Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Family Violence Intervention Program: Inside views

Overview

Stakeholder interviews were conducted to inform two key components of this review—the assessment of the effectiveness of the FVIP and the recommendations on the program’s future direction and governance arrangements. The interviews were undertaken in a semi-structured format to elicit responses against eight broad themes—program aims, program effectiveness, accountability, governance, criminal justice system responses, data requirements, challenges and future directions of the program.

Interviews were conducted with 21 representatives of FVIPCC agencies. A minimum of two interviews were conducted with each of these agencies. Interview questions were tailored to the role of the stakeholder within the FVIP’s delivery and their experience working directly with victims and/or offenders in relation to family violence matters. Fourteen of the interviewed stakeholders were involved in the program’s coordination.

Interviews were conducted with the understanding that no comments would be attributed either to individuals or to their organisations. This section of the report represents the unattributed views of interviewed stakeholders against the broad themes under discussion.

Program aims

Interviewees responsible for the coordination of the program were asked to comment upon whether the stated aims and objectives were still valid and whether any additions to them were required. These purposes are to work together cooperatively and effectively, maximise safety and protection for victims of family violence, provide opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation, and seek continual improvement. All of the interviewees agreed that the aims of the program were still valid and important.

Three stakeholders commented upon the need to review the original purposes to refresh the enthusiasm for the program and ensure a shared understanding across agencies. Updating documentation, including protocols and agreements in relation to the coordination of the program, was identified as a way to achieve this end. Other stakeholders identified that current protocols were sufficient and working well.

Program effectiveness

In the interviews, program effectiveness was discussed in terms of the operation of the coordinating committee and the individual agency response to family violence. The stakeholders identified a number of strengths, as well as threats and potential barriers to the effective operation of the program.

The program was widely perceived to be effective across three of the four identified purposes, but ineffectively or inadequately promoting offender accountability. This view may be a result of FVIP agency representatives not being aware of the service delivery system operating within ACTCS, rather than ACTCS not providing adequate services. Some stakeholders identified a need for more collaboration and engagement from ACTCS by way of broader data provision to other FVIP partner agencies. These stakeholders demonstrated their interest in learning about the interventions offenders undertake and how they are assessed and monitored. Other stakeholders noted that there was a need for more, although not necessarily more punitive, quality sentencing options in relation to reoffending. Some stakeholders identified the need for a broader approach to rehabilitation, although there was disagreement as to what this would encompass. Some pointed to the failure of cognitive-based interventions while others remarked on the evidence base to support these approaches.

Many stakeholders noted the strengths of agency responses to family violence as emanating from significant improvements that have been made to the criminal justice system response to family violence over the 10 year operation of the FVIP. Noted achievements included improved evidence collection, case-tracking meetings, expanded victim support and improved collaboration.

Other indentified strengths of the program were:

  • commitment from individuals, agencies and ACT Government;
  • positive cultural shifts;
  • strong focus on victims;
  • information sharing (eg through case tracking); and
  • the development and maintenance of strong networks.

The FVIP’s lack of a statutory basis was considered by some stakeholders to be a key threat to its operation. Others advised that legislating for a program was not only challenging but impossible and that other measures to secure the continued operation of the FVIP should be explored. The program itself operates on the basis of verbal commitments, supported by protocols signed in 1998 and an MoA negotiated in 2004. Signatory agencies are able to opt out of the program at any time, while other agencies who were not part of these initial agreements participate in the program’s coordination on a strictly voluntary basis due to their commitment to and belief in the program. This reliance on the commitment of key senior people from signatory and non-signatory agencies is seen as a significant threat to the operation of the program, as changes in personnel within agencies could result in less support for the FVIP and its initiatives.

Other perceived threats to the effective operation of the program included:

  • agencies being under resourced;
  • changes in government direction;
  • retention of dedicated operational staff;
  • changes in personnel and loss of corporate knowledge;
  • pressures of increasing caseloads;
  • legislative barriers to information sharing;
  • attitudinal barriers between agencies;
  • lack of focus to the coordinating committee meetings at times;
  • too strong a focus on what agencies are doing instead of where they are going; and
  • lack of community awareness and indifferent attitudes towards family violence.

The length of operation of the FVIP was considered to be both strength and a threat to its continued success. The program’s continued operation over a 10 year period has allowed program partners to develop strong networks and collaboration models. Stakeholders also commented that there is a wealth of knowledge across agencies and in particular, those committed to working within the family violence area. A threat identified by stakeholders concerned the loss of momentum for the program. One stakeholder suggested that the program is simply being maintained rather than improved. Others mirrored this concern by describing feelings of stagnation. Stakeholders commented on an external perception that, given the number of years devoted to family violence intervention, the work should have been completed by now.

