be found on the FSV website.

Other resources are only available to ISEs and include:

  • Fact sheet on how to verify an ISE.
  • Guide to family violence risk relevant information (i.e. a ‘ready reckoner’).
  • Advice regarding the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

Those employed through sector grants are responsible for developing sector specific practice guidance.

Has the Scheme been implemented as intended to date?

There are a number of elements of the Scheme that have been implemented as intended. However, there are a number of elements of the Scheme that have not been implemented as intended. The major divergence between initial plans for implementation and actual implementation relate to the substantial delay in the delivery of critical components of MARAM. The prescription of the Initial Tranche and Phase One were both slightly delayed. The original timelines were ambitious and these slight delays were not considered a major issue. The CISS was implemented in September 2018 and from that time aligned with the FVISS. Despite CISS being developed in collaboration with FSV and designed to sit alongside the FVISS, 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.

Here we consider whether the elements of the FVISS have been delivered on time to the necessary work forces and parts of work forces. The Review also considers the concurrent enactment of the CISS. The implementation of the CISS in conjunction with the FVISS was not originally contemplated as part of family violence related reforms by the RCFV. It should be noted that the question as to whether the Scheme has been implemented as intended needs to be distinguished from whether the Scheme is operating as intended. There is evidence, set out under sections 8.6, 8.7 and 8.8 that indicates that in many significant ways the Scheme is operating as intended.

FVISS prescription dates of Initial Tranche and Phase One ISEs

The FVISS was delayed from a scheduled start date of end of January 2018 to 26, February 2018. Participants in the Review were not critical of this relatively minor delay. Phase One prescription of ISEs was delayed from the start of September 2018 until 27 September 2018. This was in part linked to a recommendation of the Review Interim Report that consideration be given to delaying Phase One until MARAM was (sufficiently) complete to allow the training in FVISS and family violence risk assessment and risk management to be aligned. The slight delay in the commencement dates are not considered to have had a negative impact on the implementation of the Scheme. On the contrary, many indicated that what they perceived to be rushed implementation had a negative impact on implementation (see section 8.6.1).

The intended timing and training of Initial Tranche and Phase One ISEs

Initial tranche

The original FVISS Regulatory Impact Statement (2017, p. 44) estimated that 4,891 workers would need to be trained in the Initial Tranche. There was a gap between the training available prior to the commencement of the FVISS in late February 2018, and in the months after commencement, and these training need estimates. In the months leading up to the commencement of the FVISS, there were significant changes in terms of numbers of Initial Tranche workers and managers expected to be trained. Subsequent to the Regulatory Impact Statement, FSV, with the assistance of relevant departments, identified 975 ‘priority staff’ for pre-prescription training. FSV figures indicate that 644 people were trained in January and February 2018, prior to the commencement of the FVISS on 26, February 2018.

An FSV audit of the number of Initial Tranche staff who had attended FVISS training, from each ISE organisation, was completed on 24 May 2018. According to this, six organisations (including approximately 200 employees) had no staff who attended training. Each of these organisations was contacted with details regarding the training and training schedule. From 5 July 2018, only four organisations were identified as not having any staff attend training. According to the audit then, at least one representative/s (and in most cases more than one) from each organisation hosting an ISE (apart from four), had received relevant training.

Phase one

It was initially estimated in 2017 that 28,000 Phase One workers needed to have the skills and capabilities to operate effectively and safely under new the FVISS and CISS schemes. Subsequently a Training Requirements Needs Assessment was undertaken to estimate the potential size of priority training needs in Phase One, which was determined to be 4,100 workers. The FVISS training did not commence until 8 October 2018, more than a week after Phase One prescription on 27 September 2018. On 28 August 2018, FSV communicated to stakeholders via email that:

To ensure a quality training product, face-to-face training will begin on 8 October 2018, as agreed by the new Information Sharing and MARAM Steering Committee on 21 August 2018. This aligns with recent feedback from our stakeholders requesting more time for implementation, including training roll out. It allows organisations to prepare and it also provides more time for priority professionals from prescribed organisations and services to register for training and make arrangements to attend. As advised previously, Phase one rollout will still commence on 27 September 2018. We are strongly encouraging prescribed organisations and services to read the Ministerial Guidelines for both information sharing schemes ahead of this date, to understand their obligations. Additionally, a suite of integrated implementation resources will [be] provided by DET and FSV to support organisations and services to meet their obligations under the schemes. DJR, DHHS, DET, Courts and VicPol will also provide tailored resources for their delivered, contracted and funded services. Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme resources are already available on FSV's website under 'Information and support for ISEs'.

The final attendance figure for the 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training (October to December 2018) was less than half the 4,100 cited above. Reasons offered as to why the numbers trained were less than estimated include:

  • An overestimate of the training needs.
  • Less than optimal communication about the training.
  • Workers registering for the training but not attending.
  • Perception about the poor quality of the training resulting in people not attending.

As of late March 2019, approximately six months after prescription, 5,000 ISE workers had been trained. According to FSV as a result of resourcing, sequencing, project inter dependencies and training fatigue approximately 30,000 Phase One workers would not be trained in FVISS and MARAM by the end of 2019 (FSV Project Status Update Report MARAMIS, September 2019).

Recommendation 16

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

The sequencing of MARAM and FVISS

The FVISS and MARAM are intimately related. As the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor report (2020) points out MARAM and FVISS are connected in four fundamental ways:

  1. Both require similar changes to practice, processes and culture by the same people in the same organisations.
  2. Contributing to information sharing is a stated responsibility in the MARAM framework.
  3. A solid understanding of family violence risk, which is being brought about through the application of MARAM, is an essential part of information sharing.
  4. Without strong risk assessment processes in place, some organisations and professionals can be hesitant to take part in some forms of information sharing, which in turn inhibits good quality risk assessment form occurring when required (Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor 2020, p. 23).

MARAM and the FVISS were designed and intended to be implemented at the same time, with MARAM available before the prescription of any organisations. FSV’s MARAM strategy states that:

Prescribed organisations and services must use the MARAM Framework to guide sharing under the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme to identify, assess and manage family violence risk to children and adults (quoted in the Family Violence Implementation Reform Monitor 2020, p. 25).

The original intention was that the revised family violence risk assessment framework would be published by 31 December 2017, prior to the implementation of the FVISS in early 2018. It was anticipated that Phase One workers would be trained in MARAM and FVISS at the same time. It was recommended in this Review’s Interim Report that the rollout to Phase One be delayed until the MARAM was (sufficiently) developed to allow for simultaneous training in the FVISS and MARAM. The rollout to Phase One was subsequently delayed from the beginning to September until 27 September 2018.

The 2018 Whole of Victorian Government training - Family Violence and Child Information Sharing Reforms and introduction to MARAM - commenced on 8 October 2018 and continued over ten weeks until December 2018. The training included only the MARAM high-level framework rather than any substantive family violence risk assessment content. However, there was no MARAM training available until May 2019, and that training was only available to senior leaders. The Renewing practice, CRAF to MARAM for family violence specialists was available from June 2019. The issue the lack of timely MARAM training as part of the FVISS training was seen as a significant issue related to the efficiency and effectiveness of the training.

Training in MARAM continues to be developed and delivered. Some of these delays arose because of the extensive consultation and collaboration that took place in MARAM’s development. This approach assisted to build shared ownership of MARAM but is time consuming and has impacted on the implementation of the FVISS.

Instead of attending one training session which covered the interconnected topics of family violence risk and family violence risk assessment, time poor workers and organisations are required to take part in two separate trainings. The absence of substantive MARAM training in combination with the FVISS training particularly to Phase One ISEs, apart from being inefficient, undermined the effectiveness of the FVISS training. Training in CRAF was still available in the period between ISEs being prescribed and the availability of MARAM training. However, anticipating that CRAF would shortly be replaced by MARAM, and understandably not wanting to have to invest in CRAF training and then update family violence risk training, ISEs typically decided to wait until MARAM training was available. As a result of the delay in MARAM a year after Phase One organisations had been prescribed to share family violence risk information, with some already having attended FVISS training, the overwhelming majority hadn’t received MARAM and therefore any family violence risk training.

The [MARAM] training early in the piece would have been really helpful I think and we are still waiting for that and I think that that is too long now. Far too long. (Manager Interview, Multi-Agency, 25.11.19)

Figure 4: Timetable of relevant milestones in the implementation of the FVISS

Figure 4: Timetable of relevant milestones in the implementation of the FVISS

Figure 4 is a timeline graphic showing the relevant milestones in the implementation of the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS), starting from November 2017 to February 2020. The first milestone is the FVISS training from November 2017 - July 2018. The next milestone is the Initial Tranche prescribed on 26 February 2018. The next milestone is First Orange Door opened in May 2018. The next milestone is Phase One prescribed on 27 September 2018. The next milestone is CISS proclaimed in September 2018. The next milestone is Align with MARAM on 27 September 2018. The next milestone is the release of the MARAM framework on 17 October 2018. The next milestone is the two day FSV/DET face-to-face training held in October-December 2018. The next milestone is the one-day DHHS training held in May-October 2019. The next milestone is the Practice guidance for victim/survivors in May 2019. The next milestone is the CRAF to MARAM for FV specialists from June 2019. In addition to these milestones, from mid-2020, there is a milestone in the timeline for MARAM practice guides for perpetrators due second half 2020 and moving on to Phase Two to be prescribed in September 2020.

Download Figure 4: Timetable of relevant milestones in the implementation of the FVISS

Many participants considered that the MARAM delay, particularly for Phase One organisations, was the major barrier to effective implementation of the Scheme. The MARAM delay was widely recognised as at odds with the intended implementation of the FVISS.

Not implemented as intended because not rolled out with MARAM – that can only add to confusion. (Expert Interview, AOD, 15.04.19)

As indicated above Phase One prescriptions of ISEs was slightly delayed partly as a result of this Review’s Interim Report recommendation to consider delaying the implementation to Phase One until MARAM was (sufficiently) complete. Despite this, in line with the decision of the Minister, the implementation to Phase One proceeded prior to the completion of key elements of the MARAM. The decision to proceed with the prescription of Phase One in late September 2018 was made with close regard to the original timeframes set out by the Royal Commission and to maintain the momentum of the family violence reforms. It was considered that any substantial delay to Phase One would involve risks including having a longer period where only a small group of services were operating within the FVISS. The risks of implementing FVISS separately to MARAM were pointed out in the 2017 Family Violence Protection (Information Sharing) Regulatory Impact Statement:

Participating in the scheme with inadequately trained staff would pose a significant risk of information being shared inappropriately and in a way that could compromise victim/survivor safety (2017, p. 23).

Though FSV put in place risk mitigation strategies to deal with the non-availability of substantive MARAM training prior to the commencement of Phase One, a gap emerged for some organisations in their family violence risk assessment and management training and practice as they waited for the MARAM training to become available. The accepted need to develop family violence risk literacy in these organisations, prior to sharing family violence information, meant many believed that new processes involving workforces in Phase One were being implemented in a vacuum.

Because they’ve never had that - they haven’t had this [family violence] work before . . . So, when we’re talking about [family violence risk] identification, that hasn’t even been developed yet, actually it needs to start that way. (Expert Interview, ACCO service provider, 17.12.19)
I think probably one of the biggest gaps is the disconnect from MARAM which should have really informed the rollout of FVISS. I think particularly when we are looking at the AOD and mental health sectors, one of the things we are seeing is we are asking, so that the legislation became active from day one for the sectors in September [2018] but without the family violence literacy that goes with it so there is the risked screening. But also, on the things that that means is that there is more of a tendency to focus on victim/survivor information than . . . a perpetrator and they link back to assessing what information is risk relevant. They don’t have the frameworks to do that and so that’s probably one of the big things about the rollout that, if we were to rethink, would be to roll out MARAM and prepare those workforces. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service and AOD, 20.09.19)

The release of essential components of MARAM, including the framework (17 October 2018), the practice guidance for victim/survivors and the first MARAM training (May and June 2019) subsequent to the prescription of the Initial Tranche (February 2018) and Phase One (September 2018) was considered a critical barrier to the effective embedding and implementation of the FVISS. While the evidence from the second period of data gathering, towards the end of 2019, suggests that many organisations have worked to address this barrier, there were on-going concerns about those who has not yet received MARAM training but were prescribed under the Scheme. Training for MARAM began in May 2019, seven months after the prescription of Phase One.

Concerns about compressed timelines and sequencing and the potential impact of large numbers of workers and agencies having access to family violence information without family violence risk training were commonly expressed in relation to the integration of Phase Two workforces. A key desire amongst a number of participants was a ‘pause’ on implementation so that clear sequencing – with the first objective being a ‘benchmark’ for family violence risk literacy, could be effectively set up for new workforces such as school teachers whose knowledge of and access to basic family violence risk literacy cannot be assumed.

Q: Just the word – pause - so that’s number one thing that needs to happen, feels like it’s going too quick?
A: Yeah, pause and having a workforce like having some benchmark for those -
A2: For family violence literacy.
A: Yeah, for family violence literacy and understanding family violence risk. So there needs – my suggestion would be there needs to be at least a workforce strategy for a couple of years, to bring those sectors up and make sure that everyone has a line to MARAM, which includes all of this, and that they’ve had the tick. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

Phase Two includes a large pool of workers, the overwhelming majority of who will have limited or no understanding of family violence. Training is currently being developed to deliver to this group. Although MARAM completion has reached a number of significant milestones it remains incomplete. The perpetrator assessment tool is currently not due until the second half of 2020, though this timeline may prove too ambitious. If the perpetrator aspect of risk assessment is not substantially included in the initial Phase Two training many tens of thousands of workers may never receive this training. The inefficiencies in requiring updated and further training for such a large pool of workers will be a major financial and time impost on government and ISEs.

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.

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

The benefits of the Scheme were widely understood to be significant in terms of facilitating information sharing for enhanced risk assessment and providing an authorising environment in which to share family violence risk relevant information. However, the Scheme has created additional workload for organisations. Although most participants highlighted the additional workload required to implement the Scheme, organisations 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 an ongoing additional workload, depending on the volume of requests being made and received and the extent to which these exceeded previous sharing practices. Overall however, participants felt the additional workload was worth the benefit of more thorough and accurate information for family violence risk assessments and management. For non-specialist organisations in particular, the raised awareness and training about family violence accompanying 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 in place policies that address staff related family violence issues.

Many organisations now have processes embedded for family violence information sharing and were able to reflect on the implementation and operation of the Scheme. During the second period of data collection, it was clear that some issues present in the first period of data collection had not been remedied. For example, some aspects of implementation and operation of the FVISS has created time pressures for organisations leading to unreasonable imposts on worker/organisational time and worker anxiety around the impacts and processes of the Scheme. Initial Tranche and Phase One organisations have engaged in extensive work to update policies, procedures, templates and staff training. The level of organisational effort required has been impacted by the timing of or limited provision of generic or standard practice guidance and the lack of sufficient resources to address the additional workload. The adverse organisational impacts that occupied participants were typically understood in terms of organisational and worker time, staff welfare, concern that implementation and operation of the Scheme could impact on service delivery or time with clients.

Here we consider the impact of the scheme on:

  • organisational workload
  • staff welfare
  • family violence issues in the workplace

Organisational workload

Strains on ‘worker time’ and additional organisational workload from the FVISS were discussed by many participants. This Review’s Interim Report highlighted the impost on worker time of the training and updating of documentation and widespread concerns about this. The time required for training was not identified as a key issue by the participants in the second period of data collection. However, ‘worker time’ and additional workload involved in the ‘front-end’ preparation for implementation of the FVISS (such as updating policies, procedures and templates) continued to be identified as an issue. Further to this, the ongoing additional burden on workload arising from the FVISS and the potential risk to frontline services was highlighted by some. While current evidence does not suggest the workload required of the FVISS has directly impacted on service delivery, this was a concern raised by participants.

The FVISS obliges each organisation to ensure that policies, procedure and templates are in line with legislative requirements. While FSV provided organisations with resources and templates to assist with implementing the Scheme (see section 8.3 for details) for many organisations, these have become available incrementally and were not always available prior to organisations being prescribed. Therefore, organisations were required to commit a great deal of additional upfront effort necessary, meaning extra workload, to prepare for and to implement the Scheme.

It took, I think, seven months for us to finalise our policy and procedure and that was with a lot of hard work and getting it through our legal team and just kind of navigating that system, thinking how it would work with our electronic medical records. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.09.19)

The different templates and procedures developed by organisations contributed to ongoing confusion and workload of staff. The added burden from the inefficiency of implementation processes was identified by many participants.

Everybody is out there creating all these different documents, which seems mad. Instead of one package that would have come out from FSV or come out from government to say, this is the reporting template, this is the application template. These are the criteria you use based on the legislation. The interpretation of the legislation. There’s the criteria you use to make the assessment in relation to what you’re sharing with who. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)
That’s the other, I guess, challenge with this scheme is organisations all have their own processes. So, you know, for our organisation, we’ve got a particular email address, blah, blah, blah. But if it’s an organisation that hasn’t asked us for information before, they have to contact us. They have to find out that information. And it’s the same for us with whoever we’re requesting from … So some organisations, you can just ring up and ask a person who works there, and they might be able to give it to you. Others have the central email, and a particular form that you have to use, or whatever. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)
I think initially it was just really hard navigating - because different organisations want the request differently, so I guess I’ve had to go out to each individual service to find out how to request the information from them. (Manager Interview, Homelessness Service, 17.09.19)

While less significant concern in the second period of data collection than in the first, the lack of centralised organisational resourcing and feedback remained an issue for some.

And the other thing was lack of consistent feedback in relation to documentation and expectations and criteria, how you are going to report it? People are making it up as we go along, and that’s really problematic. So, it’s a huge workload for organisations to be asked to implement something without standard templates. How do you want us to report that? How do you want us to assess the request? . . . And we’re very aware that this is mandated, this is legislation, you can’t not do it. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

There was a diversity of responses about whether the FVISS has increased the ongoing workload for staff. Most organisations felt that the Scheme had added to their overall staff workload but many responded that after the initial training and implementation period, the workload settled down and the FVISS was not adding to the day to day workload. In particular, organisations that were involved in the early consultation and development of the Scheme felt more prepared for its implementation and operation. Organisations that have successfully embedded the Scheme in their practices have found that it is working efficiently and not adding additional ongoing workload.

I think they [staff] thought it was going to be more work than it was at the start. But I think now that they’ve actually – for those organisations that have really embedded the Scheme I’ve heard back from them that it’s actually becoming more efficient because it’s time-efficient … Now it’s just as part of it, they just send the email, we’ve – the templates to case-note and record-keep and so once that’s all part of the process. I think there’s actually been efficiencies in the information sharing per se. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

 

Yeah, probably. But I think the benefits far outweigh the costs. And I think because we’ve got pretty solid processes in place around how we do it, I don’t think it’s a significant impost, and because they’re quite used to it now, you know. It’s an email. You fill in the form. It goes to your team leader, gets sent off, and then it gets back to you. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

However, other participants pointed to burdensome extra pressure for staff.

I think it’s had a terrible impact. It’s an additional impost on the organisation. It requires a different form of working in terms of … collaborating and thinking. It requires far more time. We have targets that we have to meet … So, while we’ve tried to protect the staff on the ground, it actually is a huge impost on organisations, and I don’t think that’s been considered. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

But it could increase stress and pressure on an already pressured workforce, and I think they can’t do their job well if they’re so stressed, and they have so many more cases … I struggle to understand why, that we implement something at a legislative level, but we aren’t actually looking at how services are going to hold these clients. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

So, there’s wellbeing in relation to workload, all that sort of stuff, and I just think that it’s important to point out the wellbeing of organisations. (Focus Group, Mixed Service, 23.08.19)

But I think in some ways it’s like death of a thousand cuts. This is just one initiative in a range of new imposts ... You start adding up these things, and it becomes quite difficult to manage an organisation. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

We don’t have space, we don’t have time, we don’t have the workforce, the services, they already are so stressed that the workers don’t have enough time to do the work they need to do and then they’re being told they have to do more. So, there’s no funding that’s been provided to be able to push down caseload so that they can spend it and it takes way longer than an hour to do a risk assessment with somebody who is chronically unwell. (Focus Group, AOD and Mental Health, 22.10.19)

One difficulty identified by participants as contributing to the workload is that each organisation has different procedures for receiving requests. Participants articulated the difficulty of not knowing who to contact in each organisation and not knowing how to request the information.

I think it’s going to be different for every organisation because they all have their own little processes in place … So, pretty much it’s just trial and error. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 29.11.19)

The processes [for requesting information] aren’t easily navigable, like to know if you’re requesting information from an agency, what their process is. So that whole thing on who you would contact and their process of contact. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

While some participants lamented the additional workload, they recognised the importance of the Scheme. This sentiment hasn’t changed with the first period of data collection similarly indicating widespread support of the Scheme, regardless of workload issues.

Well there’s definitely an impact on the workload, in terms of the time to prepare the information, you know, the documentation and things like that, and then the chain of command that it goes through for approval, and manage it through our risk management system, and all those sorts of things. However, that’s also been of benefit, in terms of improving the quality and the access to the work. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)
So, I think that [the FVISS] does add to their workload, but I think that practitioners would say it’s useful. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 11.09.19)
The amount of paperwork and admin involved in this information sharing, to my mind, is absolutely ridiculous … But it is still definitely worthwhile. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

Some participants felt that because the FVISS meant that they could get more thorough information, their workload will inevitably increase, driven by more reliable and actionable information.

And so, I think we can’t disconnect, you know, this information sharing scheme there, from the fact that the service system can’t cope with the response ... And so if we’re identifying more, and we’re sharing more, who’s actually going to hold and work, and provide therapeutic support for these families …So the government needs to think about that. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)
I think as we use it [the FVISS] better, it does mean we’re going to be busier with it, yeah, and it is going to take more resourcing. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)
Now its [FVISS] become a lot bigger, and a lot more work than it was before … but it is something that we’re struggling a little bit with at the moment in terms of resources. (Manager Interview,DJCS, 28.11.19)

Many participants pointed to the need for additional funding to facilitate not only the FVISS, but the increase in family violence workload since the RCFV and subsequent initiatives. Many participants discussed the lack of additional funding to support the Scheme. They were concerned the Scheme may not work as intended without additional funding.

Look, there is a lot more requirement and our unit cost funding hasn’t increased with the requirements so, yes, there is extra work for us to gather that information. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 08.08.19)
The adverse impact is that there’s no extra funding that I’m aware of for the family violence services to do this. So, they’re feeling … drained. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

Concerns about workload, funding and resources were linked to the worry for many participants from service delivery organisations, that this will ultimately impact on clients.

One of the challenges for us is that [we] run refuges, run services, and at the same time there’s been no change in targets, no change in deliverables, those sort of things, and yet you’re actually doing a whole lot more work. I mean it’s great, and stimulating and fantastic for the sector, but the reality is, well I can’t, like you, take people off line, because we’ve still got people walking in the door. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)
If you’re looking at it from an organisational perspective I think the resources that agencies had to, and still have to make available for the implementation, of course, has an impact on their service delivery. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

The impact on service delivery was considered as a key issue in the first period of data collection, with regards to the process of implementation, rather than to long-term changes from using the FVISS. While this specific concern had become more muted, participants in the second period of data collection indicated that there was still a concern that the operation of the Scheme and its impact on workload could potentially impact on service delivery and reduce the time available to clients.

Impact of the scheme on staff welfare

The participants emphasised the impact of the implementation and operation of the FVISS on staff welfare in terms of anxiety, stress and confusion. These impacts arose from concern about the pace of change, lack of clarity about how the Scheme would work in practice and a lack of accessible information about the Scheme. This was particularly pertinent to organisations that had not traditionally worked in family violence.

In the first period of data collection participants used the word ‘anxiety’ extensively with regards to the implementation of the FVISS. The participants in the second period of data collection used the word ‘anxiety’ in reference to the implementation but also emphasised ‘stress’ and ‘confusion’. As in the first period of data collection, the participants in the second period felt that the scope of the change had not been effectively explained to them. Stress and anxiety were experienced in the context of organisations being legally responsible for the implementation of the Scheme, in the absence of control over the delivery of the information and constituent elements required to put it into practice.

So, I think there’s been a kind of turbulent period really, which I think in probably the year and a half has gotten a bit worse where I don’t feel like the sector’s always getting the information that it’s needed. I don’t think its voice is always being well respected and I don’t think government is always doing a great job of kind of getting their own things [done] before they come out to sector. So, the way I’m describing it is a bit of a washing machine cycle where now we’ve got not just people in government trying to move through their own red tape but numerous people in sector caught up in trying to nut out what this thing is from week to week and what it’s going to look like and what it needs to be. So I just think a bit more care needs to be taken around that too and again for that real understanding of that power differential between government as a funder and some of the sectors and how we work together. And yes, it’s a collaboration and a partnership but it’s also not an equal one and I think sometimes that’s being forgotten and it is putting I think an enormous amount of stress and kind of pressure on people that are working outside of government as well and I don’t think government always sees that very clearly. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 12.09.19)
I would say that statewide it hasn’t effectively been implemented. It’s been a bit of a mess and that everybody’s done a great job in trying to manage that mess because we’re getting one thing before the next, the training’s rolling out way after we need it to roll out. We’re trying to develop guidelines but don’t have the support around it, like it doesn’t fit into what we’re doing. So, one person’s having the idea and the rest of the hospitals are grabbing onto it but then trying to translate that over doesn’t sit well within the service and the organisation. So, I’ve got to say, like, a lot of people have put in - like been very creative and put in some good work into trying to make it work but I just found that it has not been - statewide it wasn’t put in place very well and we’re all having to pay for that. (Focus Group, AOD and Mental Health, 22.10.19)

Part of the anxiety and stress stemmed from staff worrying about the implications of utilising the Scheme incorrectly, particularly when training often took place after prescription of their organisations.

I think it had created a lot of anxiety at the start. When staff went to the training and they got all this information and then knew they could do it. But it was like there’s potential that they could stuff it up or not do it right. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 29.11.19)
I mean it’s probably increased the stress a little bit about the workers and the responsibility that they have, and making sure they’re doing the right thing, are they working under the right legislation and doing everything that they possibly can for their clients? …They’re well aware of their responsibilities and with that comes a little bit more stress I would imagine. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)
So, it has a correlating pressure, because yes, you’re going to share information …So then you’re carrying this knowledge that is sitting there on a template in front of you now. So yes, you might be needing more supervision and yes you might be worried more when you go home at night. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)

Many participants described the ‘confusion’ that many staff felt over the operation of the Scheme.

I think it was exceptionally confusing. I think there’s still a lot of confusion around. I have workers that aren’t terribly clear around the parameters of its use. (Focus Group, Mixed, 16.09.19)
It was so confusing, so much information, so hard in those early days that it was just one more thing that we just couldn’t do. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 23.09.19)

Participants identified that part of the anxiety stemmed from the tight deadlines to get the Scheme operational. Many participants discussed the stress of these expectations.

[There is] increasing anxiety of the whole sector, the stress that they have to do this since yesterday, timeframes … the capacity to do this, the willingness to do this, and then the understanding of why this is beneficial for them and a client. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

However, part of the additional stress and anxiety comes not only for the operation of the Scheme as such, but from the responsibility of holding and carrying the information that relates to family violence risk.

I’m in the middle of family violence. We know the risks and they scare us sometimes about the risks that we’re holding and carrying because we know that it’s quite high … but it just brings about that extra awareness, what else can we get, what else is going to help with that? So, it’s a positive thing, but it absolutely does have an impact yes. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)

Further to this, part of the initial anxiety stemmed from the responsibility to share information but not having control over the information once it was shared.

There’s a sense of unease, discomfort, unsure of their role, fear about getting it wrong and I think it’s just been because of the implementation process. This is actually really good legislation and really good process and when you get into it … [but] I think it’s caused significant stress for the workforce. (Focus Group, Mixed, 16.09.19)

Beyond the individual anxiety felt by staff, managers expressed concern about staff dealing with information requests and this potentially impacting on their wellbeing.

My only concern with our team is obviously because of our increases and the impact of welfare and wellbeing on them and the increase of vicarious trauma that can occur. They are breathing these narratives and these things time in, time out, all day, up to 70 requests a day …That’s what I focus on when I talk about adverse effects of the scheme. It’s just the wellbeing. (Manager Interview, MCV, 17.09.19)
The vicarious trauma that the workers might be carrying. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)

The expansion of the FVISS and its consequent obligations to organisations that have not previously dealt directly with family violence was part of this concern. These concerns stemmed from the potential of emotional and psychological impact of staff dealing with these matters, lack of training in family violence and not having a shared understanding of family violence.

I don’t think we were prepared for our workforce’s emotional response to this work, because suddenly people who previously didn’t see family violence or child wellbeing and safety as part of their roles, were confronted with this really full-on subject matter, some of them were perpetrators themselves, some victim/survivors. And I don’t think there was a lot of thought put into the emotional and psychological impact on people doing this work suddenly that hadn’t really signed up for that level of involvement in some very confronting subject matter. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 17.09.19)
I think for AOD family violence is - people who haven’t had training in family violence, it’s just really scary. There’s a lot of fear around it to ask the questions, to talk about it, there’s misunderstanding, that shared understanding of family violence isn’t there yet. (Focus Group AOD and Mental Health, 22.10.19)
So, they’re trying to kind of develop trainings around that to increase family violence literacy, but certainly do kind of see it as something that’s scary and can trigger their staff. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 19.09.19)

Participant concerns about staff welfare ranged from staff anxiety about tight deadlines and concern about the responsibility of sharing information correctly. There appeared to be ongoing confusion in some organisations about the Scheme, though less than in the first period of data collection. There were also concerns about vicarious trauma for staff when sharing information. This is of particular concern for non-specialist organisations.

Family violence in the workplace

Several participants from Phase One organisations reported that the FVISS training and information sessions had impacted or might have impacted on staff that had experienced family violence.

It certainly has raised issues around perpetrator and victim/survivors in the workplace. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 17.09.19)
I am a male manager with quite a few females in my workforce who may or may not have experienced family violence themselves and [so I’m] quite sensitive to the referrals that we receive and impact upon them [the staff]. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)
Almost always after every session, a staff member will come up and talk about their own experiences of family violence and then we’re able to link them in with support. Which we would never have thought that would happen. So, that’s been terrible, but I think a good sort of unintended consequence. (Manager Interview, Mental Health, 03.09.19)

Workplaces are increasingly recognised as key sites for perpetrator interventions and providing support for those experiencing family violence (UN Women National Committee Australia (UNWNCA) 2017). It is important that resources are made available for prescribed organisations to respond to family violence experienced by workers. These resources should be available as practice guidance and be in place before Phase Two and be referenced in all future FVISS training and training materials. There are some examples of good organisational policy in this area. For example, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited has developed a policy to align their services with MARAM and information sharing which covers situations in the workplace where staff disclose their experiences of family violence or their choice to use family violence. The Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor’s 2020 report includes this policy as a good practice case study in his 2020 report (2020, p. 27).

Figure 5: Good Practice Example: Case Study of Implementing MARAM and the information sharing schemes

Figure 5: Good Practice Example: Case Study of Implementing MARAM and the information sharing schemes

Figure 5 is a text graphic showing a good practice example case study of Implementing MARAM and the information sharing schemes. The title of the case study is: Figure 3D: Good practice example - case study of implementing MARAM. The case study content is as follows:

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited (VACSAL) is an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation that works across Victoria to provide a wide variety of programs that intersect with issues of family violence.

When VACSAL embarked upon aligning its organisational policies and systems to MARAM and the information sharing schemes. it found that it had a lot of good practice in place throughout its organisation but had never had the opportunity to document it.

VACSAL took an important and strategic approach to implementing MARAM by developing a family violence policy for the organisation. through a working group of case managers, community development officers and policy staff The policy addresses many complex but crucial issues. including: the historic and ongoing effects of colonisation, dispossession and racism in Aboriginal communities' experiences of and exposure to violence. as well as gender issues; the need for responses to family violence to be culturally safe, holistic. self-determined and support community healing and violence prevention in the long-term; how it will manage each of: emergency situations. staff who experience family violence, staff who disclose family violence, staff who disclose that they choose to use family violence, responses to disclosures from VACSACs adult students given that it is a Registered Training Organisation; working with clients. including managing the common situation where staff may know their clients outside of the client-case manager relationship; self-care for staff working with family violence.

Developing this comprehensive policy greatly enhanced VACSAL's capacity to communicate clearly with its community around how and why it might need to share information about family violence with other organisations including Victoria Police, and its general approach to the complex issues around family violence in Aboriginal communities.

VACSAL collaborates closely with other Aboriginal community-controlled organisations whose work intersects with family violence and is playing an important role in understanding and adapting the MARAM training and resources into an Aboriginal context and sharing the learnings from its own experience as opportunities arise.

VACSAL advised that one of the key learnings is that it initially approached the matter as a compliance issue because the information sharing schemes were legislated before the broader MARAM training and resources were available. but it has since learnt that the risk assessment and management discussion through MARAM should come first.

This work at VACSAL was supported by some additional resources provided by FSV to support the implementation of MARAM.

The source for this figure is the FVRIM, based on information from VACSAL.

Download Figure 5: Good Practice Example: Case Study of Implementing MARAM and the information sharing schemes

The MARAM perpetrator tool, due in the second half of 2020, will include practice guidance for when workers are perpetrators but it is possible it may not be available to incorporate into training to Phase Two.

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.

What were the key barriers and enablers for implementation?

The key barrier for the Scheme’s rollout 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 worked with family violence risk. This barrier was identified as key in each period of data collection. Training is discussed in section 8.4.2 and MARAM is discussed in section 8.4.3 of this report. 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 under either the FVISS, or under provisions of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.

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 family violence information sharing. Another key enabler was the policy and protocol development work of lead agencies such as Victoria Police, Courts Services Victoria 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. 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 first period of data collection.

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 in the period when Phase Two are prescribed and undertaking the process of embedding the Scheme.

Barriers

Timing and time to implement

The sequencing and timing of the FVISS reform and its component elements were most commonly cited as the key barrier for the effective implementation of the Scheme. Issues around compressed timelines were raised in relation to the scheduling of the training and its time costs for workers and organisations, the time at which MARAM became available, the time at which resources such as practice guidance and templates became available and the consequent impacts on embedding practice and organisational change processes (see sections 8.3 and 8.4). A number of participants identified these temporal issues as linked to training and implementation occurring simultaneously or in the case of Phase One, training taking place after prescription leading to organisational and worker stress and inefficiencies (see section 8.5).

Organisational culture and the need for cultural change

Many participants agreed that the cultural change required for Phase One organisations to effectively take part in the Scheme was significant. Some aspects of professional culture were identified as a potential barrier for the effective implementation, with a number of participants considering there needed to be more preparation and workforce planning for these organisations to make the necessary changes effectively.

Well, a big hospital, you’ve got a medical-model system that has clients’ privacy rights and a whole system around that. And then you’ve got the psychiatric unit that sits on the side that has to operate – and having worked in mental health previously, there are particular views around the sharing of information that clinical providers will have, that will hinder some of that. So how do you get a culture change? Because that’s what we’re talking about, a culture change. And I don’t think there has been enough work in thinking about culture change…particularly, bigger institutions like hospitals. (Manager Interview, Multi-Agency, 08.08.19)

In reflections on the organisational and workforce challenges, there was widespread acknowledgment of the critical differences in professional approaches to the confidentiality of information. It was considered these would have an inevitable impact on initial orientation towards information sharing, pre-existing knowledge of best practice approaches to client information and the embedding of the sharing of family violence risk relevant information as a new professional obligation.

AOD Workforce tend to be protective of main clients who are usually men, and if family violence is present they are usually the perpetrators. There is a gap/question there – What is the responsibility to women and children? Workers tend to think that addressing AOD will keep women and children safe. (Expert Interview, AOD, 15.04.19)
Maybe this [Scheme] would damage the rapport that we have and therapeutic relationship, which is really important obviously in any sector, but certainly in mental health you don’t do things to people without their consent. And this Scheme I guess tells us that sometimes we have to. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.09.19)

A number of expert participants considered professional differences in approach to client relationships, including client confidentiality, create an additional layer of necessary organisational change. There was concern that the timing and structure of the reforms had not facilitated or enabled time for the cultural change needed for Phase One.

So, if you’re talking to practitioners there’s resistance on the information sharing. Particularly in the AOD sector confidentiality is a very big thing historically. So, there’s some concerns, and without providing that context of that shared understanding with family violence and what are the relationships and what are some potential outcomes of this?; that’s all unknown. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

While particular concerns were raised in relation to Phase One organisations, there were concerns about the difference in organisational cultures more generally and the need to develop, strengthen and maintain frameworks for integrated practice, including understanding professional boundaries, roles and responsibilities.

In some ways, FSV threw all these services into one site [the hubs], so men’s services, women’s service, children services, Aboriginal services, Child Protection and expect[ed] them all just to work it out and get along. And there’s some philosophical differences in the work, some personal differences on how the work should be done and I think what stood out for us is there really wasn’t a good framework in place to support people coming in and develop culture of working together. Acknowledging each other’s differences. So, specialist family violence service has a very – a specialist would have a very clear role to play. Do the other tiers know where their work stops and starts? I think part of our fear is that do we really want tier fours [workers in universal services and organisations] to be doing too much of risk assessment, risk management or do we really want them to get really good at referrals to specialist services? My understanding of the reform was very much that, that we had specialist service that if we improved referral pathways and integration that was kind of one of the major solutions as opposed to expecting everyone to become specialist family violence services. I think there’s some fears out there that some of those boundaries are not clear enough. (Expert Interview, Specialist Men’s Family Violence Service, 30.08.19)

The concurrent introduction of FVISS and CISS and workplace culture and practice concerns

Many participants asserted these workforce challenges were compounded by the simultaneous introduction of the CISS. The intersection of the two information sharing schemes was an area of concern in a wide range of contexts. This uncertainty was seen as creating a barrier to the implementation of FVISS. As one practitioner succinctly noted: ‘I think across the whole sector there’s some real gaps and level of knowledge and understanding of FVISS and CISS’ (Manager Interview, Community Health, 26.8.19). Practitioners described confusion about which legislation should be followed under what circumstances. This is captured in the following quote:

The really difficult kind of nebulous questions about the interactions of the schemes and how to use them in practice. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 23.09.19)

There was a perception amongst participants that, despite policy intent and the practice guidance set out in the Ministerial Guidelines for both information sharing schemes, the CISS is considered a more straightforward pathway for requesting or accessing information without victim/survivor consent.

As both the information sharing schemes are being implemented, delivered and reviewed simultaneously these practitioner viewpoints, and the complexity of achieving congruence in workplace cultural change, highlight the need to ensure clarity across the two pieces of legislation. This is particularly important for practitioners who frequently receive requests under both pieces of legislation and/or where the legislative instrument has not been specified.

We’re under a whole-sector reform so we’ve got the family violence information sharing and we’ve got the children’s information sharing, people are not clear. I was really lucky that I was involved in some of the initial consultations about it so, for me, I’m really clear about the differences and how it intersects and what goes on. But other managers, that might have come on a bit afterwards, have sent the staff off but I don’t know that they’ve really been there, have had really good training about it so they’re not really clear about it. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 08.08.19).

The likelihood of a disjunction between policy and practice was sometimes linked to the legislatively facilitated broader scope of information sharing in the support and safety hubs.

That’s still a concern and that’s a whole other – yeah, we’re finding there are concerns around that, because what’s now playing out in the support and safety hubs – and we advocated very strongly . . . to have more of a defined term around what wellbeing is and to bring in some kind of risk. But what’s happening now within this kind of de-specialising staff in support and safety hubs is that an L17’ll come through and they’ll try and contact her [the victim/survivor]. They haven’t contacted her so they’re just doing a [child] wellbeing assessment and part of that wellbeing assessment, they’re just accessing her file [without consent]. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

This potential confusion and crossover between the FVISS and the CISS were linked to an often-cited area of workplace cultural difference between the Child Protection and specialist family violence sectors. This difference has been long recognised and was considered as continuing post the RCFV and the introduction of the FVISS. The RCFV considered that the meaning of family violence risk in the Child Protection sector and the family violence service sector has historically been very different. Child Protection assessments have often been focused on whether mothers, as the primary victims of family violence, are sufficiently ‘protective’. Such an approach meant that separation of mother and child/ren was often an outcome of a family violence disclosure, rather than support and service interventions designed to keep women and their children safe and together. In both section 8.1, addressing women’s views and section 8.2, the views of First Nations peoples, these concerns are demonstrated to be intense. The RCFV urged that reforms and system change addressed the siloed approaches of specialist family violence and Child Protection services. In line with RCFV recommendations, Child Protection has undertaken a number of initiatives, such as family violence training for staff. However, participants in the Review continued to express concern about Child Protection practices as they relate to FVISS.

Many participants remained concerned Child Protection continued to be primarily focused on monitoring mothers rather than supporting women and children experiencing family violence to find safety together. There were consistent comments that while Child Protection staff requested information under the FVISS, they were not as willing to share or collaborate to ensure family violence risk relevant information was provided to requesting organisations in a timely and effective way. This concern about Child Protection requesting practices is supported by the Top 5 Requesters table for both MCV and Victoria Police (see Figure 16). The lack of developed collaborative sharing of family violence risk relevant information between Child Protection and other agencies involved in the FVISS is a key finding of this Review.

Child Protection’s focus on what they define as the protection of the child, remove the child from that situation, that’s it. It’s not a ‘safe together’ model of looking at who is the protective parent. It’s the removal of the child from the situation, and often by removing the child without doing a proper risk assessment of the other partner, we keep hearing - and sometimes it’s contentious - but we keep hearing of the other issues that are involved, and we know the other partner to who the children have been given is actually in our system as a client [perpetrator] and we regard [the children] at risk. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)
Sometimes we just get – no, [Child Protection] would just say, ’Well, the new [legislation] means I can ask for anything I want, you have to give it to me.’ They will say and then we have to go back and say “no, your specific request relates to blah, blah, blah”. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)

Participants commented that Child Protection don’t always request information under the FVISS in a way that is family violence risk relevant. As this manager suggests, some information, if shared, may potentially increase family violence risk.

…Child Protection regularly would come and knock on my door and say, ‘I need to know’ and have a list of things that they want to know. Is this person engaging, is that kid coming for therapy? …we obviously want to support and work collaboratively but it’s also about the rights of those women and children…what we’re sharing, why we’re sharing it and whom we’re sharing it with. And where that’s getting documented and kept for safety purposes. Because they then go out and have the discussion with dad and when they’re doing their Child Protection investigation and say, ‘Well I just went and met with the…Centre and yeah your kids are going there’. And then dad knows that the children are coming here for therapy as quick as that. (Manager Interview, Specialist women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

Participants commented on the lack of reciprocity of information sharing within the occupational culture of Child Protection:

I work a lot with Child Protections…what I’ve…found is my communication to get information from Child Protection isn’t being reciprocated…I’ll send email after email after email; one case I sent eight emails to the one worker, cc’d her next-in-charge, cc’d my management in, kept them up to date with everything that was going on, and I didn’t get one email back…we’re still in the dark to this day. So that’s been my experience ongoing. Not as bad as that, not as bad as eight emails, but still very hard for them to actually just provide us information, which is really relevant to our role. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)
…in terms of practice: probably the main part is being the frustration of when we try to get information from Child Protection and they don’t want to comply. That’s been – that’s been the hardest thing to manage.
Q: And does that happen regularly?
A: The Child Protection doesn’t want to share information?
Q: Yeah.
A: Yep. (Manger Interview, AOD, 10.9.19)
…people who we find don’t share proactively is Child Protection…So, unless they both have really good relationships with them. In general, they seem to have not as great an understanding of these schemes as other services…We will ring and ask for information and we are following up and doing all of that. But there is not a proactive sharing from their end.
Q: …And if you do ask them for information, do they share it with you?
A: It varies.
Q: Okay. Varies depending on who you actually talk to or -?
A: Yes. So, it varies depending on the Child Protection worker. (Manager Interview, Child Service, 18.12.19)

For some, such as this manager in the mental health sector, the Scheme has created no change within an already prohibitive sharing environment:

…what it has done is just reinforced that Child Protection are really difficult…we thought that was going to change, it hasn’t really. (Manager Interview, Mental Health, 03.09.19)

This specialist family violence expert expressed a concern that Child Protection have utilised the FVISS to obtain information and establish protective concerns based on family violence victim/survivor information. It was suggested that this fails to achieve one of the aims of the Scheme which is to bring perpetrators into view.

Anecdotally I am hearing back [about]…Child Protection…using the provisions of sharing adults’ information without consent if it applies or if there is a child involved…where the focus is squarely on the victim/survivor’s information and not on the perpetrator again, being used to establish protective concerns rather than being used as a safety mechanism. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 17.09.19)

While overwhelmingly participant comments with regard to Child Protection noted a continuity of the past culture and approach identified by the RCFV, one participant from the AOD sector did consider there had been a positive change.

…one of the key advantages [in the Scheme] I’ve seen is a shift in dynamic between us and Child Protection. Because we’re now able to ask them for information, there’s a bit more sharing. Because previously I think it was a bit of a fortress in terms of trying to get information from them. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

Concerns about Child Protection practice and approach were a focus for Survey Two respondents.

Child Protection not providing all information and difficulty in a direct process to gain information. (Survey Two)
Getting information from RAEs: in particular, Child Protection. They seem to have a siege mentality, perceiving every other Entity as hostile/oppositional to them. (Survey Two)
Other agencies saying they can't share information e.g.: CP [Child Protection] refusing to provide court orders to family services. (Survey Two)
A lot of the time sharing with Child Protection does not result in important information being shared with us. (Survey Two)
It feels as though we don't work with CP and they do not reciprocate information sharing. It is impossible to get through to case workers and there is a lot of time wasted doing so. (Survey Two)

Sector grant recipients are required to report to FSV on grant enabled activities and reflect on challenges. These reports point to tensions between the Child Protection sector and specialist family violence organisation, the former asserting that their specialisation is not sufficiently respected and the latter expressing frustration about the challenges of working with Child Protection under the FVISS.

There was limited engagement by Child Protection workers in the second data collection period of the Review. Those that engaged expressed frustrations, indicating that they considered requests made to them under the Scheme were often inappropriate, and overly broad. They expressed concern about the extent of data being shared by lead agencies, feeling that it did not always meet the risk relevance standards. The issues of additional workload were cited as critical for Child Protection workers, with only a small central team dedicated to the management of FVISS requests.

It will be important to support the optimal use of the Scheme that collaborative, interagency and cross-sector work, and family violence risk literacy is embedded across all prescribed organisations. Those organisations that have not had a history of seeing their work through the lens of family violence risk, that have traditionally had a strong focus on client confidentially or whose lens on child safety and wellbeing has not traditionally included a focus on seeing women and children’s safety where there is family violence as interconnected, need to be supported to achieve the culture change necessary to fully embed and reap the benefits of the FVISS. Enablers to such a process, including frameworks for interagency and cross-sector cooperation, already in place are referred to under enablers below.

The use and suitability of existing IT systems and platforms

In the first period of data collection there was considerable concern about the management and communication of data under the FVISS. While this did arise as an issue in this second period of data collection, it was less clearly identified as a barrier, in part it seems because many organisations have now developed systems for the management of data and communications. This is often a central email that allows for a standard response, manager overview and a means to ensure requests and sharing are recorded as required.

For some participants, the proliferation of information sharing platforms across different organisations were not promoting the effective and efficient operation of the Scheme.

I feel like departments aren’t speaking to one another enough on this front, because everyone across the VPS [Victorian Public Service] and the whole sector is struggling from a systems kind of soft infrastructure point of view. Everyone’s using everything under the sun and none of the systems speak to one another. And so, everyone is coming up against this brick wall and spending so much money in this VPS case. Obviously, the sector just doesn’t have the money, but every different department seems to be talking to different providers about information…It’s sensitive information. Some of the solutions offered from an IT perspective actually wouldn’t be compliant around that sensitive information. Everyone’s burning through money and still no one has the system that’s really built for purpose. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 17.09.19)

Survey Two indicates that respondents viewed improved information technology platforms and systems as the top priority for improving the Scheme’s implementation. The following table presents the percentage of respondents in Survey Two who agreed with the need for additional support priorities in key areas.

Table 7: Additional Support Priorities for FVISS Implementation into the Future

Additional Support priorities for FVISS implementation into the future

% (rounded)

Better technology to enable systems to connect

23%

Interagency forums

17%

Better alignment with other existing tools

15%

Overcome issues of privacy

13%

Better technology to keep service information and key personnel information up to date

13%

More internal support and training

12%

Other

6%

Other barriers

Participants from both Initial Tranche and Phase One agreed on the scope and scale of organisational work required to develop systems to share information under the legislation. This was identified as a barrier, both in terms of the clarity of communication about required documentation and in the timelines for the release of templates (see section 8.5).

Other barriers that participants raised were a belief in some non-specialist family violence organisations that the work required in terms of family violence information sharing was not adequately funded and additional complexity in multi-agency organisations. This latter issue was cited as specifically related to hospitals and large medical services.

