More funds needed

LATROBE Valley’s key family violence service stakeholders have called for an urgent injection of government funds to respond to “soaring” reports of abuse in the region.

While service providers have welcomed newly announced State Government funds for prevention and early intervention programs in Gippsland, they warned numerous factors had conspired to further overload services already buckling under the strain of growing waiting lists.

Since September the State Government has announced a number of new family violence-related measures as part of Victoria’s Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women and Children – Everyone has a Responsibility, but service providers say few of those dollars will be spent on “response”.

A peak domestic violence body said the extra $16 million announced in September by Premier Ted Baillieu was “an important down payment” but “a proper commitment” was needed to combat escalating statistics.

Yesterday Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive officer Fiona McCormack told The Express there had been a statewide increase of 10,000 extra reported incidents of family violence over the past year.

“Because of this a commitment of funding for 1200 support periods per annum for the next four years won’t go anywhere near matching the demand,” Ms McCormack said.

Latrobe Valley has long been identified as a family violence “hot spot” in Victoria, prompting the formation of a Latrobe Family Violence Unit earlier this year.

All stakeholders agreed the unit had been vital to an integrated approach to family violence in the Valley.

Police say the unit’s success is reflected in the sharp rise of offences recorded in the most recent regional crime data, but all players recognise it has also led to a “huge overload of referrals (known as L17s) to agencies for women, and for men”.

Monash Gippsland’s Dr Chris Laming, whose field of expertise is men’s behaviour change, said the State Government had “promised money on the one hand” but “cut positions for those (mainly women) with a wealth of practice wisdom on the other”, leading to “disjointed and fragmented service provision”.

Minimal funding to “response” agencies meant there was no “reasonable possibility of responding quickly and effectively” to reports and referrals. Dr Laming said the impaired ability for agencies to respond to referrals failed to offer vital support to victims and sent a message to men that those referrals were meaningless.

“That’s an absolute tragedy,” he said, adding “if you have the law coming in, the response to that needs to be strong – and it’s not”.

His views were supported by Gippland’s regional integration coordinator for Family Violence Kerry Hamer who agreed the past few years had seen an effective integrated system operate across Gippsland with “all agencies and police working together well” but “the number of people funded to work in the area has not increased” while the “numbers of people now involved in reporting incidents has increased dramatically”.

“Those dollars were good enough five years ago but because word is getting out now and people are much more confident about getting a positive response from police the money needs to keep coming and we all know that is the difficulty.”

In light of Gippsland having “the highest rate of family violence per head across the state” Gippsland Women’s Health Service recently welcomed $600,000 in funding to develop prevention and early intervention programs.

Ms Hamer said those “prevention dollars” were vital but “once you start education around prevention that flows into more reports and the ‘response end’ needs to keep up with that”.

Ms McCormack said services were “overwhelmed” and many were “having to take workers away from case management just to manage intake”.

“For women and children who have experienced the trauma of living with violence this is just not good enough”.