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Interagency coordination and processes

Stakeholders unanimously agreed that a key strength of the SARP reform process was the positive effect on interagency coordination. Underpinning the success of the Wraparound collaboration and implementation of the SARP reforms are dedicated staff from each agency (Consultation with CRCC). Leadership within each agency was also considered essential.

Establishing interagency coordination and processes

Agencies have engaged in the reform process in various ways. In 2007–08, funding was allocated to JACS for a full-time SARP officer to monitor the reforms, collaborate with and inform key stakeholders on the progress of the reforms, and provide a coordination role (Consultation with JACS). A one-off SARP forum was conducted in March 2009 that was designed to bring relevant agencies together to discuss how they could collaborate to improve services to victim/survivors of sexual offences. (See http://www.justice.act.gov.au/page/view/375.)

Two reference groups were established to implement the reforms—the SARP Reference Group and the Wraparound Reference Group—with different but related objectives. The SARP group focused primarily on governance issues, while the Wraparound group was oriented towards victim/survivors and service delivery (Consultation with VSACT). The Wraparound process is the primary vehicle for coordinating key stakeholder agencies.

Engaging stakeholder agencies

Some relationships, such as between ACT Policing and the DPP, were already established prior to the reforms. However, others, such as between CRCC and ACT Policing, required a new approach. Not every agency participated extensively in the reference groups and/or Wraparound meetings, and the level of their engagement in the Wraparound process varied. It was noted that some agencies’ non-engagement in the Wraparound process (eg DPP) appeared related to staff and/or management factors and that, when management changed, there was much greater engagement—often also facilitated by many meetings between the heads of the key agencies (Consultation with VSACT). Strong leadership from team leaders was also seen as a driver of the police’s improved relationship with CRCC (Consultation with ACT Policing).

An agency’s engagement could also be influenced by the benefit it sees in the meetings. For example, the DPP’s experience of the new SARP reforms has been only minimally affected by Wraparound. The DPP stakeholders felt that the introduction of Wraparound was of more benefit to the other agencies, such as CRCC and VSACT, because even before the reforms they essentially had access to all victims/survivors of sexual offences who were going to court. In addition, the email contact about cases it had with other agencies in Wraparound existed prior to the establishment of Wraparound. They also highlighted that Wraparound was more about discussing new cases being presented, while the DPP often deals with cases that are not as recent and would not be raised in the Wraparound process.

SARP Reference Group

The SARP Reference Group consisted of JACS, ACT Policing, DPP, VSACT, CRCC, FAMSAC, CARHU, the Law Society, the Bar Association, Legal Aid ACT, ACT Corrective Services, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, and the courts. It was established in 2008 by JACS. An implementation reference group was set up as a subgroup (Consultation with JACS).

Regular meetings with the DPP were a useful vehicle for discussing details of the legislation in the lead-up to the reforms. There have been fewer meetings since the reforms were implemented (Consultation with DPP). The meetings are conducted on an ad hoc basis, and three to five months often pass between them (Consultation with Courts). It was noted that the time passing between meetings did not reflect poor coordination among agencies; rather, the reforms were working well and did not require meetings to be held more regularly (Consultation with Courts).

Nonetheless, stakeholder agencies (CRCC, VSACT, DPP and ACT Policing) were keen to formally reconvene the SARP Reference Group as they wanted to discuss the practical implications of the reforms and any unanticipated outcomes. Presently, there is no oversight group to report gaps in and issues with the reforms, or to devise ways to address them. The reference group was officially reconvened in March 2011 and meets on a quarterly basis.

For example, police said that it would have been useful earlier to alert other stakeholders of the technical problems they had had with using some of the new equipment to make them aware of the implications of this for trials. The DPP mentioned that it would have been useful to use the group to discuss an issue that arose from using pre-recorded evidence-in-chief. On this occasion evidence recorded when the victim/survivor was 17-years-old is to be used in court after her 18th birthday.

As this situation has not been addressed in the legislation, it would need to be argued in court to be settled, which could take a number of months. As such, there is no certainty for the victim/survivor or the DPP—although the DPP reported feeling confident that the pre-recorded evidence-in-chief will eventually be allowed. The DPP noted, however, that such things should not be left to chance and that this case highlighted the importance of the reforms and the need to constantly assess their impact.

