Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

This report presents the results of the review of the ACT Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP). The main purpose of the review was to describe the effectiveness of the current program including its governance arrangements.

The FVIP is a coordinated interagency response to family violence incidents that come to the attention of the police and proceed to prosecution. The FVIP partner agencies are:

  • Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing);
  • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP);
  • ACT Magistrates’ Court;
  • ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS);
  • Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS);
  • Office for Children, Youth and Family Support (OCYFS);
  • Policy and Regulatory Division, Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JaCS); and
  • The Office of the Victims of Crime Coordinator (VoCC)

Legal Aid ACT, the ACT Law Society and Victim Support ACT (VS ACT) also participate in the FVIP Coordinating Committee (FVIPCC).

The FVIP’s focus is on improving the criminal justice system response to family violence. In developing and implementing this response, the overarching objectives of the FVIP are to:

  • work cooperatively together;
  • maximise safety and protection for victims of family violence;
  • provide opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation; and
  • work towards continual improvement of the FVIP.

To assess the effectiveness of the FVIP in achieving its objectives, the review methodology included:

  • a literature review focusing on criminal justice system responses to family violence;
  • a description of 2007–08 family violence data provided by the Magistrates’ Court and ACT Policing;
  • a survey of 40 victims of family violence whose matters were prosecuted;
  • an audit of 73 DVCS client files; and
  • in-depth interviews with 21 key stakeholders from FVIP agencies.

The body of this report describes the FVIP as it stood in 2007–08, as this was the year from which the most recent data was available at the time of report writing.

Findings

Evidence of cooperation

There is evidence that the FVIP is effective in establishing relationships between agencies and ensuring they work cooperatively. Partner agencies have committed recurrent service delivery, policy and coordination to the program under a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). Stakeholders identified communication and good working relationships as a fundamental strength of the FVIP, contributing to the program’s longevity.

To maximise victim safety and provide opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation, the FVIP has consolidated its efforts into a focus on two key operational policies (pro-charge, pro-arrest and presumption against bail policing; and pro-active prosecution) and three operational goals (early provision of victim support, coordination and case management, and rehabilitation of offenders). Agencies perform varied roles within the FVIP to implement policy and achieve goals.

Information sharing and planning are formalised through case tracking and regular FVIPCC meetings, which are well-attended. Weekly meetings are held to discuss current family violence matters with representation from DVCS, ACTCS, ACT Policing, OCYFS and ODPP. An MoA between ACT Policing and DVCS articulates requirements for DVCS to be notified of family violence incidents and clarifies interagency expectations. The FVIPCC is attended by senior level agency officers and undertakes strategic planning for the program.

Evidence of safety and protection of victims of family violence

Evidence from the data suggests that the breadth of services provided by FVIP agencies contributes to the perceived safety and protection of victims of family violence.

The majority of surveyed victims reported:

  • feeling supported by ACT Policing and DVCS;
  • being satisfied with the response to their incident by ACT Policing, ODPP and DVCS;
  • feeling safer as a result of the attendance and intervention of ACT Policing; and
  • that they would call for police assistance, be involved in another prosecution and/or have contact with DVCS if they were involved in a future family violence incident.

ACT Policing data accords with what is generally understood within the family violence literature:

  • The majority of offenders are male (76%).
  • The majority of victims are female (74%).
  • Offenders and victims are predominately adults (82% of offenders and 79% of victims were over the age of 19 years in the current ACT Policing sample).
  • The majority of incidents take place within private homes (ie away from the public; 77%).
  • Children are affected directly and indirectly by family violence (21% of victims recorded by ACT Policing in 2007–08 were under 19 years of age and the DVCS annual report recorded 65% of client homes as having resident children).

The data also identify victim demographics and victim/offender relationship dynamics that may need to be considered by agencies when developing interventions. The survey and case file audit undertaken for this review identified that 19 percent of victims have a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. ACT Policing data revealed differences in the victims of family violence offences for men and women. While men victimise women (17:3), women almost equally victimise other women and men (9:11). That statistic however, only reflects the gender of victims and offenders in incidents where the police have been called out and does not mean that charges were laid. Nor does it contextualise the types or severity of matters that each gender is involved in, either as a victim or offender.

The primary focus of the literature and response to family violence is on incidents occurring between intimate partners. Data collected from this review, however, found that over half (52%) of the incidents occurred between persons who did not have a current relationship at the time of the incident and who had not been in a relationship together previously. This finding, if supported by future data collection, suggests a need for FVIP partner agencies to ensure responses are flexible and able to address the different dynamics between non-intimate partner family violence incidents.

There is evidence that service provision to victims needs to be enhanced. Direct DVCS provision of court support has fallen by 35 percent over the last two financial years due to resourcing issues. It is unknown if this support, and in what proportion, is provided through VS ACT, ODPP Witness Assistant services, other non-government services or through DVCS’ telephone support service.

Victims reported experiences with the response of the criminal justice system vary considerably. Almost equal proportions of the victims surveyed reported that they did or did not feel like they were part of the criminal justice system decision-making process. Many victims reported not receiving adequate levels of information about their cases. Victims appeared to be missing information in the period leading up to the court case and in its aftermath.

Evidence of offender accountability

  • ACT Policing and ACT Magistrates’ Court data indicate that the majority of incidents are being attended by police, proceeding to charges and then processed efficiently by the court. This contributes to victim safety and offender accountability.
  • 84 percent of incidents were attended by police.
  • 25 percent of incidents resulted in offender apprehension and one percent in an apprehension or transport to custody due to intoxication.
  • A range of charges were pursued by the ODPP, whose records reflect an increase in the number of matters prosecuted and the number of matters commenced and completed every financial year since the FVIP began operation.
  • The majority of matters were finalised by the Magistrates’ Court within 13 weeks.
  • Almost half of the charges (49%) resulted in a finding of guilt; a further five percent of charges were referred to the Supreme Court.
  • 27 percent of charges were finalised by way of no evidence to offer.
  • 20 percent of offenders were found not guilty.
  • A total of 206 people were convicted on 321 charges.
  • Eight percent of persons convicted in 2007–08 had a prior family violence offence in 2005–06 or 2006–07.

Low numbers of offenders undertake the offender intervention program facilitated by ACTCS. ACTCS does refer many clients to other service providers after conducting assessments as to offender risks, needs and suitability to undertake ACTCS-facilitated interventions. Inadequate data is available to determine the extent to which these other interventions are being undertaken or are required. An outcome evaluation of the Family Violence Self-Change Program may address this gap in knowledge.

Data is required to determine if differential responses are necessary to meet the needs of persons accused of family violence who are children or young people and/or have diagnosed mental health issues and/or are persistent repeat offenders.

Evidence of continual improvement

Throughout its 10 year operation, FVIP agencies have implemented a range of practices to improve the criminal justice system response to family violence. Agencies have created specialist positions including victim support and administration positions within ACT Policing, the ODPP Witness Assistant and family violence prosecutors. Agencies have developed or introduced new programs, for example, the DVCS/OCYFS Young People Outreach Worker partnership. In addition, the VoCC annually collates and disseminates family violence data and facilitates regular strategic planning with FVIP partners. Agencies also engage in learning opportunities including the 2008 national ‘Family Violence, Specialist Courts & The Idea of Integration’ Conference and have established a formal link with the Manitoba domestic violence court. FVIP-commissioned research has included two previous evaluations of the FVIP and an evaluation of the former offender intervention program (Learning to Relate without Violence and Abuse). Stakeholders, however, identified the need for the FVIP to focus more on continual improvement to ensure momentum for the program is maintained and that it continues to be effective.

Ways forward

The major challenge for the FVIP in the future is to ensure it continues to develop. Formalised governance and information sharing arrangements, and increased resources may increase the capacity of the program to respond to victims and offenders involved in family violence incidents.