Accountability

The FVIP operates on the basis of collective accountability. Stakeholders generally found this to be reasonably effective, however, a number of flaws were identified.

Under the MoA, FVIP agencies retain their own accountabilities. Stakeholders stated this was necessary given the varied roles and operations that fall outside of the responsibilities of the FVIP. With individual agencies retaining their own accountabilities, there are a lack of mechanisms to ensure accountability for the program as a whole. Stakeholders also expressed concern about the lack of government reporting requirements and the lack of identified parameters for which each agency is responsible. Currently, the FVIP does not produce an annual report and does not have a set of measurable outcomes to report against. Improved statistics were noted as a potential way for the collective accountability model to work more effectively.

Most agencies identified policy, procedure, guidelines and training as the quality assurance measures by which internal accountability is achieved. In addition, most agencies have specialist family violence positions filled by experienced practitioners who have appropriate levels of experience and expertise. The three day training program undertaken by ACT Police was mentioned by several stakeholders as a critical to the ongoing success of the program, given the police’s frontline role.

Stakeholders also commented on the nature of meetings and information-sharing opportunities undertaken between partner agencies. The FVIPCC is commented on below. Other meetings are also conducted on a regular basis, including case tracking and informal discussion between relevant persons working on specific cases. With respect to the latter, stakeholders advised that DVCS, ODPP and ACTP are in contact, generally, on a daily basis. This contact is seen as extremely beneficial as it is timely and includes the persons involved in the case. Case tracking received mixed reviews, with some stakeholders highly supportive of its continuation and others suggesting it has lost some of its relevance over time due, in part, to attendees not always being the relevant person with knowledge of and responsibility for the case, as well as case tracking being seen as a duplication of information sharing that is taking place informally.

Although agencies reported that they work well together, it was noted by many stakeholders that their disparate roles and functions are not widely acknowledged. It was suggested that the coordinating committee should focus a meeting on how agencies work together to broaden knowledge about each other’s roles and expertise.

Governance

Stakeholders were asked to comment upon the administrative arrangements of the FVIPCC. Currently, the VoCC as the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator acts as chair, secretariat and facilitator, and identifies data and information needs for the program. Most stakeholders commented that it was important to have a strong driver for the program.

Three stakeholders commented that the VoCC was an appropriate person to chair and coordinate the FVIP as the position is independent and non-operational. Three other stakeholders, however, noted that from 2007–08, the VoCC was no longer a purely independent position given the additional responsibilities for managing Victim Support ACT, a service provider. The majority of stakeholders commented that a revolving chair could be considered with strong secretariat support from a non-operational area.

Stakeholders were also asked to comment on the substantive level that agency representatives who attend FVIPCC meetings should hold. In all but one circumstance, it was felt that representation should be at a minimum of Director level, with the preference at Executive level. Attendance from this level of personnel was viewed as integral to the ability of the FVIPCC to make decisions, effect change and set a strategic direction. Stakeholders also identified a need for the Youth Directorate of OCYFS to be represented at meetings. Executive Director attendance at the FVIPCC would meet this need.

Data

Data collection was unanimously viewed by stakeholders to be useful and necessary. However, many stakeholders believed that it was not being disseminated widely or thoroughly enough. Some stakeholders commented that the data they received is generally highly qualified or caveated and lacks rigour. Most stakeholders agreed that sophistication in data analysis was necessary to ensure the data is operationally useful.

There was widespread agreement that data collection processes, though resource intensive, need to improve. Many agencies do not collect data and of those that do, some stakeholders expressed concern over the reliability of the data. Other comments highlighted the need for consistent definitions across agencies and the inclusion of the Supreme and Appeals Courts data for case-tracking purposes. Stakeholders also emphasised the importance of providing data in a timely manner to inform operations. Some stakeholders suggested that the collection and dissemination of data should be available through a central reporting process.

Criminal justice system responses

Stakeholders identified a range of requirements for an effective criminal justice system response to family violence. The majority of stakeholders identified a need for improved community awareness through coordinated criminal justice and non-criminal justice agency campaigns. Some stakeholders believed this should be driven by FVIP agencies.

Some stakeholders confined the criminal justice system response to the core components of the current FVIP including:

  • proactive policing;
  • early evidence gathering;
  • early involvement of victim advocacy;
  • specialist processes;
  • collaboration; and
  • strategic direction.

Other comments explored the need to involve non-criminal justice agencies as part of an effective response to family violence, though not as part of the FVIPCC. These responses highlighted:

  • the importance of the role of ACT Health and the Department of Education in identifying family violence and raising awareness;
  • the need for more supported accommodation and long-term housing options for women through the Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services; and
  • the need for engagement with organisations like Relationships Australia and the Domestic Violence Prevention Council.