Information sharing

Information sharing among Wraparound agencies was at times particularly difficult to negotiate, yet it has become a positive outcome of the reforms. Delays in the information sharing process were often related to determining what information could be shared. Other information-sharing issues involving the DPP that were yet to be resolved include client confidentiality, conflict of interest and client privilege concerns (Consultation with ACT Policing).

VSACT noted that victim agencies can be hesitant to share information, as some previous initiatives required them to share too much. As a VSACT representative commented, ‘There has to be a need to know and you need to be clear about the purpose of information-sharing.’ To overcome these difficulties, a staff member from the ACT Privacy Commission was used to assist with the process, which was perceived to give more legitimacy to information-sharing arrangements, thus helping streamline the process (Consultation with ACT Policing).

Memoranda of Understanding

The establishment of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) among agencies was also perceived to facilitate information sharing. For example, the 2008 MoU among CRCC, FAMSAC and ACT Policing was considered beneficial not only to define the parameters of information that could be shared but also as a document for refocusing priorities if agencies felt they were going ‘off track’ (Consultation with ACT Policing). MoUs have also resulted in tangible changes in the number of first response callouts that CRCC attend (see ‘Improved processes’ section above). This process allowed CRCC to be recognised as a criminal justice agency (it was gazetted as one in 2009), legitimising its access to certain criminal justice information. This was considered a critical step in improving the level of information shared and the ease in accessing relevant information.

Information sharing between ACT Policing and the DPP

A working relationship between the DPP and ACT Policing existed prior to the reforms, as the DPP relies on the police to provide the evidence to prosecute each case. This relationship is crucial to the effective prosecution of sexual offence offenders. Since the reforms, one key performance indicator has been the number of meetings held between police and the DPP on sexual offence matters and the WAS role in supporting the victim/survivor. However, the DPP indicated that this indicator cannot be measured because it has not always been timely or practicable to meet formally to discuss cases. Instead, the DPP and police discuss matters nearly every day on a needs basis. This is in addition to meetings held between the DPP’s Sexual Offence Unit and SACAT every few months (Consultation with DPP).

Distribution of the SARP newsletter

A SARP newsletter was developed to inform stakeholders and the wider public of the progress and outcome of the proposed reforms. This newsletter was intended to be distributed quarterly.

Wraparound processes

One agency indicated that Wraparound has evolved since its implementation. Although its primary function is the provision of services to victim/survivors of sexual offences, it has broadened its scope over time (Consultation with VSACT). Wraparound initially served to ensure that victim/survivors who reported to police were put in contact with a support agency. Now it also incorporates ongoing updates on these individuals and the services they need (Consultation with VSACT). In general, stakeholders consulted for this research believe that the Wraparound process is achieving what it set out to accomplish: link victim/survivors with the appropriate support services when they enter the criminal justice system.

Wraparound Charter

The Wraparound Charter (the Charter) was signed in late 2010 by each agency involved with and/or responsible for sexual offence complainants. The agencies include the DPP, VSACT, ACT Policing/AFP and CRCC. The service standards of each agency involved in the process were developed in a separate document. A benefit of the service standards documentation is that it outlines how each agency is accountable to the others, and it does this by detailing precisely the role of each agency (Consultation with VSACT). Further, the Charter clarifies which Wraparound agency is accountable for each service/client (Consultation with VSACT). This is seen as a distinct benefit not only for the victim/survivor being serviced by Wraparound but also for the collaboration of partner agencies.

Delays that meant the Charter was not signed until late 2010 were attributed to changing personnel, absence of a key agency driving the process, and absence of an overarching governance framework that would shape discussions about the Charter (Consultation with VSACT). Changes were also made to the terms of reference, but this was done in consultation with other Wraparound members (Consultation with VSACT). Although many changes and actions have taken a long time to negotiate or implement (eg the Wraparound Charter), it is important to recognise that these are often negotiated alongside other core business priorities.

Wraparound meetings

Wraparound meetings have been held monthly since the inception of the Wraparound process. At these meetings there are discussions about new referrals, including which support agency is best placed to take on each referral. The meetings have mostly focused on the original objectives of Wraparound. However, as raised earlier, Wraparound members have recognised the need to re-establish the SARP Reference Group, which they have done informally (Consultation with VSACT). This group was formed as an ‘in-between’ response to agencies’ desire to discuss issues broader than the provision of victim/survivor services. This resulted in a forum to progress service standards and the Wraparound Charter, and to discuss issues the agencies have encountered. One possible issue with the reference group is that it needs a governance framework that accommodates all the different objectives of the agencies involved in the SARP reforms. For example, the Wraparound process is very focused on victim/survivors, while agencies point out that there are other objectives to be considered. These include:

  • new technology and its implications;
  • protection of the accused person’s rights;
  • treatment of convicted persons; and
  • legislative changes.