So, we had a Responding to Family Violence procedure which we’ve had to change and unfortunately [Hospital X] aren’t under the Scheme yet. But we had a joint procedure. So, we’ve had to change it to include for us, but also be really clear that they’re not under the Scheme yet. So, that’s been, I mean we’re not the only hospital going through that sort of dilemma, which is just a bit tricky. And particularly for staff who work in the Emergency Mental Health, so down in ED but they’re under Mental Health. They’re working with the ED staff who aren’t under the Scheme. So that’s all a bit, you know, again, not just us having that difficulty as all hospitals have those difficulties. (Manager Interview, Mental health, 03.09.19)

Where complex hospital systems were mentioned there was acknowledgment of available resources dedicated to these issues and confidence that these were being effectively resolved. It is critical to recognise that different workforces will have different needs and that responses and resources to support the Scheme will need to address these carefully. Existing mechanisms and programs, such as the Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence Initiative introduced in Victoria in 2017, should be considered as part of Phase Two implementation planning.

Other concerns, including funding to undertake family violence related work, were limited to a small number of comments or contributions, suggesting that they were arising in specific sectors or locally rather occurring across sectors working with the Scheme (see section 8.5).

Enablers

The strong support for the Scheme and its intended outcomes is an enabler. This support was evident even when participants felt that implementation was challenging or poorly sequenced.

The legislation is important because it legitimises and authorises good collaborative practice and obligations to manage risk and safety. So, I think it’s an important piece of legislation and I think that it helps us as an agency to reinforce the message of mutual – of obligation to protect. That’s been important for us. So yes, I think it’s an extremely important piece of legislation. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)
I think the overall intent of the Scheme is absolutely wonderful and I think yeah, [we] would say this is one of the best things to come out of the Royal Commission, and really the [tilt] to perpetrators in order to manage risk. As far as the sequencing goes of actually having organisations, sectors’ workforces aligned or prescribed within that time hasn’t been ideal so we have – and we’re still trying to get many of our cross-sector partners and even their peak bodies up to a shared understanding of family violence. So, in that context of not having even basic family violence literacy the risk of actually being able to share information appropriately or that’s not risk-relevant or even misidentification, really of perpetrator/victim is risk. So – and obviously the training isn’t ideal and yeah, there’s – it’s sort of the horse bolted before there was any sort of capacity-building strategies or long-term - but I don’t want to take away from the Scheme itself, the actual policy. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)
The FVISS has been an opportunity to start conversations about family violence information sharing. (Expert Interview, Homelessness Service, 06.09.19)

Across the period of data collection, there was considerable evidence of good will and commitment to make the Scheme operate effectively, and of interagency cooperation designed to facilitate safe and family violence risk relevant information sharing.

Collaboration and commitment

Many participants described working together across sectors with other agencies and ‘working around’ issues and barriers as they implemented the Scheme. These supportive and mutual relationships were diverse in character: some reported more clarity in their own sharing practices emerging as a result of the Scheme; others described the significance of resource sharing in enhancing and progressing their own information sharing practices.

So previously we were kind of getting away with it – we were probably being looser with our information sharing than we really were legally allowed to do. We’ve kind of been given a – always working on an understanding that the information privacy principles did allow for police to communicate for a community safety purpose, but really we still have a whole lot of other concerns, or thoughts, or fears, about what it means to disclose information that comes from LEAP; because it’s a criminal offence; you can do your job. So, to operate with that protection in place, which is more than just an MOU between – or formal arrangements between parties; that’s good, so that works. (Expert Interview, Criminal Justice Sector, 04.10.19)

The other thing is just forms generally, so we developed our own form but we use the VicPol form because they were generous in sharing that regionally, that’s our request form. But the fact that every organisation is developing their own seems crazy from a resource perspective. I go to some regional meetings where there’s some small organisations who just don’t have the resources to throw at this so just don’t do anything really is what I hear, or are just so far behind. So, we’ve had some good cooperation at a regional level to try and share. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)

A number of participants from different workforces identified emerging collaborative relationships with the men’s specialist family violence sector as a positive in the implementation of the Scheme. For some, the Scheme was facilitating a deeper embedding of the men’s sector as a key part of an integrated family violence response.

I think so. I think it’s definitely helped with the services we work with like the Men’s Behaviour Change, to keep victim support in mind; to keep the victim safety in mind, so, I think that’s definitely helped to improve. And for us, having to develop the templates and the requests out, even if we’re not using them regularly, it does have something in place so that we’ve got a clear set of guidelines to follow if we are concerned about client’s safety. We know that we’ve got the Information Sharing Scheme to go down if we need initial information or to share information and we know how to do that. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 26.08.19)

What we have found as a change is that Men’s Behaviour Change groups and facilitators have been much more willing to share information and to work much more closely with us. So, that has been a shift. And we’re a children’s service but we have actually – particularly in the eastern region we have done some joint work with Men’s Behaviour Change case managers and facilitators where the counsellors will meet with the father and that facilitator or case manager where that person helps the father have accountability while we did some of the parenting stuff. So, that’s been – and we don’t know if it’s related or if it’s just coincided or what’s happened, but that’s been a change we’ve certainly noticed in the last year. (Manager Interview, Child Service, 18.12.19)

I think part of that is them as a service finding its position in the service system as well as organisations finding the role that our Men’s Referral Service can play in that sharing of information and being able to share it obviously around perpetrators without consent. (Expert Interview, Specialist Men’s Family Violence Service, 30.08.19)

Orange Door [Support and Safety hubs] information sharing practices received some praise too for supporting effective and efficient information sharing to achieve positive outcomes for women.

So, there’s information being shared all the time, collaborative information. I see it all the time when I’m at the Orange Door. A men’s worker will come to one of our colleagues and say, ‘Hey look I’m working with Bill, he’s reported blah, blah, blah. What do you think?’ and she goes, ‘Well actually blah, blah, blah, blah’. He beat her up last night so what he’s reported to you is not real. So, it’s kind of that really good work that happens. Or Child and Family will say, ‘I’m working with a woman she’s given consent. She’s disclosed family violence and one of your family violence practitioners will have to come down and meet with her and talk to her about what her rights are’. Or have conversation with a family violence team in VicPol to do an option talk with her about what her options are around making a report, applying for an intervention order. And that’s great work because it doesn’t mean that Child and Family have to ring us and take five days to get a referral. They’re in the building, they’ve engaged with mum about Johnny isn’t going to school. They start talking and she actually says, ‘I think Johnny’s not going to school because there’s some shit going down at home’. She disclosed and they pull in a family violence worker. When that happens it’s fabulous. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

These views were reinforced in Survey Two. A significant number of respondents (n=22) referred to the opportunity created by the Scheme to work with other agencies more specifically and directly, with clear positive outcomes.

Since info sharing laws I am finding it much easier to get contact details of victim/survivors (where the perpetrator is doing a men's behaviour change course) from police, Orange Door and Child Protection. (Survey Two)
All supporting agencies of the family are on the same page. (Survey Two)
Ability to gather all information from other services to determine the level of risk that victims are facing. (Survey Two)
Multi agencies meetings, history - gathering information, and referrals to support agencies to case management of clients with consent except perpetrators. (Survey Two)
Victoria Police and all the agencies I deal with all have a common goal. The sharing of information assists all agencies making it a more efficient and streamlined process for all agencies. The sharing of information allows contact with victims and perpetrators to be made easier ensuring a quick engagement with the necessary parties. Information sharing also alleviates the need for the victim to explain the details and relive their experiences to each individual agency. (Survey Two)
Informally with other ISEs or RAEs known to me has been great, not only in managing risk but in strengthening relationships across sectors. (Survey Two)
It is incredibly beneficial and has dramatically changed the way services are able to work collaboratively together by sharing critical information relating to risk and safety. It gives women survivors the ability to make more informed decisions and services the responsibility to manage risk and hold perpetrators accountable for their choice to use violence. (Survey Two)
AOD staff are now contributing to maintaining the safety of women and children, while keeping perpetrators accountable. We have had numerous examples where we have shared information and there has been a great outcome in terms of improving safety. AOD staff have reported to me that they are talking about information sharing at the start of every session/ group, and it has in some cases actually prompted the client to disclose family violence in that moment and have an open discussion about it. (Survey Two)

Some participants reflected on the sense of shared responsibility for family violence risk enabled by the Scheme, highlighting the value of the cross-sector cooperation that was occurring.

Q: Yes. So, with the operation of the Scheme do you think it increased the culture of sharing? Do you think people, more organisations, whether it’s yours or other organisations that you’re sharing with, do you think it increased the pro sharing attitude?
A: Yes. One of the things that I was told at the training as we went through is “The whole point of this scheme is not to be fearful of sharing information”. It is just pick up the phone and call that person and have a chat about what you’re both seeing and witnessing and making those observations to make a collaborative risk assessment. And in doing that, using professional judgement and going “We need to do something” and not being a sole worker holding that risk.
Q: Yes. And so, has it helped in that way in your relationships with the organisations that you work with because you’re sharing information – is it building relationships with other organisations?
A: I think so – very slowly, it’s taking time. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 29.11.19)

The work of lead organisations such as Corrections, Courts and Victoria Police working positively/quickly/supporting targeted requests

Lead agencies that hold perpetrator information were identified as pro-active, timely and key enablers of the Scheme. Overall there were very positive responses about these organisations as information sharing leaders both in terms of intent and efficiency. There were a number of participants who referenced the sharing of Victoria Police templates and protocols as very helpful for their own organisation’s change management. For some, the systematic work of these agencies was ensuring the realisation of the Scheme’s key objective of keeping the perpetrator in view.

I think definitely between yeah some – I think definitely Corrections, VicPol, specialist services, courts are turning them ‘round quickly as well. Yeah, I think very much so because you’ve got those central points as well, you can access that information. But there’s a lot of work to do around particularly mental health. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)
A1: For a formal, like if we’re doing in this request, that goes to centralised, but if it’s just to do with a local matter, and it’s just a quick over the phone question, then just the local station.
Q: Yeah, and you get responses pretty quickly? They’re happy to share?
A1: Yeah, we normally always use the court and family violence unit, so they’re really good there.
A2: One thing the police did do was they sent us an email with kind of like questions that could be good to ask in the request, because they found that we were sort of asking too broadly. So, they actually sent back, it was like about 10 questions dot pointed, and they said like “use these kind of phrases”. So that was really helpful, something like that from each individual organisation, like a guideline of what we can request and what that will look like on their end. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 17.09.19)
Now that all of those, particularly the big institutions, VicPol, police, Corrections have got very proficient kind of turnaround times and that they know how to access all what information’s out there and that it’s just become part of as it should be, kind of structured professional judgement as it’s working really well. It’s just really that whole notion of keeping perpetrators in view which we didn’t have the mechanism before and they’re reporting that they’re getting cases through, they’ve assessed them and then they’ve actually – and then assess them as low-risk. They’ve got the information back from the information-sharing schemes and some of them have been high-risk, and they’ve had a few cases that have gone to a RAMP. So that’s just the schemes working as they are intended. (Manager Interview, Community and Family Service, 19.11.19)
For me we’re getting a lot more through the magistrates - through the courts and through police. We are sharing information [seamlessly] and it’s really helped to assess risk if we’re working with a perpetrator, especially if they were on a unit or in a CCU (Community Care Unit), yeah, but not so much with the family violence service. ….. But when it works, it works fantastic and we’ve been able to really manage a lot of risk and with the perpetrators we’re working or even AFMs. (Focus Group, AOD and Mental Health, 22.10.19)

In line with these views about lead agencies, the Family Violence Implementation Reform Monitor’s report (2020, p. 29) highlights the DJCS implementation of an Information Sharing Culture Change Strategy as an example of good practice. With funding provided through FSV a consultant was employed to design the strategy and provide advice on prioritising actions and resources. Different sub-cultures were identified in corrections/prisons, health services for prisoners, community programs, victim support and youth justice. Each of these were assessed against six criteria identified as necessary for successful family violence information sharing:

  • naturally collaborative
  • family violence literate
  • delegate authority
  • trusting
  • familiar with FVISS and its objectives
  • familiar with other entities in the FVISS

Each of these measures were assessed in each of the sub cultures identified to create a baseline against which the progress of the strategy can be measured.

For some participants, the sense of enhanced and effective information sharing under the Scheme extended across all aspects of the work that was occurring in their service with victim/survivors.

I think it’s definitely enabled better risk assessment and risk management, definitely. So, there’s numerous cases of where a woman has thought a particular thing about him, like that he had particular convictions or whatever, and then we’ve been able to find out more information that either actually none of that existed or actually it’s much worse than she thought. So, I’d say that the requests for information, particularly from Police and Corrections, are quite firmly embedded, and really do support our risk assessment and risk management, definitely. (Manger Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

One expert encouraged more education around the targeting of requests to the most appropriate lead agency, expressing concern that courts were carrying a heavy burden that might lead to less than optimal practice.

The Magistrates Court is doing the information and you would have the figures probably on the numbers of queries they’ve had. And often people go straight to the court and say, “We need this information,” whereas it would be much better to go to the police. I think that the issue originally with the Magistrates Court, and one of the things we found, was that the police were not very good at sharing their information, and not very up to date. And the prosecutors often didn’t know, or the civil advocates didn’t know, exactly what was going on. And if you had a good magistrate, the magistrate would say, “I can’t make a decision until you go away and get this information.” But if you’ve got a magistrate who was very busy or a bit more relaxed, the queries were not made. And sometimes things slipped through the cracks. So, I think that’s why the magistrates decided that they would focus on this information sharing stuff. But it has proven a burden to them, because they get lots of queries. And that will need some education, I think, on what’s your first port of call, how do you do it?. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 17.09.19)

The data on information sharing indicates that the MCV is by far the main sharer and receiver of request under the Scheme (see section 8.7).

There was some limited criticism of the processes of lead agencies as overly bureaucratic. An example is included below, but these comments were not significant in number.

I think Vic Pol will say that their email is providing guidance to help someone fill in the form. To somebody who has misunderstood maybe a little tiny bit of it and they’re receiving a two-page email which covers every element that they could possibly have done wrong, which maybe they’ve only done a little thing wrong, which maybe actually isn’t legally required under the schemes anyway, no, it’s not helpful. Because someone who is trying to really hard to do the right thing just thinks, “Well, that’s too difficult. I won’t bother contacting Vic Pol again”. (Manager Interview, DHHS, 23.09.19)

Other enablers

A number of other enablers of effective implementation of the Scheme are set out in section 8.3. These include quality Ministerial Guidelines, an increasing suit of practice guidance, the Enquiry Line and sector grants. Advisor positions in the mental health and AOD sectors have been a particularly welcome and important enabler of implementation. While training is necessary for the effective implementation of the Scheme it is not sufficient. Strategies are required to embed family violence information sharing practice. The advisor positions are critical to this. Apart from providing secondary consultations, advisors engage in cultural change activities and ongoing training and education in family violence that is tailored to the sectors that they work in. There is a critical need to support the changes in professional cultures that are occurring within sectors such as mental health and AOD where client confidentiality has previously been a core part of a professional ethic.

A huge enabler is the Specialist Family Violence Advisors Program. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

There was some concern, however, about uncertainty about the duration of these positions.

Another I guess barrier with this [advisor] role, it was initially announced just to be a project job, to continue only for a year and it was meant to wrap up in January and we’ve heard unofficially that it’ll be continued ongoing. So, I think the issue with that is that if you were doing it as a project you kind of had, oh, we’ve got to really prepare this workforce to be ready for the information sharing and what will happen if these roles don’t exist to support it. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.9.19)

Funding for these positions has been made ongoing. Given that there is evidence that the mental health and AOD sector are just beginning to participate in the Scheme this ongoing funding will be critical in addressing the workplace needs of new sectors being prescribed in Phase Two.

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

The Scheme appears to have resulted in an increase in both the quantity and quality of family violence information sharing, which has in turn led to enhanced understanding of the responsibilities and benefits of the Scheme. 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 in the sector. Workers have seen the benefits of the operation of the Scheme to individual cases which has enhanced sector understanding of the responsibility to share family violence risk relevant information. While some workers continued to rely on pre-scheme processes for sharing, there was negligible evidence of inappropriate sharing.

Here we consider to what extent the implementation of the Scheme has resulted in increased levels of relevant information sharing between prescribed agencies. We consider participants’ observations on how the scheme has contributed to:

  • 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 previous inappropriate informal information sharing.
  • Any increase in the quantity and risk-relevance of information sharing.

