Family violence referrals swamp health service

ALMOST 1500 incidents of family violence have been referred to Latrobe Community Health Service in the past year, with police referral numbers rising significantly on the previous year.

The local service provider has been swamped by direct, community and police referrals with the latter jumping from 700 to 800 over 12 months.

That information, provided by LCHS, follows warnings from a leading local academic that a “balance” of funding for Gippsland’s family violence services was vital to combat a scenario where local service providers were “drowning” in referrals (known as L17’s).

Monash Gippsland lecturer Dr Chris Laming, who has long worked in the family violence field dealing with men who are violent, said a marked recent increase in referrals meant “some agencies, for example, who might be funded to deal with 100 referrals in a year are getting 400”.

“So what happens to that other 300, and what does that say to men?” he said.

“It undermines trust in a system that works.”

LCHS executive director community support Anne-Maree Kaser confirmed men could potentially wait months for access to a support group program “unless they are prepared to travel to another location”.

“Our waiting list for men’s groups are dependent on where the group is being held,” Ms Kaser said.

“For example, we may only run a Sale program once a year.”

With the Latrobe Valley’s new policing Family Violence Unit now resourced to pursue multiple charges of, mostly, violent men – evidenced by the 31.5 per cent jump in crimes against the person in the Valley in 2011-2012 – Dr Laming has said the lack of funding for support agencies to manage a corresponding increase in referrals “sent a message those referrals are meaningless”.

Ms Kaser said “the level of service we can offer to assist people is obviously dependent on funding”.

“Services across Gippsland are doing their best but there are a lot of people out there who still need assistance.

“Any additional funding to speed the delivery of services for those that need it will be welcome,” she said.

LCHS provided a range of family violence services including women’s and children’s family violence counselling, men’s behaviour change programs (mainstream and indigenous), Koorie case management and child sexual assault counselling, Ms Kaser said.

“In many cases people contact us directly for assistance, in other cases referrals might be received from the police, courts and other agencies.”.

Ms Kaser said counselling clients were offered appointments based on the “priority of their need”, with “the most urgent cases being dealt with first”.

LCHS worked as part of an integrated local response to family violence, with other family violence services, police and justice services and welcomed “the increasing community awareness of domestic violence” – “a significant issue in the our local community,” she said.

The service provider also welcomed recent news it would receive an extra $110,000 over the next 18 months to “support children affected by family violence”.

Gippsland’s regional intervention co-ordinator for family violence Kerry Hamer recently told The Express Gippsland had the highest rate of family violence per head across Victoria and agencies tasked with ‘responding’ were “overwhelmed”.

For more information, or to register for any of the LCHS services, phone 1800 242 696.