It was acknowledged that the Wraparound process has improved communication among involved agencies regarding who should make contact with the victim/survivor and what services are to be offered (Consultation with ACT Policing).

ACT Policing suggested that additional monthly meetings they hold with the DPP since December 2009 have been quite successful, attributing this to the appointment of the specialist sexual offence case workers at the DPP.

Coordination among agencies

Stakeholder agencies commented that the Wraparound process has helped streamline the services they provide to victim/survivors, enabling them to use their time more efficiently. In particular, it was noted that now agency staff ‘know who to go to’ if they need to contact someone about a case (Consultation with Courts). Agencies agreed that, as a result of this collaboration, fewer victim/survivors are being under- or overserviced. Improved information sharing among agencies has enabled them to track victim/survivors as they progress through the criminal justice system. However, it is noted that this ceases once a case has left Wraparound, although an agency still involved with a victim/survivor can still access information about the case.

There is also a perception that more victim/survivors are now accessing services more appropriate to their needs. Prior to Wraparound, ACT Policing indicated that they would receive calls from victim/survivors needing to talk about the case that would be more appropriate for a counsellor. This was problematic as police are not trained as counsellors. The Wraparound process has allowed victim/survivors to be linked to a counsellor (from CRCC or VSACT, for example) who is trained to assist them, and this eases the pressure on police so that they can concentrate their resources on the investigation (Consultation with ACT Policing). In addition, instead of CRCC employees obtaining information from ACT Policing via a complicated process, they can now contact the relevant police officer directly.

Coordination between ACT Policing and victim support agencies, particularly CRCC, was singled out by the majority of stakeholders as a key success of the SARP reforms (Consultation with ACT Policing, VSACT, CRCC). Apart from agencies having a greater understanding of the different functions of police and victim service agencies, stakeholders also reported greater appreciation of how each Wraparound agency can assist the others to achieve a common goal. CRCC noted that a detective who worked with them on sexual offence cases commented to them that they ‘couldn’t imagine doing the job without us’. This was considered very different to attitudes in the years prior to the reforms (Consultation with CRCC).

The joint response of ACT Policing and CRCC at the time of crisis has helped free police up to focus on investigating while the CRCC counsellor focuses on the needs of the victim/survivor (such as emotional support or other practical matters that may be affected by the offence). The collaborative working relationship of ACT Policing, CRCC and other Wraparound agencies is also perceived to have had a positive effect on clients. CRCC indicated that the good relationship and rapport they now have with the police and other support agencies, showing they are all working towards the same goals, can build confidence in the victim/survivor and help develop trust. This positive response at the time of crisis is considered a crucial step in providing long-term support for victim/survivors (Consultation with CRCC).

Need for a key driver in Wraparound and SARP reforms

The lack of a key driving agency was considered one of the weaknesses in the coordination of the SARP reforms, which also influences Wraparound coordination. Although this did not have a great impact on the level of coordination among agencies, it was conceded that a key driver is needed to assist with the continued implementation of the reforms and to streamline related processes. In the initial implementation phase, the presence of a funded SARP implementation officer from JACS was considered extremely useful and important, particularly in relation to coordinating meetings and making sure that the processes were running smoothly. However, this position was non-ongoing. The Wraparound agencies were unanimous in wanting this position to be made ongoing, and they considered JACS the best agency to drive the reform agenda. However, the position depends ultimately on resources being made available.

Training

Various training activities have been developed to educate key personnel on the reforms and the implications of these changes. Training has been specifically developed in the following areas:

  • the use of new equipment used in the court and in the remote witness facility for relevant court personnel;
  • development of a support DVD on the SARP reforms; and
  • evidence-in-chief provisions for police.

In March 2009 there was a two-day SARP forum where all the relevant agencies gave presentations on how Wraparound works and the issues related to the reforms. Training on the SARP reforms was also delivered by the DPP to prosecutors and the AFP on a needs basis when the reforms were first introduced and has continued on this basis, however, these sessions are not formally recorded.

