The advocacy group said money pledged for so-called ‘specialist family violence services’ will go to a select list of family relationship services to provide a range of services, including couples counselling and mediation.
It noted that a grants document released last week described the services as “contribut[ing] to filling the gaps in service provision for victims of domestic and family violence”.
For the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW, “this flies in the face of years of consultation with women’s safety experts and survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence”, according to the organisation’s director Hayley Foster.
“We can’t muck around”, Ms Foster said, considering “we’re losing more than one woman a week to this scourge, and it is the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years”.
“We have set out clear guidelines for reform in this sector, and drawn attention to a number of crucial service gaps, neither of which this funding will address,” she continued.
“Funding is urgent”, Ms Foster expressed, “and it must go where it’s needed most”.
According to the grant document, these services will fall under the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which the court advocacy service disputes, having said that “fundamentally, they do not fit with the agreed-upon principles and actions of this plan”.
Ms Foster said “nowhere is there the suggestion that we should be going back to the days where we are recommending couples counselling or couples mediation in the context of family violence, except in the case of highly specialised family dispute resolution for family law matters involving specialist legal and domestic violence services”.
She believes this Morrison government announcement indicates “a blatant disregard” for the advice of women’s safety experts and domestic violence survivors, and the high-quality research of the national research body for women’s safety, ANROWS, which helped to inform the three-year action plans under the national plan.
The advocacy service also holds concern that “the federal government is not up to speed with the excellent work being done at the state and territory level to tackle domestic violence and how it can best support this work in a coordinated way”.
Ms Foster reiterated this, noting how “state and territory governments have listened to experts and survivors and recognise that services for women and their children who have experienced domestic violence need to be highly specialised and that men’s behaviour change programs need to be rigorous and standardised”.
“What we need is for the federal government to do their share and invest in the programs and initiatives we have highlighted as the crucial gaps, not go off on a limb adding new services which don’t fit within the existing service system,” she advocated.
It was noted by the director that grant guidelines for the new services don’t specify any requirement for a gender-responsive approach consistent with specialist women’s domestic violence services, nor a requirement to meet standards for men’s behavioural changes.
“There is no requirement whatsoever that the relationship service(s) have experience [in] delivering specialist domestic violence services”, a statement said.
“The unfortunate truth is that expanding services which invite families to undertake couples counselling or mediation in the context of domestic violence, outside of a highly specialised environment with the appropriate safeguards and supports, will put women and children’s safety at risk,” Ms Foster iterated.
Further, she expressed that “women’s safety experts, including men’s behaviour change practitioners, know this from our work with families”.
“And we, along with domestic violence survivors, have told the government this, so there is no excuse for this sort of policy making on the fly to have taken place.”
In calling on the Morrison government to reconsider this funding, the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW said the government needed “to go back to the sector experts and their state and territory counterparts for advice as to the most urgent areas of need for this “essential” funding.
It comes after Legal Aid missed out on additional funding requested by a number of legal bodies in the lead up to last week’s federal budget announcement.