  • The FVIP lacks a legislative base for its existence. This means that it relies on the good will of agency partners to continue to provide an effective response. Although encapsulating the FVIP in legislation would be challenging and may not be necessary, there is a need to commit to specific reporting, accountability, information sharing and renewed MoA protocols to address any strains agencies experience that impact on their ability to participate in the program.
  • Information sharing is hampered by lack of interagency protocols and a legislative base to ensure that information is adequately provided and protected. Agency accountability to the FVIP as a whole requires formalisation through the further refinement of the FVIP’s purpose and the development of outcome-based performance measures. FVIP agencies remain under-resourced to collect and analyse an adequate range of data. Data can assist agencies to develop profiles of victims and offenders to ensure they are able to appropriately target service provision and respond to the complexity of the relationships between victims and offenders.

To guide the FVIP in the future, the report makes a number of recommendations. These recommendations are based on the review of good practice literature and analyses of data, and stakeholder and victim interview responses undertaken for this report. The recommendations are grouped under the current stated objectives of the FVIP:

Working cooperatively together

Recommendation 1: Investigate and recommend to government, measures to secure the operation of the FVIP; for example, legislation, service level agreements and/or annual reporting requirements.

Recommendation 2: That the purposes of the FVIP be maintained but revised to focus on outcomes and re-signed as interagency protocols in a new commitment by agencies.

Recommendation 3: That training and/or induction materials for new agency staff, outlining the purposes and core components of the FVIP, be prepared that are consistent across agencies.

Recommendation 4: That the full three days family violence training for ACT Policing continue.

Recommendation 5: That the FVIPCC MoA be revised to reflect Executive Director level representation for FVIPCC meetings.

Recommendation 6: That the FVIPCC initiate a rotating chair and secretariat for FVIPCC meetings.

Maximising safety and protection for victims of family violence

Recommendation 7: That information sharing capacity is enhanced through the development of protocols or legislation to promote victim safety, while respecting the rights of victims and offenders.

Recommendation 8: That case tracking is reviewed to determine if it is still necessary or its functionality can be met through more effective and efficient means.

Recommendation 9: Explore whether current avenues for victim support and advocacy are sufficient and whether consideration should be given to developing a support pathway for all victims, including children.

Recommendation 10: That consideration is given to developing a lead case manager model to coordinate information provision to victims and offenders.

Recommendation 11: That FVIP information sources are revised and updated including providing a broader range of sources for both victims and offenders involved in family violence incidents.

Recommendation 12: That more research is undertaken to ascertain what victims want and need from service providers and the criminal justice system.

Providing opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation

Recommendation 13: That the specialist jurisdiction court and processes are retained with consideration given to consolidating the work of the court through legislation or court rules.

Recommendation 14: That consideration is given to developing family violence procedures with the Supreme Court.

Recommendation 15: That agencies explore whether the current range of alternative sentencing options and/or community support for offenders with complex needs are sufficient and appropriate.

Recommendation 16: That funding be sought to undertake an outcome evaluation of the Family Violence Self-Change Program and the extent to which other interventions/sanctions contribute to program outcomes.

Recommendation 17: That reporting on ACTCS interventions undertaken with offenders, or to which offenders are referred, is documented in the annual FVIP statistics.

Working towards continual improvement of the FVIP

Recommendation 18: That FVIP establish mechanisms to engage partner agencies in discussions of their core business and functions, for example at roundtables, planning days.

Recommendation 19: That FVIP continue to collect data.

Recommendation 20: That FVIP develop outcome-focused performance indicators, in addition to the output measures currently recorded, to act as baseline measures of effectiveness.

Recommendation 21: That FVIP develop an integrated information management system to assist reporting, internal audit, research and operational needs.

Recommendation 22: That FVIP secure a dedicated project officer position to collect and disseminate data of interest to FVIP partner agencies.