Major overhaul of ACT family violence strategy needed to protect victims: reports
Advertisement

Major overhaul of ACT family violence strategy needed to protect victims: reports

The ACT government must overhaul fragmented and flawed family violence strategies if it is to better protect victims, several major reports have found.

One of the reports, prompted by a father's alleged murder of his eight-year-old son in February, has urged the ACT's child protection agency to embark on cultural change, improve its transparency, and have its decisions regularly subjected to proper scrutiny.

A major overhaul of the territory's approach to family violence is needed to better protect victims, a series of major reports have found. 

A major overhaul of the territory's approach to family violence is needed to better protect victims, a series of major reports have found. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

The ACT government has responded by promising its biggest ever spend on family violence in next month's budget, while the opposition has reaffirmed its offer of continued bi-partisanship.

Three major reports on domestic violence were released on Friday, which, taken together, painted a picture of a system blighted by a lack of cohesion, information sharing, legal clarity, and adequate resourcing.

Advertisement
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the government will introduce a comprehensive family violence package in next month's budget.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the government will introduce a comprehensive family violence package in next month's budget.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The first, a review of domestic violence deaths between 1988 and April 2012, called for a relaunch of the government's approach to family violence.

The report, commissioned by the Domestic Violence Prevention Council in 2014, contained 28 recommendations and called on Attorney-General Simon Corbell to refer mental health and rehabilitation services to the ACT Auditor-General.

It also called on the Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd to introduce family violence training programs for all new staff, with many victims formerly employed by the government.

The review assesses eleven deaths no longer before the courts and found a number of common themes, including a unwillingness among victims to access help from policy or domestic violence services.

The council called for universities to include family violence training in law, education and health courses. It also called for the government to consider developing a mandatory records keeping policy for family violence.

Frontline workers were found to have a limited understanding and recognition of family violence and required further training to ensure risk assessments were appropriate.

The second report is the result of the Glanfield inquiry, headed by the former director-general of the NSW Justice Department Laurie Glanfield, which was ordered in the wake of the shock death of Bradyn Dillon in Jacka.

The probe was tasked with urgently investigating systemic government failings in family violence and child protection, most critically whether the host of agencies operating in that sphere were working together properly.

The inquiry has made 31 recommendations, including the creation of a coordinator-general for family safety within government, and the establishment of a one-stop shop Family Safety Hub to ensure integrated and coordinated services are provided to families at risk of family violence.

The hub would receive and manage all child concern reports not involving physical abuse or sexual assault, and would bring together the expertise of government directorates, the domestic violence and child protection sectors, and police.

Many of Mr Glanfield's recommendations called for change within the ACT's Child and Youth Protection Services.

He urged the agency to adopt a "culture of transparency" with its clients, service providers, and other government agencies.

Better quality assurance scrutiny of its decisions was needed, the report found.

"Arrangements for regular formal quality assurance of CYPS decisions, practices and procedures should be established," Mr Glanfield wrote.

"Results of the quality assurance process should be reported quarterly to the Director-General, Community Services Directorate and in the Directorate's annual report."

A review was also needed to determine what agency decisions should be subject to regular internal or external merits reviews.

The resourcing of the Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner may also need examination, the report found, to ensure they were able to properly carry out their oversight roles.

Legislative reform was needed to make it clear to the agency that information sharing was authorised, and to "foster a culture of appropriate information sharing and collaboration".

Mr Glanfield has also urged the government to modify policing policy not to investigate abuse unless it has been disclosed by the child, to avoid it being rigidly applied.

Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey said the three reports meant the "way is now very clear" for the government

"This is pulling us in the direction we need to go," he said.

"We need to respond to domestic violence in a completely different way to other forms of crime," he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr and his deputy Simon Corbell responded to the reports on Friday, promising the "most comprehensive and significant territory government response to family violence in the history of self-government".

"It's a significant priority for the territory government going into the 2016 budget," Mr Barr said.

"We will be committing significant resources to address what is one of the most significant challenges that this community faces, and indeed, all Australian communities face."

Mr Corbell said a formal response to the three reports would be made in the near future, but conceded greater information sharing and coordination between agencies was needed.

"The common theme from these three reports is in three key areas," he said.

"The first is there's a need for further law reform, the second is that there's a need for better coordination and integration of service delivery, and the third is that there's a need for better education in the broader community."

A third ACT government-commissioned report publish on Friday found the support system for family violence victims was fragmented and crisis driven.

It found the mainstream support networks suffered a lack of confidence and often referred clients to already stretched specialist services.