There are limits on the ability to document quantitatively the nature and extent of sharing under the Scheme. Organisations are under no obligation to systematically report on levels of sharing under the Scheme or the family violence risk relevance of requests received. Lead agencies however have provided data on post-Scheme information sharing. While this data does not capture all forms of information sharing (limitations are noted in the relevant figures), it offers concrete evidence on the sharing of perpetrator information. This is of critical value given the Scheme’s central objective of ‘keeping the perpetrator in view’. This data was supported by survey data usually shared. Perpetrator data reflected the highest percentage increase in information shared between Survey One and Survey Two.

Table 8: Family Violence Risk Information Sharing Practices

The type of information shared by respondents who indicated that they regularly share family violence risk information

% of survey respondents (% rounded)

 

SURVEY ONE

SURVEY TWO

Adult victim/survivor information

39

50

Child victim/survivor information

23

40

Both adult and child victim/survivor information

51

62

Perpetrator information

50

74

Other

12

9

*Note: totals are not presented as participants were able to select multiple categories in both surveys. Many of the people who selected other wrote all of the above.

The below figures provide details of the levels and nature of FVISS information sharing activity of lead agencies including MCV, CCV, Victoria Police, DHHS, and Corrections Victoria 2018-2019. It should also be noted that agencies, for example, Youth Justice, are using pre-existing methodologies and legislation.The information set out relates to request to the central units of these agencies only and does not include requests made at the local or regional level. In the case of DHHS these figures relate to requests on closed cases only. Requests on active cases are made to individual case managers and are not centrally recorded. The MCV and the CCV are sharing the most information and have engaged in the largest volume of proactive sharing under the Scheme to date. Victim Services have made the largest number of requests for information. Only DHHS and Victoria Police provided data on the subject of the information requests received. Detailed information of each lead agency’s information sharing practices is provided in Appendix Seven.

Figure 6: Scheme to data agency comparison of responses to information requests

Figure 6: Scheme to data agency comparison of responses to information requests

Figure 6 is a bar graph that shows the Scheme to Data Agency Comparison of Responses to Information Requests MCV & CCV, DHHS ISU, Victoria Police, Justice Health, Corrections Victoria, Victim Services and Youth Justice. The y-axis shows the number of requests and the x-axis shows the types of requests per organisation. For MCV and CCV, the no. of requests received is 15,396, no. of requests declined is 306, 6,291 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 34. For Victoria Police*, the no. of requests received is 3,110, no. of requests declined is 42, 0 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 0. For DHHS ISU*, the no. of requests received is 377, no. of requests declined is 7, 0 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 0. For Corrections Victoria, the no. of requests received is 953, no. of requests declined is 19, 0 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 0. For Victim Servcies, the no. of requests received is 27, no. of requests declined is 10, 279 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 233. For Justice Health, the no. of requests received is 15, no. of requests declined is 23, 0 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 0. For Youth Justice, the no. of requests received is 3, no. of requests declined is 0, 0 requests were proactive sharing requests, and no. of requests made were 0. * DHSS ISU and Victoria Police did not provide data on voluntary sharing or number of requests for information made.

Download Figure 6: Scheme to data agency comparison of responses to information requests

* DHSS ISU and Victoria Police did not provide data on voluntary sharing or number of requests for information made.

Figure 7: Number of Information Requests Received

Figure 7: Number of Information Requests Received

Figure 7 is a line graph representing the number of information requests received for MCV & CCV, DHHS ISU, Victoria Police, Justice Health, Corrections Victoria, Victim Services and Youth Justice. The y-axis shows the number of requests and the x-axis shows the timeframe, starting from March 2018 to December 2019.

Download Figure 7: Number of Information Requests Received

Figure 8: Information Not Shared

Figure 8: Information Not Shared

Figure 8 is a line graph representing the number of instances information was not shared by MCV & CCV, DHHS ISU, Victoria Police, Justice Health, Corrections Victoria, Victim Services and Youth Justice. The y-axis represents the number of instances and the x-axis represents the time frame, starting from March 2018 to end in December 2019.

Download Figure 8: Information Not Shared

Figure 9: Information Voluntarily Shared

Figure 9: Information Voluntarily Shared

Figure 9 is a line graph representing the number of instances where information was voluntarily shared by MCV & CCV, DHHS ISU, Victoria Police, Justice Health, Corrections Victoria, Victim Services and Youth Justice. The y-axis of the graph shows the number of instances and the x-axis shows the timeline, starting from March 2018 to December 2019.

Download Figure 9: Information Voluntarily Shared

*DHSS ISU and Victoria Police did not provide data on information voluntarily shared

Other than the lead agency data set out here, there is no aggregate data about the total level of sharing under the Scheme. In addition to this family violence information sharing practice is dynamic and flexible incorporating both formal and informal practices in order to respond to situations of urgency when needed.

The two surveys provided some data on levels of information sharing but the changes in levels of information sharing between Survey One and Survey Two are not statistically significant.

In Survey One, 430 respondents (79.19%) indicated that they generally share family violence information with other agencies. Those who reported that they were most likely to share information were employees from Child FIRST (95.45% of employees share), Child Protection (85.71%), Correctional services (92.86%), Refuges (100%), RAMP (92.86%), and Victims of Crime Program (100%).

In Survey Two, there was a slight increase in the percentage of respondents who indicated that they generally share family violence information, but this is not a statistically significant difference: 202 respondents (80.16%).  For those who responded that they did not share family violence information, this was most often due to their specific role which did not require such sharing. However, it is notable that one respondent commented, suggesting that there are issues across different sectors:

We do not know how to - what would be involved, who to contact how to! This really needs to change. I think very very, very few mental health professionals (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) know about this! (Survey Two)

There was no real change in frequency of sharing between the Survey One and Two. For Survey One, the majority of respondents indicated that they share family violence information with other agencies at least once a week (65.58%). In Survey Two, this was almost the same with 66% of respondents indicating that they share family violence information with other agencies at least one a week.

The comparative reported frequency of sharing between Survey One and Survey Two is captured in the table below. A more robust measure over time would offer better insight, given the relatively recent reforms to family violence information sharing.

Figure 10: The Percentage of Respondents and their Estimated Frequency of Sharing

Figure 10: The Percentage of Respondents and their Estimated Frequency of Sharing

Figure 10 is a horizontal bar graph showing the percentage of respondents and their estimated frequency of sharing from Survery One and Two. For Survey One, "Never" is at 0.31% and Survery Two is 0%. For Survey One, "Once a year" is at 0.63% and Survery Two is 0%. For Survey One, "Once every 6 months" is at 0.63% and Survery Two is 2.07%. For Survey One, "Once every 3 months" is at 2.52% and Survery Two is 4.83%. For Survey One, "A few times each month" is at 18.52% and Survery Two is 27.59%. For Survey One, "Once a week" is at 7.23% and Survery Two is 10.34%. For Survey One, "A few times a week" is at 42.77% and Survery Two is 37.93%. For Survey One, "Daily" is at 27.36% and Survery Two is 17.24%.

Download Figure 10: The Percentage of Respondents and their Estimated Frequency of Sharing

Participants spoke about the sharing of risk relevant information. Some, mostly managers and experts, reported an emerging culture of openness to sharing post Scheme implementation and the need to reassert, via training and clear messaging, the importance of only sharing family violence risk relevant information. This messaging was seen as particularly critical for Phase Two.

Non-risk relevant, inappropriate or over-sharing

The majority of concerns expressed by participants about non-risk relevant sharing were linked to concerns that the importance of risk-relevance was being diminished by a misunderstanding of the Scheme. This was characterised as the proliferation of the attitude that, ‘Oh, we can share everything now’ (Manager, Specialist family violence service, 19.08.19).

I think…there can be [an] expectation from other people in the sector that all those walls now have come down and is just you must share all information. When in fact that’s not the case. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

Holding the importance of risk relevant sharing

Participants, and in particular those from specialist family violence services, reiterated the importance of risk relevant information sharing in the context of more openness to sharing post implementation. A manager from a specialist service questioned the assumption that ‘just information sharing is good’ and suggested that in some situations sharing may be operating to manage worker anxiety more than meeting women’s needs. Family violence specialists emphasised the importance of respecting women’s privacy and working collaboratively. They pointed to decades of research demonstrating the ‘best way [to] improve women’s safety…is for her to make active choices around protecting her wellbeing’. Observations and commentary collected from specialist family violence services during the second period of data collection strongly suggests that this cohort is concerned about the implications of over-sharing. Further detailed analysis of this issue can be found in section 8.7.5.

Agency specific sharing

The following table illustrates the agencies with whom survey respondents indicated they share information. The table sets out the percentage of respondents who share information with each of the listed agencies, and offers a ranking from the most common to least common.

Table 9: Agency specific sharing

Agency

% of survey respondents who indicate that they share with…

 

Survey One

Rank

Survey Two

Rank

Victoria Police

61.63

2

44.06

3

Child Protection

81.40

1

66.34

1

Specialist women’s Family Violence case management

59.07

3

52.97

2

Specialist men’s Family Violence case management

21.40

9

26.73

6

Risk Assessment and Management Panel

41.63

4

34.16

4

Child FIRST

22.33

8

19.80

9

Sexual assault services for victim/survivors

12.56

12

10.40

10

Victims Assistance Program

32.79

6

23.76

7

Correctional services

13.49

11

8.91

12

Offender rehabilitation and reintegration services and programs

10.70

14

6.93

14

Prisoner services or programs provider

7.44

15

3.47

15

Magistrates’ or Children’s Court

32.09

7

22.77

8

Victim Support Agency

35.35

5

30.20

5

Refuge

13.72

10

8.42

13

Other

12.09

13

9.90

11

*Note: This was a multiple-choice answer, so percentage is indicative of frequency.

In Survey One, respondents were most likely to share information with Child Protection, Victoria Police and specialist women’s family violence case management services. In Survey Two, the main three services were the same.

In Survey One, respondents stated that information is more likely to be shared via an informal practice, such as a phone or email conversation (63.02%), rather than completion of a form and/or a formal process (36.98%). In Survey Two this was unchanged: informal sharing practices were reported more often than formal processes (51.48%). Approximately one-quarter of respondents indicated that they utilised formal processes (24.75%). (Note: in Survey Two, there was a change in the survey set-up and respondents were able to select multiple options). Percentages for both surveys were calculated from the number of respondents who indicated that they practice information sharing.

However, there was a notable change in terms of how information was shared.

Table 10: How Information is shared

Type of Communication

% of survey respondents

 

Survey One

Survey Two

Telephone

82.09

61.39

Via in person conversation

42.79

33.17

Email Message

68.84

52.48

Completing a form

26.05

26.24

Online software

12.56

6.93

Via interagency meeting (e.g. a RAMP, a case conference)

38.84

27.23

Other

4.65

4.95

*Note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents were able to select multiple responses. Other included responses such as subpoena, official letters, and in team meetings.

The qualitative feedback on changes in sharing practices is examined below.

Despite the quantitative information from the lead agencies which indicates an increase in information sharing, not all participants reported that their organisations were engaged in increased sharing activity. Phase One organisations were most likely to report no significant change in the volume of information sharing. This is to be expected as they have been prescribed under the Scheme for a shorter period of time than Initial Tranche organisations and had, in many cases, not been trained in family violence risk assessment or had pre-existing family violence risk literacy (see sections 8.4 and 8.6).

Little to no change in quantity of information shared

The Therapeutic Community … said that it requires a real cultural change …they weren’t…aware of…much…impact on their work…it’s practice as normal. (Focus Group, AOD, 7.10.19)
Q: …have the workforce…made any requests for information through this Scheme?
A: … I don’t think so. I think there’s still some work to go on understanding the scheme fully. (Manager, Homelessness Service, 20.11.19)
[In] the AOD sector they are saying the number of requests is very small…some of the feedback at those local area committees is that they are not using the Scheme, they are using the structures that they previously had…And what that says to me…[is]…we have not made the shift in our thinking to focus upon the perpetrator as opposed to focusing on the victim/survivor so it is still victim/survivor information that is being shared. (Expert Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service and AOD, 17.9.19)

Another significant reason offered for minimal change in the quantity of information sharing when it was identified was the existence of well-established and embedded information sharing practices as well as professional relationships and arrangements predating the Scheme. Participants commented that they could not necessarily distinguish sharing that was occurring under previous arrangements and what is occurring under the Scheme.

[Participant from a counselling background] Look, we haven’t really used it that much yet, and I think a part of that as well is around relationships that are already there in some spaces. (Focus Group, Mixed, 3.9.19)

I know from a Youth Justice perspective not a lot has changed. I think Youth Justice already has quite a strong information sharing process. (Focus group,DJCS, 19.9.19)

I think we…expected there to be a lot more changes in process…but nothing too much had actually changed. I think due to the fact that we…get consent to talk to a lot of services already...it really is in our practice with seeking information through the police in regards to L17s and mental health and things. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 29.11.19)

One participant reported that the Scheme had in their experience ‘stifled’ family violence risk information sharing for MBCP.

I think that there’s some system issues that really have meant that information-sharing is now a bit more stifled...in the past, we had access to…the RAMP…Family Safety Victoria made a decision to close off access to that…we have about 400 men come through here a year…in the past…we would check the list of the people that are up at the RAMP, check against our clients and if we had a client that came up on the RAMP, we would then contact them so that what we could do is share information around that.  Can't do that anymore because we’re not part of the RAMP. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 08.08.19)

The current policy is that perpetrator family violence services should be incorporated into RAMPs, core membership and must attend every RAMP meeting and contribute to information sharing, risk assessment and safety planning. In theory, the situation reported above should not be occurring.

Some sectors, such as mental health, report some reluctance to receive information under the Scheme.

We think you need to know that as well, just so you’ve got all the information. And the resistance has been…if you told us this information then we would have to act on it and…it’s going to look worse for your consumer if we act on it. So, don’t share it with us. And again, with Child Protection, it’s like well, we’re not going to investigate, it’s not a protection issue. But we’re pretty sure that you’re involved with this family because of x, y and z. So, we just think you should have this information. It’s a bit like, well, are you making a formal report. No. We’re trying to share information. (Manager Interview, mental health, 3.09.19)

Increased pro-sharing attitudes and cultures

I do think there’s more of a pro sharing attitude to sharing for sure. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

In the first period of data collection, participants were typically highly supportive of family violence information sharing generally and the FVISS specifically. The second period of data collection suggests similar if not higher levels of pro-sharing attitudes and support for the Scheme.

The surveys support a finding of a high and increasing positive attitude towards family violence information sharing over time. Between Survey One and Survey Two, there was an increase in terms of positive attitude towards family violence information sharing from 88.70 percent to 95.68 percent. Importantly, Survey Two indicates a 13 percent increase in respondents who were very positive. This positive attitude towards information sharing was reflected in respondent’s assessment of the workplace attitudes towards and support for sharing. Respondents felt their work place was positive about information sharing, with 79.86 percent reporting a positive/very positive workplace attitude in Survey One, increasing to 83.78 percent in Survey Two.

Despite pro-sharing attitudes and clear commitment to the Scheme, participants particularly those in Phase One expressed reservations related to the Scheme and its implementation (see section 8.6). 

Increased understanding of information sharing responsibilities and benefits

I think it’s made people … who were a bit reluctant in the past or felt it wasn’t their duty to share information, it’s made them understand that they have an obligation to share. So that’s been good. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)

Participant comments about positive sharing experiences and enhanced risk assessment processes support the contention that understanding of information sharing responsibilities and benefits has increased since the Scheme’s implementation. For those working in the AOD and mental health sectors, this enhanced understanding was often referred to explicitly a shift from previous frameworks for thinking about information sharing. Evidence of a similar shift in these sectors is not as prevalent in observations from those working in the specialist family violence sector.

Impacts on previous inappropriate informal information sharing

As documented in section 8.7.1, participants who reported minimal to no change in the volume of information sharing practice post implementation noted that this was due in part to ongoing sharing via well-established informal pathways. This is supported by the survey data, set out below. For the purposes of this section these well-established pathways which preceded the Scheme are referred to as ‘informal’. There is no suggestion that these practices are illegitimate; indeed, in the majority of cases as is evidenced in the quotes below, these practices were guided by privacy and information sharing legislation and had simply become common practice and therefore informal rather than inappropriate. The second period of data collection found negligible evidence of impact on any previous practices of inappropriate sharing.

These observations from the AOD, mental health and community health sectors highlight the difficulty teasing out formal from informal practices.