When asked what was required to have an effective criminal justice system response to family violence in the Australian Capital Territory, some stakeholders stressed the importance of an innovative approach. In particular, some stakeholders remarked on the need to be able to identify areas for improvement and the resources required for action. Other stakeholders identified some potential improvements including a community education approach to family violence instead of an individual one (offender, victim or case-based), as well as providing more and better information to both the victim and accused.

Challenges

Stakeholders identified a number of challenges in dealing with family violence matters. These matters were described as both difficult and emotive. Balancing the rights of both victims and accused persons was seen as particularly complex given the difference in focus of the FVIP partners who are represented by victim advocacy and criminal justice system agencies. A common problem cited was the difficulty in ensuring that information is both adequately provided and protected.

The specialist family violence court list, although seen as important, was also perceived to be problematic for some offenders who may have multiple listings and hearing dates requiring appearances on different days or times. This was seen to potentially increase costs to the court, Legal Aid, the prosecution and individual offenders as well as potentially fuelling the offender’s resentment of the legal process.

Stakeholders identified staff retention as a problem for many agencies. In some circumstances, individuals are promoted and leave the family violence area taking their expertise with them. The stress and responsibility associated with some agency work also leads to a high staff turnover. It was also noted by more than one agency that the lack of pay parity between the community and public sectors influences staff retention rates.

Other challenges identified included:

  • the need for different approaches to victims with varying and complex needs;
  • victim reluctance to pursue criminal charges;
  • ensuring a deeper appreciation of the roles of various FVIP partners and particularly the boundaries of their work; and
  • focusing on direction and decisions rather than negativity and what is not working well.

Future direction of the Family Violence Intervention Program

Stakeholders were asked what they would like to see for the FVIP in the future. A range of responses were received, which are thematically identified below:

Governance

  • legislation and/or court rules to ensure certain key aspects of the program are protected;
  • increased funding;
  • improved data collection and dissemination;
  • review of current protocols; and
  • improved accountability to government.

Developing expertise

  • developing the knowledge base around high and low-risk offenders and victims;
  • staff training and education on the dynamics of family violence;
  • improving staff retention; and
  • developing the capacity to explore unintentional adverse consequences of the FVIP approach (eg unjust verdicts or potential harshness to accused persons).

Service delivery

  • DVCS to provide more follow-up and crisis intervention;
  • increased early intervention responses from ACT Policing; and
  • generating feedback mechanisms for operational staff, victims and offenders.

Growth

  • exploring possible new approaches such as problem solving courts and therapeutic jurisprudence;
  • expansion of program to a whole-of-government response;
  • engaging in more community education; and
  • exploring FVIP engagement with the Supreme Court.

Discussion

The successful operation of the FVIP requires stakeholder engagement, ‘buy-in’ and advocacy for the program purposes and aims. On each of these levels, the FVIP appears to be a success. Stakeholders unanimously upheld the core purposes and aims of the FVIP and felt that agencies worked well together in achieving these common goals. It was evident from the interviews conducted that the people working in this area are dedicated and committed to improving outcomes for victims and persons accused of family violence offences.

The majority of interviewees cited the fact that good working relationships had been established as a major strength of the FVIP. However, the interviews also revealed a lack of knowledge among stakeholders about the disparate roles and capacities of FVIP agencies. Throughout the interviews, expectations about the performance of different agencies were expressed and these did not always match what the specific agency could accomplish. Some effort, therefore, in articulating the role of agencies may be required to ensure a full understanding of organisational capacity and constraint on service provision.

Stakeholders identified a number of strengths and future challenges for the FVIP. Stakeholders identified a range of reforms and fine-tuning of the FVIP in order to be able to continue to deliver a high-quality criminal justice system response to family violence, and to meet current and future challenges.

Legislative and procedural reforms may be required to ensure differential responses are available to meet the needs of persons accused of family violence, particularly children or young people and/or those who have diagnosed mental health issues and/or are persistent repeat offenders. Stakeholders identified potential reforms to available sentencing options, bail support, improved access to mental health services and the provision of a range of rehabilitative programs or practice principles (eg therapeutic jurisprudence). It was also suggested that DVCS be provided with additional resources to provide advocacy support for all family violence victims going through the court process.

Legislative reform was also identified as the means by which the FVIP could continue without the need to solely rely on the commitment of heads of agencies and to provide a statutory basis for the sharing of information between agencies.

Fine-tuning the program’s aims, breadth and organisation was identified by stakeholders in a number of ways to ensure the FVIPs continued growth. Many of the suggestions made by stakeholders focused on leading the FVIP away from being dependent on individual persons and agency goodwill to drive it forward. Suggestions included modifying policy and procedural documents, rotating the chair of the FVIPCC, improving training, ensuring high-level representation at the FVIPCC and broadening the focus of the FVIP to include elements of prevention. Future planning for the FVIP should consider the stakeholder views expressed in this section of the report.