Training on the use of equipment in the courts

The SARP technology officer has been funded on an ongoing basis by the courts to provide monitoring and assistance with the technology that has been introduced and to train relevant personnel in the use of the equipment (Consultation with Courts). This position is considered an essential component of effective use of the equipment. The technology officer also trains every relevant judge’s associate on how the equipment works. The SARP technology officer is now also available during court sessions, and will often attend trials to ensure that equipment is working correctly. In addition to this training, a procedure manual was also developed.

Police training materials

Three types of training material were developed for police as part of the SARP reforms: training on evidence-in-chief provisions; training by the DPP to SACAT on SARP provisions (including training AFP on sex offence prosecutions that include SARP) and a support DVD. ACT Policing reported that police are made aware of the sections of the reforms that are relevant to policing, particularly in relation to the qualifications needed to perform evidence-in-chief interviews (as only police accredited in conducting evidence-in-chief interviews can be used). There were mixed opinions on the quality of training delivered to the police, with one participant perceiving it as being slow to be established, providing inadequate information and being delivered in an ad hoc fashion. This was because there was no specific Wraparound training, and the training centred on watching a DVD. It was also noted that the training ‘doesn’t sink in’ until police have to deal with a victim/survivor of a sexual offence.

However, some investigators indicated that the DVD was adequate, and that it is a requirement for officers of a particular rank to participate in the training sessions as part of their performance development assessment.

Evidence-in-chief provisions training

This was considered a big commitment and in the earlier stages involved a mentoring component. Although the mentoring element is not so common now, the training has evolved to include developing skills for engaging with sexual offence victims, interview techniques, information on the overall reforms, court process information, and details on Wraparound.

SARP training DVD

Although the production of a seven-minute SARP training DVD was behind schedule (by six to eight months), it is now readily available to all ACT police officers on their intranet. This DVD is also discussed at recruitment training and sessions have been completed with officers, although there is still a gap in coverage as many officers missed the training on Wraparound. SACAT officers in the consultation found the training video to be adequate; however, they are unsure of whether this is also the case for general first response officers.

It was noted that the delay in producing the DVD resulted in some police not being provided with training. In addition, there were variations in the number of police officers who had used the resources, depending on the station. One police station (Tuggeranong), whose Officer in Charge (OIC) appeared to be very supportive of Wraparound, had a very high take-up rate of the training. This contrasted with other stations with less supportive OICs and correspondingly lower take-up rates of training.

Despite this, police reported that senior management is very supportive of SARP and Wraparound and are keen to progress the reforms. It was noted that the Chief Police Officer had great interest in the reforms: officers reported that when they made suggestions on the reforms to the Chief Police Officer, they were confident they would be considered. As a result, they felt they had the opportunity to make positive changes.

Victim/survivor perceptions of collaboration among criminal justice agencies

Overall, the victim/survivors interviewed for this study reported that criminal justice agencies collaborated well. Victim/survivors described services as ‘pretty streamlined’ and felt there was little duplication among the services. One victim/survivor commented that this collaboration was critical as it meant she could avoid having to repeat her story to multiple service providers.

Two of the victim/survivors commented, however, that there remains some lack of collaboration between police and support services. One victim/survivor felt that police were somewhat derisive about counselling services and considered them ‘a bit fluffy’. In another case, a support agency staff member made derisive comments about a particular police officer. Another victim/survivor considered collaboration between police officers and the support agencies as personality driven, claiming that, while some police officers seemed to collaborate well with support services, others did not.

Key points
  • There has been a great improvement in coordination and collaboration among relevant agencies, particularly between ACT Policing and CRCC since Wraparound started.
  • Relationships among agencies have moved from coordination to collaboration, with agencies proactively liaising with each other as a result of the SARP reforms.
  • This collaborative working environment is considered to be having a beneficial impact on victim/survivors, by both increasing victim/survivors’ confidence in the agencies and by assisting victim/survivors to access appropriate services.
  • Collaboration among agencies is also helping them streamline services and use time and resources more efficiently.
  • Wraparound is continuously evolving in its purpose and activities to reflect the reality of implementing and sustaining the SARP reforms.
  • Training on the reforms has been promoted in ACT Policing, with mixed opinion on its success, but it was recognised that it is only when police are confronted with a victim/survivor of a sexual offence that the training ‘sinks in’.
  • Stakeholders felt strongly that one agency should play a coordination role, and that an implementation officer based at JACS should be an ongoing component of the SARP reforms.