Q: In general, you would say you’re not getting requests specifically under the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme…?
A: It’s difficult, because with a Family Reunification Orders program…there’s a lot of requesting the exchange of information, and because of our collaborative practice, we’re not getting a formal - we occasionally get a formal, “So I want this file.” [and we] say, “Look, you need to be a little bit more specific.” But because we engage in collaborative practice, again, the spirit of a FVISS versus the compliance part of FVISS. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)
I found we’ve still been using a little bit more of the back-door route to share information, more than information sharing scheme currently. (Focus Group, AOD and mental health, 22.10.19)
A lot of the information sharing [for the Victims Assistance Program, consisted of …checking in with police regarding safety and wellbeing. And most of the time the police will volunteer that information without having to go through a process. It’s very rare that we get a police officer or someone from the court saying that you can’t have this, it breaches privacy. So, we haven’t really been forced to put a formal request in writing other than…Most of the information is shared through voluntarily. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 26.08.19)

This expert emphasises how informal networks have been enabling for the sharing of information and suggests the ongoing importance of cultivating these ‘communication groups’ alongside implementing the formal practices of the Scheme.

My impression is that the relationships between the various agencies vary dramatically from town to town and there are some towns where X will get on the phone and say to Y, “Look, I’ve got a bit of a worry about this, what do you think?” And it’s probably done at relatively informal levels and it works. And then there are other places where you don’t have those communications. So, its building those groups as communications groups…Your formal records are important of course, but it’s building the contacts and the groups, I think. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 17.09.19)

These two managers credit the Scheme with eliminating the need for and reliance on informal relationships as a pre-requisite to retrieving risk-relevant information. For these participants the Scheme means that sharing is not reliant on relationships:

…if I come back to the police, prior to the scheme, it really relied on individual relationships. Now we don’t have to worry about that. So that’s fantastic. And we have quite good relationships because we have the Family Violence Units. But now that’s not relevant, which is great. (Manager Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)
A: Probably the [Child Protection] staff turnover, inexperienced clinicians or clinicians or practitioners who have reputation for being, let’s say, I wouldn’t say not professional, but clinicians have a reputation for just being a bit bullying approach to their work.
Q: …have you found that when people have asked for information…inappropriately…and when you’ve gone back to them has it changed the way they request information?
A: Yes, it has…they actually put in a better request…It’s given – it doesn’t give us more protection because we just know [how] to respond…But it does – I suppose it just give us a legislative framework rather than an ethical framework. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)

In the second period of data collection, there were only a few reports of what participants considered inadvertent, inappropriate or non-risk relevant sharing and even when these were reported they were considered to be in the past.

So, when the scheme started, particularly police would send us reams of information. They would just send us everything they had, relevant or not. They would just dump a file with us...What we’ve done more recently is be very clear with our team that all that gets uploaded is the relevant risk information. (Manager Interview, Specialist family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

There were concerns raised however about Child Protection information sharing practices which are discussed in section 8.6.1.

…[D]o you think…the legislation, has…decreased the fear of sharing inappropriately or legal consequences?
A: I say yep. I think it has…it’s made some people more confident…the legislation is important because it legitimises and authorises good collaborative practice and obligations to manage risk and safety. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)

When asked whether the new information sharing legislation has decreased the fear of legal consequences around sharing, many participants confirmed that it had done so. While information sharing prior to the Scheme was guided by existing privacy and health legislations, for many the Scheme was clarifying in providing a singular, coherent and concrete support.

…it’s taking away the grey about sharing information and people fearing of where they sit within legal rights et cetera. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 25.11.19)
I would say the fears around it, the fear of legal consequences and things, not to say that people are blasé about it, but I think some of it now does feel like, for us, business as usual. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

In this example, provided by a manager from a multi-agency organisation, the legislation gave them the authority and confidence to go beyond current agency policy and establish new processes for sharing.

…I was quite confident about going and putting in processes, despite the fact that itconflicted with the agency, because it, technically, gives you that protection…Certainly the legislation gives you oomph to be able to go in and say, “Well, I’m wanting this under the information sharing, not just because I’m curious”. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency Organisation, 08.08.19)

A Victoria Police expert commented that members know they are permitted to share information in the interests of community safety but despite this many harbour concerns about the gravity of sharing information from LEAP and the potential consequences to their career if their sharing is deemed inappropriate. Operating with the protection of the scheme in place is seen as a clear positive for police. (Expert Interview, Victoria Police, 04.10.19)

Below is a comment from a health sector participant who expressed concern about current practices of informal and inappropriate sharing within workforces scheduled for prescription in Phase Two. This participant is hopeful that the Scheme will reduce such practices but warns that it could have the opposite effect in the absence of cultural change.

…I know [coming from a  maternal and child health background]…that…in small towns or regional towns that…professionals like to share information…I’m expecting that there would be a decreased fear of sharing now because previously it was inappropriate informal sharing…I know in terms of nurses handing over to each other, for example, there’s often a lot of inappropriate comments made and judgments…I really believe that this is something that needs to be looked at more closely because I’m just thinking that if nurses struggle routinely during handover and that occurs three times in a 24 hour period in a hospital setting…then I would imagine that many other professionals who are not used to perhaps sharing information might struggle with it too. (Focus Group, Mixed, 07.10.19)

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

There are limits on the extent to which the Review has been able to capture outcomes (see, section 6.5). However, there is clear evidence that the Scheme has led to the increased sharing of perpetrator information which in turn has led to an increase in the extent to which perpetrators are kept in view. One aspect supporting the increase to which perpetrators are kept in view, is the increased integration of men’s specialist family violence services, such as MBCP into family violence risk assessment and management. There is evidence that some victim/survivors are experiencing improved outcomes, but there are  concerns about Child Protection focus on victim/survivor information and low levels of family violence risk relevant information sharing with family violence services. The RCFV (2016) urged that ‘[c]urrent efforts to ensure that Child Protection practitioners have a better understanding of family violence so that risk can be assessed and managed, and women are given appropriate support, must be strengthened’ (State of Victoria 2016a: 23). 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 this Review, Child Protection did not always fully recognise or effectively respond to family violence risk, which suggest that work needs to continue to embed cultural change.

Here we consider:

  • court family violence information sharing as a means of keeping the perpetrator in view
  • case studies
  • measures of the scheme’s impact
  • adolescents
  • misidentification of primary aggressors/perpetrators

Direct answers to questions put to participants about outcomes of the Scheme produced largely positive responses, especially in relation to changed access to risk-relevant perpetrator information and the advantages of this for women and children’s safety. These positive responses were recorded across all sectors. The following quote identifies both the practical and cultural change that the Scheme is considered to be producing.

So, it’s just really opened up a big dialogue about what is family violence and what does it look like. We’ve done a couple of case reviews which are heavily de-identified where we’re looked back at client’s histories who have been in our care for maybe a decade of more, with a serious and chronic illness. You know, there’s been talk about family violence or mentions of kind of relationship conflict, as it’s often kind of branded. And, you know, it’s been mentioned across that period of time but not really ever seriously probed into and then once we’ve had access to this Scheme, we’ve kind of got access from police information or courts and it’s horrific the amount that we have missed. It’s not because we were negligent, it’s just that we weren’t attuned to that. And, you know, in a mental health service there’s so many other risks you’re thinking of suicide and relapse and medication, all sorts of things that I think gets just re-honing the workforce’s idea that this is a serious issue that has many health outcomes, or negative health outcomes especially when it’s not kind of considered in amongst the bigger picture. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.09.19)

Another participant reflected that information sharing training was creating benefits for clients of all services, as well as enhanced awareness about the responsibility to contribute to holding perpetrators to account.

If I think of that specifically the Scheme itself: has it improved the victim’s experience? I’m – it certainly helped our clients because we as an organisation had more training and we have – I don’t know if you – directly as a result of the CISS but certainly because we had it at the same time as the CISS was being introduced made our clinicians attend the Safe and Together training. So, it’s a response to our clients, a response to Family Violence Royal Commission, a response to the CISS, we’ve certainly done a lot more training of staff. So, to say the legislation by itself no, the legislation has emerged partly in response to the Family Violence Royal Commission. So, we’ve been caught up in that wave and that’s been useful for our clients, yes.

Q: And so in some ways it’s kind of facilitated greater awareness of the -?

A: Certainly. And the sense of responsibility about the fact that we do need to hold – we do need to hold perpetrators to account and it’s helped us to give a legislative framework for those either new practitioners or for those who have been a bit reluctant about how we might hold them to account, to understand that we have this obligation and if they want to work in this field they need to do this. (Manager Interview, AOD, 10.09.19)

Survey respondents were asked about the impact of the Scheme on perpetrators and victim/survivors (not children). In Survey One, of the 370 participants who did share information that might directly impact perpetrators, 40.54% believed it would assist or support perpetrators, 13.51% believed it would have negative consequences for perpetrators, and the remaining 45.95% were unsure of the impact of information sharing on perpetrators.

Of the 409 participants who said that they share information that might directly impact victim-survivors, the majority of participants (80.20%) believed that it would assist or support victim-survivors, 0.98% of respondents believed it would have negative consequences for victim-survivors, and the remaining 18.83% were unsure of the impact of information sharing on victim-survivors.

In Survey Two, respondents were asked whether they believed their family violence information sharing impacted positively or negatively on victim/survivors and perpetrators. The responses are set out in the table below. Reflecting qualitative data, there is a shared and general view that the FVISS has had a positive impact on victim/survivors. Some also felt that they would be able better work with their perpetrator clients because they had a clearer view of past behaviour and current activities.

Table 11: Survey Two respondent views on Information Sharing Practices

Percentage of respondents in Survey 2 who saw information sharing practices as positive or negative

Victim Survivors

(% rounded)

Perpetrators (% rounded)

Positively- i.e. it assists or supports them, even if they are unaware of this

86%

48%

Negatively- i.e. it has negative consequences for victim/survivors

2%

6%

Unsure

12%

41%

N/A

1%

6%

Enhanced outcomes for victim/survivors

A complex picture was presented in relation to outcomes linked to the Scheme for victim/survivors. Some participants did not feel that there was clear evidence yet about any positive change for those disclosing family violence. Some of this ambivalence was related to on-going issues with service or police responses (such as those outlined in section 8.1 on women’s voice); others considered that the intensified emphasis on the wellbeing and safety of children under the CISS may be working to direct attention and focus away from family violence risks to women (see section 8.1).

There was affirmation from a range of participants that being able to provide women presenting to victim/survivor services with more accurate information about their partners was a benefit that could potentially lead to better outcomes.

A1: No, I think it’s a really good Scheme...Especially because sometimes you will have a woman in here and she’s got no idea in to his background at all, and then once you sort of find out you’re like wow, the risk is really high here.
Q: So, she doesn’t necessarily know what her risk is, when she’s talking to you?
A1: And if you didn’t have that, you might think that oh she’s minimising the risk to herself and her children, so it’s perceived a lot differently. Whereas if you’ve got it, like once you tell her and you sort of see like oh my god, yeah.
Q: So, did you have access to any of that information before that? Before the Scheme? Were you able to?
A1: No.
Q: No, so it has made a difference to the way you can work with your clients?
A1: Yeah, definitely. (Manager Interview, Homelessness service, 17.09.19)
And the other thing, it’s done the reverse as well in a good way in that women who thought the risk was really high, because part of his method of power and control was around, you know, making all kinds of outrageous statements and stories about, you know, being connected to bikie gangs and being in prison for killing people, and blah, blah, blah, to then be able to go, ’That’s actually not true.’ So, to be able - that’s not to say there isn’t risk. But actually, all those things he’s been using to scare and control you, not true. So, I think it’s worked in both ways in terms of being able to provide women with accurate information, which sometimes allows them to relax a little bit. And also, the flipside in that there’s lots of stuff they didn’t know, and, actually, it’s quite serious. (Manager Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

Qualitative data from Survey Two reinforced the findings of interviews and focus groups, with more targeted and informed support for victim/survivors being identified as a positive outcome by respondents (n=31). Accessing more detailed and previously unavailable family violence risk information was noted as having a range of positive impacts for service delivery, risk assessment, and for clients.

Significant information has been requested and received that was not known to victim/survivor and has enhanced ability to address risk and safety plan. (Survey Two)
Better understanding of risk and prevention of siloed work. (Survey Two)
Assists with dynamic risk assessment and management or a person. Info disclosed about the perpetrator can better inform the decisions made with the victim and children to keep them as safe as possible. (Survey Two)
A holistic risk assessment and management plan can be created to protect victim/survivors. A  plan to keep the perpetrator in view can also be actioned by sharing appropriate FV information with relevant services. (Survey Two)
It allows a more complete assessment and targeted interventions based on a proper risk assessment that is informed by all available information. Keeps Children, Victim/survivors and perpetrators in view and safe. (Survey Two)
Ensuring assessment and case management by specialist agencies in FV have all the info. they require to make decisions that improve safety and outcomes. (Survey Two)
Increases reliability of risk assessment processes and therefore the targeted nature of interventions, arguably increasing effectiveness of services for service users. (Survey Two)
Identifying the level of risk when working with families and providing the best course of action based on this. (Survey Two)
We have a better idea of what the issues are that we are working with and as a short term intervention service we hope that the FV service will follow up. (Survey Two)

Other participants reflected on indirect benefits that were likely to enhance outcomes for those who had experienced family violence. They identified these benefits as arising where the process of information sharing had an impact of everyday practice, including through better information being provided to victim/survivors and changes in case notes in the context of the AOD sector.

Particularly in situations where a parent is quite overwhelmed or is trying to navigate the legal system on their own and they either don’t have the paperwork or they’re not sure how to get the paperwork. So, we’ve been able to apply on their behalf for information about court orders, any conditions that the ex-partner or partner might be under. Or if it’s something that’s going to RAMP or high risk, the family violence team being able to feed that back to those programs to say, actually you need to step back in and be more present for that family. (Manager Interview, ChildFirst, 26.09.19)
The positive impact that we can see from the information sharing consent that is explained to the victim/survivor because the victim/survivor from family violence, when they come to us, one of the top barriers will be isolation. And the impact of this information sharing message that we actually need to explain to them, it kind of actually most of the time, they find empowerment, empower them to feel that they actually in the hand of services, not just one service but they know any service that engaged and potential in the future will be engaged more with local services, for example, through this information sharing scheme. (Focus Group, Mixed, 07.10.19)
[Practitioners having] the realisation that they actually have to change the way they case note things. So, rather than saying, “The victim is using drugs and alcohol,” but saying, “Because of her experience of,” or, “Because perpetrator is threatening her or coercing her into drug use,” so shifting the language around, “She’s doing this,” to, “This is a response to some sort of manipulation or coercion or coping strategy.” So, seems that people might need some training around writing case notes and writing reports and things where they do that shift because a lot of them say, “I never work with the perpetrator,” and we’re saying, “Yes, but you still hold them to account by the way you tell the story, by the narrative, by the information you pass to another organisation, rather than just saying, ‘Well, the victim is doing X, Y and Z,’ but providing that context. Why is the victim doing X, Y and Z?” (Focus Group, Mixed, 16.09.19)

Keeping perpetrators in view

There was a widely shared view that the Scheme is achieving its goals in achieving greater visibility of perpetrators, their histories and thus the risks that they may be posing. The volume of requests to the lead agencies carrying perpetrator information (Victoria Police, Corrections and the Courts) as outlined in section 8.7 provides evidence of the success of the Scheme. This was a prominent theme in Survey Two responses when asked “Generally, what are the benefits of family violence information sharing in your role?”. Eighteen of the opened-ended responses focused specifically on the perpetrator, with statements such as:

Transparency around perpetrator behaviour. (Survey Two)
Previously we requested perpetrators to provide copies of IVOs as a requirement of attending MBCP. Now we can easily obtain IVO through FVISS. (Survey Two)
AOD clinicians have large amounts of risk relevant information about perpetrators and these men are often not engaged with any other part of the FV service system. Info sharing promotes collaboration and allows monitoring of perpetrator behaviour. (Survey Two)
Greater access to information about perpetrator patterns of behaviour. (Survey Two)
Keeping perp[etrator] in view. (Survey Two)
To have more sight over perpetrators’ behaviours and to hold them to the same standard as parents for their choices that impact children. (Survey Two)

Focus groups and interviews echoed this positive outlook on keeping perpetrators in view.

I would give you multiple different case studies and particularly the information sharing across Corrections for police has been a game changer because we’ve done an almost set and forget model. Our initial interaction we used to down all our paperwork, we do our enforcement and then we move on, and now that we’re not doing that we’re wanting to know what happened what happened with this Community Corrections order, can you do drug and alcohol testing for us if we want to see if this is a contravention of the intervention order because we’re actually following through far more and delivering the offender accountability. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)
So, I think the Information Sharing Scheme has definitely helped because as I mentioned earlier, it’s allowed the Helpline now to make formal requests to police before even contacting the client, based on the suspicion that they might be a perpetrator to see if there is a history of violence. Which when they do the triage, is that they’re more likely to be able to redirect them to Men’s Behaviour Change Service, rather than sending them to the VAP[Victim Assistance Program]. And the request that we’ve had from Men’s Behaviour Change Services, they’re the ones working with the perpetrators, but they’re also keeping the victim in mind as well; so, the perpetrator is accountable for the safety, but they’re also concerned about the victim’s welfare as well. I think it’s definitely brought the perpetrator into the space, very much so. (Manager Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

As this participant later reflected, however, there are some practical barriers in the extent to which specialist family violence services are able to access relevant risk information about perpetrators from the full range of services that they may be engaged with.

