Calling for a sustainable footing for the specialist family violence sector

Tuesday 18 January 2022

down arrow

An unprecedented amount of investment has been made in improving Victoria’s family violence system following the Royal Commission. While this has been welcomed by the family violence sector, there remains a range of complex issues which are creating clear gaps and mounting pressure on the emerging system. As the Victorian government gears up to release the 2022 state budget, we are calling for an urgent uplift in funding to secure a sustainable footing for the specialist family violence services sector, so every victim survivor can access the support and safety they need at the time they need it.

Where are the gaps?

There are ongoing issues around service sustainability, demand and resourcing in the specialist family violence sector. Essentially, services need funding at a level that meets increasing demand.  

An increase in community awareness means more victim survivors feel comfortable seeking support, however without adequate funding services cannot keep up with this ever-growing client base. Services are having to triage cases, meaning those who are assessed as lower risk will wait longer for case management. Wait times are only increasing as we see more high-risk and complex cases, due in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

It is also important to note that while we know from years of anecdotal evidence that demand for family violence services is reaching unsustainable levels, meaningful and reliable data is complex and difficult to collect. Without ongoing government investment and commitment to data collection and analysis, we will never have the whole picture on demand.  

What we do know is that team leaders and managers from many of our member organisations have expressed concern at the impact demand issues are having on victim survivor safety, and staff wellbeing and mental health. Workers want to do the best for their clients but the ever-rising demand for services, and the impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in high levels of staff turnover and burnout.  

Our indicative data suggests that most specialist services are working at a significantly reduced capacity due in part to worker burnout and staff retention issues, creating added pressure for remaining staff. One specialist service reported that the number of intake and assessment staff taking mental health days increased by at least 50 per cent during 2020. Services have difficulty recruiting and retaining experienced specialist staff, meaning new and inexperienced workers are holding significant caseloads, complexity and risk. They are reporting that after two to three years, workers are moving on to other, more secure jobs outside the specialist sector – jobs that pay more and are able to provide longer-term contracts.  

System reforms arising from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, while welcomed, have meant that many services must implement significant changes to meet new industry requirements, using existing core funding. This adds extra pressure to an already buckling workforce at full capacity. 

As services grapple with unsustainable demand and resourcing issues, the lack of crisis accommodation and long-term housing remain critical system gaps that require immediate attention. Currently, in Victoria there is only capacity to accommodate 160 households in refuge. We know the need is much higher.  

This significant lack of available refuges has meant victim survivors are often placed in motels. This year, Safe Steps supported an average of 97 victim survivors in crisis accommodation each night, with some months averaging as high as 120 people per night.  

While using motels as a form of emergency accommodation has been necessary, it is not suitable for victim survivors of family violence whose lives are at significant risk. Motels are simply unable to provide the level of care and safety required.  

Another critical gap is the lack of clarity, consistency and resourcing in responses to children and young people experiencing family violence. Funding and structural limitations along with a lack of minimum standards means the system, while trying, is struggling to provide tailored, specialist responses to children and young people as victim survivors in their own right.  

What is needed?

To deliver the best quality services to victim survivors of family violence, Safe and Equal is calling for an urgent increase in funding for the specialist family violence sector. This funding must be at a level that enables the sector to respond to not just increasing levels of demand and client complexity, but to a rapidly changing service environment stemming from the unprecedented level of government and systemic reform. 

This doesn’t just mean money for more workers to deliver more services to clients – although this is also needed. It is about investing in the longevity and sustainability of the specialist family violence sector, to ensure the best outcomes for victim survivors – both adults and children.  

It means: 

  • Longer-term staff contracts with a minimum of 3 years 
  • Longer-term program funding 
  • Increased wages for specialist family violence workers that reflect the complexity of the work, the skill set and level of qualifications required to work in the sector 
  • Increased funding to support staff professional development and wellbeing, to ensure highly skilled workers remain in the sector and do not experience burnout  
  • Immediate implementation of a fit-for-purpose, flexible costing model, and increasing funding for infrastructure costs, to enable all specialist family violence services to meet new requirements arising from reforms 
  • An immediate increase in specialist family violence crisis accommodation to enable 320 households to be accommodated on any night, the prioritisation of 1000 dwellings for victim survivors to be built immediately as part of the Victorian Big Housing Build initiative, and a greater proportion of new social housing to be set aside for victim survivors of family violence. 

For the system to be effective, all parts must be appropriately and adequately resourced to ensure people seeking support do not encounter roadblocks. There are many reforms and changes to the system in recent years that have made for a more inclusive, integrated system. These are certainly worth celebrating. However, the very sustainability of the system is under significant pressure from issues around demand and resourcing – issues that require immediate attention to ensure improvements gained over the last five years are not in vain.  

Read our submission to the 2022 Victorian State Budget.

Page last updated Tuesday, January 18 2022


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin