Women’s safety advocates last week raised serious concerns about the Commonwealth’s grants program for ‘Specialised Family Violence Services’. This blog post recounts how the issue has progressed, outlines AWAVA’s concerns, and explains how this case exemplifies why the specialist women’s services sector needs to be involved in a process of co-design before grants go out to tender.
The $10 million funding package is one of the few parts of the Commonwealth budget that directs new money to frontline service provision. It aims to expand ‘Specialised Family Violence Services’ within Family and Relationship centres.
Despite the similar name, these services are not actually ‘specialist family violence services’ as the term is generally understood. ‘Specialist family violence services’ refers to specialist women’s family violence services and appropriate men’s behaviour change programs which are either run by specialist women’s family violence services, or overseen by appropriate standards such as No To Violence, or the National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions (NOSPI).
Instead, the $10 million package directs funding to existing providers of Family and Relationship Services, who are large generalist organisations rather than specialist women’s family violence services.
When the grant guidelines were released on 5 April, there were immediate alarm bells as it became clear the documents did not require applicants to adhere to established good practice principles, or indeed have any experience in delivering specialist domestic and family violence services.
AWAVA shared the concerns of experts in the sector, including WDVCAS and No To Violence, so we approached government with these concerns, asking if the grant guidelines could be withdrawn and redesigned. Government advised that it would not be doing so.
A fact sheet released on 10 April updated the guidelines to indicate that the selection process will now be informed by applicants’ ability to demonstrate expertise and adherence to good practice principles, which is a step in the right direction. This fact sheet also gives applicants the option to partner with specialist women’s services in consortia. However, giving applicants this as an option is not enough. This work should be led by specialist women’s services.
Established good practice principles include a safety first approach, gender-responsive service delivery, demonstrated understanding of the gendered drivers of violence, and (in relation to working with perpetrators) the NOSPI, which require perpetrator accountability.
Many of these principles are now referenced in the fact sheet as features that will be considered favourably in the selection process. However, there is no assurance that the services will reflect good practice and we remain concerned about the safety of women and children. For example, there has been no demonstration of how services will work with justice agencies to ensure safety mechanisms are in place nor a requirement to engage with accredited men’s behaviour change (or adhere to the NOSPI standards). The grant documents still do not expressly rule out couples counselling, a practice which is clearly unsafe in cases of domestic and family violence.
While some services already funded through the Specialised Family Violence Services program may indeed adhere to good practice principles, particularly where they work in collaboration with specialist women’s services in the community and legal assistance sectors, the Commonwealth should be explicitly setting standards for service provision.
These standards must be consistent with the frameworks already developed through decades of specialist work in the non-government and government sectors, including the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children and research by ANROWS. International guidelines including the UN Essential Services Package for Women and Girls Subject to Violence are also now in place and Australian policy should demonstrate alignment with these.
The legitimate issues we have raised about these services not being integrated with the existing highly developed state and territory service responses to domestic and family violence have not been addressed.
These shortcomings are particularly important as apart from this $10 million there is little if any new funding from the Government’s $328 million package that goes directly to providing domestic and family violence services on the ground (acknowledging that there is continued funding to the national helpline, 1800RESPECT). Much more is needed if we are to achieve progress towards the objectives of the National Plan.
Specialist support services including refuges and women’s legal services are massively overstretched, and we can expect increased demand on disability-focused women’s services as a result of the Royal Commission. In this situation, funding should go as a priority to specialist women’s domestic violence services and accredited men’s behaviour change programs under the advice of the sector. Funding programs should strengthen the role of these core components of the service system, instead of excluding them as is the case with this grants program.