Yes and no. So, I think yes in terms of they’re more in view to us. We can get more visibility of where they are, what they’re doing to an extent. And I guess part of the to an extent is the fact that we’re not requesting information from lots of those services we could...Part of the challenge with that is because we work with the woman, we often don’t know where he’s engaging. So, if we know, for example, that he’s got a diagnosed mental health issue, we don’t know which service he is engaging with, unless she knows that, which, chances are, she doesn’t. So that’s one of the complexities of it is we could spend a lot of time making info requests to a lot of services that have never met this person.
Q: Yes. So, you need to know where to get the information from
A: Exactly. And so, for example, we don’t make a lot of requests to men’s behaviour change programs because, in our region, there’s I don’t know how many, maybe five. That’s probably wrong. But whatever at different organisations. She might not know if he’s engaged in a men’s behaviour change program. So, it’d be a relatively small number of women that, one, he’s engaged in a program, two, she knows which one, and that he’s actively engaged. So, part of the complexity of it is to get information from a lot of those services, we have to actually either know he’s going to those services or spend a huge period of time asking for the information to find out if he is or he isn’t.
So, in terms of keeping him in view, I think that’s something that’s probably, for us, from our work scope, probably not working that well. So that, again, probably feeds into why we just go to Police, Corrections, you know, because normally either she’ll know if there’s a criminal history, or we’ll get a sense of probably there is one. But all the stuff beyond that, it’s a lot of work to find out if they’re engaging, unless she actually already knows. And then even if she knows, what’s the purpose and the point of getting that information? So, I’m not sure that it is quite achieving keeping perpetrators in view. (Manager Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 19.08.19)

A significant area where change was being felt was in services being provided to men both in Corrections and in the community, which is likely to mean victim/survivor pathways are also enhanced.

Because without the opportunity to communicate so freely – for that matter that I’m talking about - for police to introduce to the court information about - whilst there’s been no police attendance, there’s no reported criminal offences that we’re charging anyone with at this stage - but we know x, y and z about this man, this is why we find this is a high risk, this is what we know about him in the past – to present that sort of information we actually had no legal pathway to do it; so now we do…And so we had the opportunity to then provide that information to the Legal Aid men’s worker and say ‘this is what we’re batting with, this is what our information tells us, and they then go back and seek instructions, but also give really realistic advice to the man about ‘well this is actually what it’s going to look like in court’. So, you may be best to consent without an admission – and that’s happening a lot more as a result. (Expert Interview, Victoria Police, 04.10.19)
We do it a lot [share information] with Community Corrections, as I was saying before, so we do it a lot with them. We also proactive share with VicPol a bit too. We had someone really high risk being released one day last week, so we did a proactive share to Victoria Police after another member of my team actually spoke with the victim themselves. She didn’t want to tell police at all. This particular perpetrator has quite a lot of drug and gang connections, and so she didn’t feel comfortable going to police, but we worked with her. In the end, she felt okay for us to do a proactive share to the - we’ve got these particular contacts from the family violence unit that we deal with, so we did a proactive share to them. (Manager Interview, DJCS,28.11.19)

The comments of these participants reinforced the view that the FVISS has been significant in progressing the integration of men’s specialist family violence services in a whole of system family violence response, as discussed in section 8.6.2.

So, they’re wanting to do a thorough risk assessment before - which is positive at the Scheme because we weren’t getting those types of requests before. I don’t know if the Helpline directly got those requests before, but I can’t recall in the six years that I’ve worked here, prior to this Scheme, that we had Men’s Behaviour Change Services calling us saying, ’We just want to make sure that the affected family member is safe.’ That wasn’t happening before, so that’s a change. (Manager Interview, Community Health, 26.08.19)
For me, in driving the change here, having that legislation at the back of it has really helped me to really push that understanding. It’s not just because I think that it should occur. It’s because that’s what’s happening in the sector and I can push that and that’s been really helpful. Things like the men’s behavioural change standards have been – like before it was a ‘No To Violence’ standards and they’re now men’s behavioural change standards which have incorporated the information sharing unit, which make it a lot clearer - particularly agencies that were the Initial Tranche agencies are making it really clear about that expectation. (Manager Interview, Multi Agency, 08.08.19)

This participant reflected on the extent of the change in professional culture that was occurring and still needed to happen.

Q: So, the question is have the aims of the scheme been achieved in terms of keeping perpetrators in view …?
A: Dribs and drabs. I’ve heard some examples of information sharing, but dribs and drabs, one here, two there. I think it’s a learning experience and not just for our sector but also for other sectors. So how can we collaborate with the police? And what does it mean to hold someone accountable? We don’t hold someone accountable in the AOD sector, we work with them to hold themselves so they hold themselves accountable. So that’s a turnaround process. We hold up the mirror, we don’t hold up the handcuffs. So – what were we talking about? So, I think there’s potential, but we’re not there yet, we’re a long way away from it, and I think this is a long term – long term. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

Addressing the misidentification of primary perpetrators/aggressors

The RCFV (2016) noted concerns about the misidentification of primary perpetrator/aggressors by police. Recommendation 41 was focused on enhanced training for Victoria Police to reduce such misidentification. Although the issue of misidentification of the primary perpetrator/aggressor was not prominent in the first period of data gathering, many participants in the second period were positive about the ways in which the FVISS was reducing the impact of misidentifications by allowing police and other services to better identify and corrected any misunderstanding.

When we have the application lodged at court and then the police justice lawyer comes to us and says ‘look, this woman’s actually really really been beset and this was reactive violence and this that and the other thing happened’. The response from police is because the relationships have been built up over time it’s not defensive at all, whereas I’m aware in times past that it used to be very much ‘no, we’ve got our position, we’re stuck with it - this is what the police saw, this must be it’ and we wouldn’t listen… So now because we’ve got more of the collaborative to and fro of information, we can make adjustments and get it fixed early in the piece – either withdraw the application, encourage the other party to initiate their own cross application, abandon our own and so some of those creative solutions have been coming up.
Q: And so that’s to do with the collaborative relationships and also the information sharing? They go together?
A: Yes – and accepting that the information coming from the other agency is actually valid – it’s as valid as whatever the constable saw on day one and that is a shift for us; we hadn’t been so strong in that. (Expert Interview, Victoria Police, 04.10.19)
So, every day at the Orange Door there’ll be L17’s where there will be a woman named as the respondent and a man named as the AFM. And police, we’ve had this discussion with Victoria Police about can you please check your LEAP database and see who’s the primary aggressor? And they go, yeah we will do that, but the L17 will still be a record of the incident that they attended. And they have a responsibility to investigate that incident. So often they get a call, they turn up, he says, ‘She hit me over the head with the frying pan’ and he’s got a big dint in his head. And she says, ‘I hit him over the head with the frying pan’. She gets charged with assault, he gets to [unclear] L17 and comes to us at the Orange Door and then Men’s checks their database and says, ‘Actually he’s been the primary aggressor in the last seventeen L17s with her being named as the AFM’. So, I think there’s an opportunity, if there’s information sharing and people have got access to the database and police are checking LEAP we can identify who’s the primary aggressor. However, there can still be misidentification and there can be, what we would call systemic abuse. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

Victim Support Agency workers are now able to screen potential Victim’s Assistance Program clients with more accuracy to determine where they have been misidentified as victims rather than primary perpetrators. An important aspect of this changing terrain with regards to misidentification was the positive and proactive involvement of men’s services. Participants identified benefits in enhanced identification of the primary aggressor, in agency ability to work with that perpetrator and in more collaborative relationships with other agencies.

Case studies of positive outcomes

This section includes positive case studies of changed outcomes that were attributed to the Scheme. These emerged are taken from the second period of data gathering in late 2019.

The family violence court liaison officer from [xxx] court – she operates out of there as well and on Thursdays, Fridays, when they’ve got the court hearing days for the civil listings, she pops along to court. Yesterday she had a case where it was an application initiated by the mother at court – no involvement with police at all – and the information in the complaint was quite concerning for the exposure of the children to family violence and to high conflict. So, she took that back to the detectives at the sex offence and child abuse unit who were there and they had an immediate little roundtable with the Child Protection workers as well.

It launched a quick response from Child Protection and they were able to actually head down and have some discussion with the mum about exactly what the implications would be for her from a protection status, should she withdraw from an order, did she need any further help and support with it. Previous to that kind of immediacy of case planning, what would have happened was police would have said ‘look, we’re going to notify Child Protection, we don’t think it’s a great idea if you actually still remain with this person and yada yada ya – because she was seeking a safe contact non-exclusion intervention order, even though there was significant harm for both her and the children. (Expert Interview, Victoria Police, 04.10.19)

 

Has the information sharing scheme led to improved outcomes for victim/survivors and increased the extent to which perpetrators are in view?

Female: I would say yes.

Female: Yes.

Female: Yeah, the number of people that in AOD services that now feel comfortable to be able to talk, even if it’s just by having the poster say in reception or in the kind of rooms, it elicits conversation that previously probably wouldn’t have come out and clinicians are getting more skilled at asking and exploring the situation of what’s going on, risk kind of assessment, so definitely and people are - we’re referring more to specialist family violence services, I would say.

Female: I agree, yeah, I’m seeing the same. Yeah, benefits, it’s working. When it works, it works well and it will save lives.

Participant: I have a really great example of a clinician working with a perpetrator who was really minimising the violence and focusing this whole hour on the ex-partner who was potentially current partner as well and the clinician just really cluing into what’s going on here. Spoke to advisors and then called police to share information because of the risk that he was kind of seeing. And the police were able to say oh, there’s actually a warrant out for his arrest and nothing’s happened around it, so we’ll get onto that. So, I mean that’s not great, it shouldn’t be that way but at least we’re contributing to some of this stuff being like addressed, yeah. (Focus Group, AOD, 07.10.19)

 

So, it would have been six months ago or something and I was actually sharing so that’s why I can say it so easily. The Orange Door from [xxx] had sent an email just saying that they had a victim that the perpetrator had advised that he was coming to [xxx] and he had located her and was coming. So, as soon as I got that email, I was like, ‘Hang on, there’s more to this than just I want a copy of the Order. What’s going on?’ And the confidence that [xxx] had we would reply is the fact that they email us versus calling so they needed that information straightaway and … sent an email. Otherwise, if they had called, we would have obviously been there but they knew that we would be there to respond straight away.

So, we got the email, I quickly shared the Order because of what the email said they were literally waiting to send her to South Australia, they were sending her over the border to get her safe. So she had the Order straight away and then from there I got more research into the perpetrator and what was going on and discovered that he had located multiple victims in safe houses and had been recently in jail for offence against this woman, that the Order was originally done in Melbourne, in Collingwood, and that she had obviously fled to [xxx] and he had told her family members that he knew where she was and he was on his way to. . . So, I was able to ring The Orange Door and to say, ‘I have given you the Order because that’s what you asked. You have asked for it and I got it to you ASAP so that you could do what you needed to but we have actually discovered all this other information that we think is really valuable and will assist you in your risk assessment. And in keeping her safe because I think it is important that, if we have got narratives of past women where thy have said you have located me at my safe house, you located me here, you followed me here, they need to know that information. So, it was literally a phone call, I picked up the phone and just spoke to the worker. She knew some of the information but not all of it and she said that she had the victim outside in the car with her children and the police were about to escort her over the border. And so the fact that we were able to share the Intervention Order, they needed a copy ASAP and then to be able to give them that further information to keep her safe in the future was really, really valuable to them and they did express that and they - I wouldn’t say extradite but they were able to move her across the border as soon as possible with lots of information to then give to the other State to help her. (Manager Interview, MCV, 17.09.19)

While there was limited data that emerged in relation to adolescent family violence in the Review process overall, one participant described a new model of practice with young people that was being enabled by the Scheme.

So, there’s an operating model in this division where the proactive youth-focused officers are working with [X] youth workers and that’s five days a week they work with them. And there’s a tiered response to anything to do with young people as they come in contact with police and in a criminal offending way. On the first level those that are single issue – shop stealing, lower level, not many other particular problems –the sergeant will have a conversation with them at the station and that’s it. At the next level, where this is a not suitable for a caution, as complex matter, there’s offences of violence, then the youth-focused officers will get involved with the family and just check in with what’s going on for them and what’s happening… At the very higher end, our high- risk youth perpetrators for the high harm crimes - that has a full investigation response and our youth specialist officers deal with those and work with those families.

But what they’re noticing is because they’re actually now spending more time with the families and in doing a follow-up, we can actually see whether we’re getting sustained results, or changes, and we’re actually getting people into the homes to understand how the dynamics are working. So we’re finding for all of those high end offenders, who are causing quite high harm in a lot of ways, the detective sergeant in charge of the unit would definitely say ‘you can hear the disrespect in their language towards their elders’…Their curfew bail isn’t working for them because of their approach and their attitude and you can see the fear for many of their siblings and the way it plays out in their households.

So for those kinds of young people, the enforcement response is the prime tactic because we want to enforce charge, get to court, charge, get to court, charge, get to court, get to remand – get to a point where we’ve actually delivered consequences and we want to do that in a reasonably quick period of time, both for meaningful and also before they leave youth justice and become adults because then the chance for change is less and the consequences are less…Through applying those tactics we’ve actually had some pretty strong results – we’ve actually turned quite a few around who many, on first meeting, would have figured ‘no, he’ll go to hell in a handbasket and we’ll be seeing him at Barwon quite soon’. So that wouldn’t work without the police going into the family unit, having the discussion with the family about ‘well what’s going on, how is everyone getting on here, what are the things that are causing us tension’ and then whatever it is that they nominate – whether it’s around education, whether it’s around other things – police then go and have a chat with that agency… And so, it’s that kind of information exchanged where we are actually able to bring to another agency ‘look, there are some serious risks here, this investigation pathway for this young person, this trajectory is heading to County Court within two years if we don’t do something here’. That we have to have a different way of influencing them because they’re not listening to us and they’re not listening to their parents and so we’re able to give some really specific information, we’re able to give a lot of background information. (Expert Interview, Victoria Police, 04.10.19)

 

Jane, a specialist family violence caseworker, had a client who, with her young daughter, feared further family violence after her ex-partner’s release from prison. The organisation is a RAE under the Scheme and therefore, Jane can request and receive relevant information for family violence assessment and protection purposes. Together with her client, Jane (the caseworker) decided to request information from Justice Health as part of a comprehensive risk assessment and management plan.

Jane requested the following information about her client’s ex-partner (the perpetrator)

from Justice Health:

• mental health assessments, diagnoses, and engagement with treatment

• information on his involvement in alcohol and other drug programs, and broader services

• identified risk factors, such as fixation on or homicidal thoughts towards the victim/survivors, and

• any signs of responsibility or remorse

Outcome

Justice Health received this request from Jane and shared relevant information, such as mental health assessments and medication history. Jane’s client felt relieved that there were trained professionals assessing and managing her ex-partner’s mental health. She also felt more confident that services were looking out for risks to the safety of her and her daughter. Jane included the information provided by Justice Health as part of a comprehensive risk assessment that confirmed the perpetrator posed a significant threat to the client and her daughter. This led to ongoing information sharing and risk management, including an enhanced safety plan for Jane’s client and her daughter.

 

 

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.

 

Has the scheme had any adverse impacts?

The adverse impacts of the Scheme include concerns about women victim/survivors as well as perpetrators disengagement 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 to 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. This section presents participants’ experience and views of the adverse impacts or potential adverse impacts of the Scheme. Where possible we have sought to delineate between adverse impacts that have been experienced and those which were offered as a hypothetical of what was considered may be experienced in the future.

Women’s disengagement from support services

Some participants were concerned that victim/survivors might disengage from specialist family violence services in light of the Scheme, due to a fear of their information being shared without consent. This issue has been covered in detail in other sections of the report, especially in relation to the concerns of Aboriginal service providers (see section 8.2).

Some feared that women would not trust them if they shared their information without consent. This concern was often related to Child Protection.

We’re a voluntary service, we lose engagement with women if they think the things that they tell us go automatically to Child Protection who then blame her or punish her. Or go to police and then she gets charged with doing something. Or go to a real estate agent or go to a Maternal and Child Health nurse when she hasn’t given permission, we lose trust. We lose relationship and she withdraws and she goes to New South Wales and we’ve lost her and she’s at risk. (Manager Interview, Specialist Women’s Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)
But if that’s actually going to diminish that trust and that relationship and she’s possibly going to disengage and they’re both going to be at further risk then you could actually put a case together to not share that information based on that. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

In particular, participants emphasised the likelihood of heightened fear of information sharing for specific communities, such as women from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

The concept of sharing information to other agencies quite commonly bring[s] out the fear of authorities, like fear of police, fear of going to gaol because she was victimised in the relationship or being deported back to the country. (Focus Group, Mixed, 07.10.19)

Participants were especially fearful of disengagement by members of Aboriginal communities.

When I think about the impact from diverse communities and Aboriginal women, I don’t think the information sharing scheme has filtered down to the level of understanding their communities. It’s where the practice of them shield community and maybe a culture of not disclosing information and sharing it and they still hold all the fear of what will happen because they feel they might be deported or that they may be excluded from their community or even that as a cultural norm that information sharing scheme I don’t think has consciousness. (Focus Group, Mixed, 23.08.19)

A participant was asked whether this was a hypothetical risk or one that they had seen play out as a result of the Scheme.

I don’t know if I could say that it’s as a result of the Scheme. But historically women are very wary, they’re wary of Child Protection, they’re wary of police. You add into that mix an Aboriginal woman, young people who are scrutinised and seen much more critically in terms of their choices. A woman who speaks English as a second language who’s had difficult experiences as a refugee or a migrant. Difficult experience with police or Child Protection or a school. If we’re being used to share information without having an informed conversation with women about why this request has happened and what the impacts are. Then we become part of the system of scrutiny and we lose that really hard won relationship and reputation in the community as a safe place for women to come to talk about hard stuff. If I can’t have a good relationship with a client or one of my colleagues, which means she can talk about the fact that she’s spending more money on this and that’s having an impact on the kids. Or she’s seeing her ex-partner because she loves him and that’s having a negative impact on the kids. Or she’s breached privacy and given the address of a refuge or crisis accommodation and breached all safety. If our staff can’t have that conversation with her because she thinks she’s going to get blamed and charged and her kids are going to be taken away from her, then we’ve lost her. So, it’s that really interesting relational part of the work. (Manager Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 05.09.19)

Some service providers raised particular concerns about the operation and potential impacts of Part 5B -Information sharing relating to Support and Safety Hubs (or Orange Doors) - of the Family Violence Protection Act. This provision was introduced without broad consultation and creates a deeper sharing environment within the Hubs. Some participants considered this provision meant that historical information about women, not relevant to current family violence risk assessment, might be more readily accessed and shared, with consequent impacts for women’s privacy and security. As information sharing practice is expanded to organisations without pre-existing family violence risk knowledge this potential will need to be carefully monitored.

Other participants reflected that the barriers and risks of information sharing have always been present and highlighted the need for practitioners to adopt effective strategies for engaging with women victim/survivors.

I think that that is always a risk but I don’t think the fact that we are talking about information sharing. I think that’s a little bit like Child Protection. They have to tell people, that you are required to contact Child Protection if you hear something that would put a child at risk. And so, one of the things we say is that we will try and work with them around that so it’s also with information sharing. There is a purpose of it so, if you can speak to the purpose of it, they feel more comfortable with that. (Manager Interview, Community and Family Service, 19.11.19)

Participant views about potential victim/survivor disengagement with specialist support services were varied, but the concerns expressed by service providers mirrored those raised by women who had experienced family violence (see section 8.1 on women’s voices). These views reflect the critical nature of accurate and effective conversations about information sharing with victim/survivors. Several participants were unclear about how best to have a conversation about information sharing requirements that would not lead to disengagement.

Perpetrator disengagement from services

Some participants shared stories – either their own professional experiences or from colleagues – of how the Scheme had resulted in higher levels and increased risk of perpetrator disengagement from services. Participants were uncertain as to what the impact of a conversation on information sharing would be and how they would navigate that conversation without compromising the strength of the practitioner-client relationship.

One bad story from a different sector so that’s not necessarily up to me to disclose, but it was about a very junior worker that talked to a perpetrator, “I need to share this information”, and he got up and left. So, who knows what happened at home … So, we don’t know what happened when he went home, what the impact was for the person at home. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)
So they [AOD practitioners] are very reluctant to do anything that might cause that person to disengage from them and then, with the mandated clients, there is probably an additional glare of the client just doesn’t want to be there in the first place but they are going through the motions so they tend to work quite tentatively with those clients. So, I think that changes their perception around what they can actually do … I think there’s the other piece around the history of working in that sector that, because their clients are quite marginalised, criminalised and have often been discriminated against where information which should be treated as health information, is actually treated as criminal justice information or stigmatisation. So, I think they are very reluctant to add another label to their clients, which I completely get but I think it affects the context of how we are working in this space. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 17.09.19)
The concern is more around consent in how to actually address that issue with the clients themselves working with men who use family domestic violence, that is a huge, huge problem for them. Like, what are you going to do? It kind of raises the kind of - the concern that we have is that if we don’t provide that information properly to them, they’re not going to engage with us, they’re not going to open with us. (Focus Group, Mixed, 07.10.19)

Some participants expressed a concern that risk of perpetrator disengagement was particularly high for male Aboriginal service users.

In the two instances where information was requested. One of those was an Aboriginal man who was engaged with the service, and he ended up disengaging once this, I guess there were some concerns, and once some information was requested, and then shared with him, that that process had happened, he then chose to disengage from the service. And I query, I guess, whether there was any other space that he would then have access to that therapeutic support. Yeah. But I mean, the other end of that, the outcome was, potentially, that the victim/survivor was, you know, her safety was managed appropriately. So yeah, it’s a tricky balance. (Focus Group, Mixed, 03.09.19)

This heightened fear of disengagement among Aboriginal communities is not unwarranted given the legacies of state intervention and colonialization in these communities alongside the high rates of criminalisation. It does however bring to the fore the need for practice strategies to be developed to assist practitioners in developing best practice conversations around information sharing that effectively and transparently communicate privacy safeguards. We note that there may be a need to consider a range of practice guidance for different cohorts of perpetrator.

Participant views on the risk of perpetrator disengagement were not unanimous. Others felt certain that client disengagement in MBCP was not an issue, given that previous legislation and men’s participation in programs already required consent to contact and seek information from partners:  

We had - well, I guess concerns from the outset but through needing to change consent forms and such for things like Men’s Behaviour Change that perhaps would result in them disengaging and then actually not being visible to them to be able to share information, but a number of people have reported that that actually hasn’t been the case, that they’re well and truly aware with those updates to the consent form that hasn’t resulted in what they were fearful it might have [been], so that’s interesting. (Focus Group, mixed, 23.08.19)

This experience in MBCP is likely distinct from the experience of Alcohol and Other Drugs and mental health services because the MBCP have always shared perpetrator family violence risk related information without consent and have always told men engaging in such programs that they would be doing this. In addition to this many of the men engaging in these programs are mandated to attend the programs.

As the Review did not include perpetrators as participants (see section 6.2.1) it is not possible to gather direct evidence about perpetrator concerns about family violence information sharing. Participants who worked directly with men reflected on the difficulty of balancing their legislative requirements to share information under the Scheme and the need to protect the therapeutic relationship established with the client.

I think the point here is that there are some underlying practice approaches that are clashing with the FVISS. If someone comes in our door and there’s a IVO in place because of family violence, and he is discussing that they’re meeting up regularly, we would not report that to the police because it further criminalises our clients. So we don’t want that, and it’s also not beneficial for therapeutic relationships. So that was one of the, and it still is, one of the big concerns of practitioners in our field, that they’re concerned about the therapeutic relationship. I think there’s that very fine line between collusion and building rapport. (Expert Interview, AOD, 14.08.19)

These concerns connect with Recommendation 16 from the Advisory Committee on Perpetrator Interventions Final Report which underlines the importance of developing capability and engaging with perpetrators to support the FVISS Scheme (State of Victoria (Expert Advisory Committee on Perpetrator Interventions) 2018).

Impact on lesbian, gay, transgender, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities

One of the areas of focus of the diverse community work of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (2016) was the attention paid to understanding how responses to family violence may differently impact upon members of the LGBTIQ community. While the Review did not have a specific focus on diverse sexualities, some practitioners did address adverse impacts specific to these communities. Before exploring those, we do note the point made by one practitioner that it is as yet difficult to understand the impact that this scheme has had on the LGBTIQ community given data limitations.

Well I couldn’t say from my perspective because I think for – there’s only a very small amount of LGBTIQ – the data for LGBTIQ people is abysmal and so even collecting data where it might have had a negative impact like … (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

Of those practitioners that did speak to the impacts of FVISS on both perpetrators and victim/survivors from the LGBTIQ community there was a belief that any adverse impacts of the Scheme would be heightened for members of this community.

If you get it wrong for anybody it’s really, really bad, if you get it wrong for LGBTIQ people that has ramifications that go really into the community as a whole and people will know and they do know. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)
For rainbow families it’s even more concerning. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)
I’m really keen that we not only present the rosy picture, when it goes wrong I want to know what the – because that was so damaging to her as an individual and the information got back to the community, don’t trust hubs, don’t trust the information that they’re sharing. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

These comments highlight the importance of ensuring that the Scheme does not alienate the community from the family violence service sector. Practitioners working with the LGBTIQ community were acutely aware of the ease with which a negative interaction with the family violence system would be communicated back to the entire community.

You’ve got a whole historical system that has been against LGBTIQ system, the justice system, the police system, all of these systems we’re now saying trust and your information is going to be safe and yet when I ask some of those questions around how are you going to ensure X, Y and Z is safe or whatever and some of the glaring gaps get … they said use your professional judgement, you’re professionals. That just sent alarm bells ringing to me because there hadn’t been the capacity development and this – and that’s a slow process and it’s just starting to take off in specialist family violence services. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)
So, their information has been used against them constantly, constantly. Because of their inherent bias that we know happens, whether you’re in a specialist family violence service or you’re working – that happens as transphobia, homophobia, and how you direct that particular information, can be based on a lot of unconscious bias even though I know we do say that – we do best practice and we try not to be. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service, 21.08.19)

Some participants expressed concern that any adverse impacts for the LGBTIQ community will be amplified following the Phase Two rollout of the FVISS given that a wider number of universal services will have information sharing responsibilities without pre-existing family violence risk knowledges or community experience to understand what disclosures are being made. In light of those concerns the need for training around inclusion and family violence risk literacy (including material specific to LGBTIQ relationships) was raised as important to developing a community specific practice that would serve to support members of the LGBTIQ community through the family violence system.

Information security

Information security and a concern that the Scheme might result in adverse impacts should information shared be accessed by unauthorised people, perpetrators in particular, was a theme in the first period of data collection. It was not such a prominent theme in the second period of data collection, possibly because organisations had developed systems to share data and to date there is no evidence of any security breaches.

However, the use of email as a primary means of information sharing, adopted in a range of organisations, while recognised as useful and a means of enabling the operation of the Scheme continued to raise concerns for some.

And the other thing that I think’s really important that I think a few organisations have kind of thought about, but it just seems big and hard, and I don’t think anyone’s done anything about it, is a lot of this information is shared by email. Email’s not that secure. And we’re sharing pretty sensitive information. Well, we’re not sharing a lot. We’re receiving a lot, and often we’re just getting it in a PDF. So I don’t know. I feel like in an ideal world, if you look at this scheme, there should be some kind of secure way of transmitting the information. And even we toyed around with briefly password protections for emails, and blah, blah. But that’s a huge piece of work, and cost, and takes more time.  So, from - and, you know, we’re getting information from, yeah, police, Corrections. So we’re getting some pretty significant information. I’m confident that within our powers, we’re managing the privacy and importance of that well. But in terms of IT security and that sort of stuff, yeah. (Manager Interview, Community health, 26.08.19)
And the other thing that I thinks’ really important that I think a few organisations have kind of thought about, but it just seems big and hard, and I don’t think anyone’s done anything about it, is a lot of this information is shared by email. Email’s not that secure. And we’re sharing pretty sensitive information. Well, we’re not sharing a lot. We’re receiving a lot, and often we’re just getting it in a PDF. So I don’t know. I feel like in an ideal world, if you look at this scheme, there should be some kind of secure way of transmitting the information. And even we toyed around with briefly password protections for emails, and blah, blah. But that’s a huge piece of work, and cost, and takes more time. So, from - and, you know, we’re getting information from, yeah, police, Corrections. So, we’re getting some pretty significant information. I’m confident that within our powers, we’re managing the privacy and importance of that well. But in terms of IT security and that sort of stuff, yeah. (Manager Interview, Community health, 26.08.19)

While the FVISS has not changed the privacy and data security standards under which organisations operated (due to prior legislated obligations), one of its main aims is to increase the level of sharing of often sensitive risk relevant family violence information. An increased volume of family violence information sharing increases the risk of a security breach with potential adverse outcomes for victim/survivors. FSV provides no specific practice guidance in relation to data security standards, though the Ministerial Guidelines do address both information security and privacy. In addition to this FSV reports that government departments with prescribed workforces have agreed to create resources for their sectors on their current requirements under the Victorian Protective Data Security Standards. At time of writing only Victoria Police has done this. Given the victim/survivors’ concerns about privacy (see section 8.1 on women’s voices and Recommendation 1, this Report) and the further rollout of the Scheme to 370,000 workers, further practice guidance should be made available on data security standards prior to the Phase Two rollout.

Recommendation 21

Prior to Phase Two specific practice guidance on and templates for family violence data security standards should be developed by FSV. These should reinforce existing legislative privacy obligations and create clear expectations on data security standards for family violence information and information sharing. These standards and associated processes should form part of the induction of Phase Two organisations into the FVISS. Measures should be put in place to ensure these standards are transparent to victim/survivors.

Mental Health Tribunal

Some participants expressed concern as to how information shared under the Scheme could become visible to perpetrators when entered into their medical records and/or when accessed as part of a Mental Health Tribunal case file. Unless a redaction is requested, where an individual requests access to their mental health record ahead of a Mental Health Tribunal hearing the file will be provided in full. In these circumstances, information shared about perpetrators under the Scheme without their knowledge could by disclosed by a third party, that is the Mental Health Tribunal. This could create risks for a victim/survivor. A number of practitioners flagged this risk.

So, for me that’s been a challenge at times where we’ve, you know, someone’s a family member made a disclosure about family violence offending. We’ve sought further information via the Scheme, we’ve documented any medical record and now we’re like, oh this client [perpetrator] can access their file. How can we minimise that risk to the victim, survivor who’s disclosed? Yeah and I think the other thing, of course, the Mental Health Tribunal, the clients have full access to their medical record unless there’s an application prior to omit part of the record. So, it’s just been making sure that process has been followed if that’s required. (Expert Interview, Mental Health, 24.09.19)
So Mental Health Tribunal... there has been a request for information on a perpetrator’s file and the perpetrator is a client of mental health service and seeks [their] file. It is being given in most cases completely unredacted so the service that sought the information or victim has disclosed some information, that’s all being handed to the perpetrator in our risk lens so I think there is something around lining that proofing across other pieces of legislation, particularly something that is that risk-loaded. (Expert Interview, Specialist Family Violence Service and AOD, 17.09.19)

Another participant reflected on several cases where they had applied to Mental Health Tribunal to have information on the mental health record redacted prior to the file being shared with the applicant/perpetrator. While they had experienced positive outcomes in these cases the participant expressed concern that the process is not ‘foolproof’ and relies heavily on mental health treatment teams and individual practitioners understanding family violence and the risk to victim/survivors that disclosing certain information may create. That participant commented:

It’s quite a flawed place where we want to do information sharing but if we’re sharing information or we’re requesting information or if we’re having to keep information about a victim/survivor or as a different person, like although we don’t have consent from that person, but we need to keep that information somewhere that’s safe. And so, do we need to create a new client file? Like all those kinds of things are really - it’s really grey and really it doesn’t feel very safe. But it is necessary, so it’s like - yeah, and it depends on your clinicians as well. There’s so many cases that we’re missing, I’m sure. (Focus Group, AOD and Mental Health, 22.10.19)

These concerns and an awareness of the potential adverse impact on victim/survivor safety that the Scheme could have in the context of the Mental Health Tribunal processes highlights the importance of family violence risk literacy across the Victorian mental health system.

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 risk 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.

Reviewed 18 August 2020

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