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Conclusion and recommendations

This section of the report presents the main conclusions from the review and recommendations for the future operation and governance of the FVIP. Strengths of the FVIP, areas for improvement and recommendations are categorised under the overarching objectives of the FVIP—working cooperatively together, maximising safety and protection for victims of family violence, providing opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation, and working towards continual improvement of the FVIP.

Working cooperatively together

Key good practice features of coordinated approaches to family violence include:

  • shared philosophy/understanding and practices;
  • networking; and
  • protocols.

The FVIP is effective across all of these areas and may benefit from more robust governance arrangements to ensure continued effectiveness and growth.

Stakeholders identified the commitment of government, agencies and staff to the FVIP as a key positive feature of the program. Stakeholders support the purposes of the FVIP and understand their own operational roles within the FVIP. Some improvement, however, is required from individual agencies to ensure a full appreciation of the roles and practices of the other partners. Information also needs to be passed on to operational staff and operational staff need to be engaged to ensure they have an understanding of the program’s objectives and impact.

  • The FVIP is effective in establishing relationships between agencies and ensuring they work cooperatively. Stakeholders identified communication between agencies as a major strength of the program. Agency representatives meet regularly (through case tracking, FVIPCC meetings and in the course of their daily work) and have developed strong networks. There is some evidence, however, that meeting arrangements need to be refined (eg case tracking), to ensure the most efficient use of time and resources.
  • At the macro level, the FVIP and FVIPCC determine policy and program objectives and develop responses to systemic and emerging issues. Each agency, however, is responsible for developing and implementing its own policies in relation to family violence. MoUs between agencies (eg ACT Policing and DVCS) ensure that minimum standards and expectations are defined.

The FVIPCC is established under a MoA. Some stakeholders identified that this was insufficient to ensure the ongoing operation of the FVIP. Stakeholders also identified that the FVIP is personality driven. It relies on the goodwill and commitment of all individuals for its existence and focus. Personnel changes or shifts in policy could threaten the program. In particular, the VoCC is seen to drive the program and carry the momentum.

The FVIPCC undertakes high-level strategic planning. The majority of stakeholders identified the need for agency representation at the FVIPCC to be at the Executive Director level to ensure timely decision making. In family violence matters, young people are victims, offenders or both. Young people account for a very small proportion of family violence offenders, and their needs and interests are very different from their adult counterparts. In addition, offenders (although usually receiving community-based sentences) may also be imprisoned and have specific transition from custody needs or risks that they pose. Executive Director attendance at FVIPCC meetings may better enable agencies to strategically plan for diverse client group needs.

The Domestic Violence Project Coordinator holds the majority of the responsibility for the FVIP—chairing meetings, conducting research and identifying data requirements. The Domestic Violence Project Coordinator is also the ACT Victims of Crime Coordinator and heads VS ACT. Stakeholder views were mixed in relation to whether the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator was the appropriate role to chair meetings. Most stakeholders agreed that a rotating chair could ease the burden of the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator’s role and may promote renewed interest in the FVIP and a shared understanding of different agency roles.

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 day 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

Victim safety is enhanced by the practices that form the core components of the FVIP—pro-charge, pro-arrest and presumption against bail, early provision of victim support, proactive prosecution, coordination and case management, and rehabilitation of offenders. The Experience of Family Violence survey, stakeholder interviews and data presented in this report provide evidence that these activities are being undertaken and that overall, victims are feeling supported by the system response.

Victim experiences with the criminal justice system vary considerably. Stakeholder and victim interviews provide some evidence of inefficiencies and/or duplication of effort. Some stakeholders identified lack of information sharing between agencies as problematic. This could stem from the fact that due to privacy and legislative constraints, agencies are not always able to share information. Others suggested that case tracking was no longer necessary given the well-established communication networks already in place. There is a need to explore the best method to exchange information about cases in an efficient and meaningful way.

Victims are generally involved with multiple agencies throughout the course of their case. Coordination of the case is currently monitored through case tracking and contact between agency representatives. There is, however, no lead agency responsible for case management. Instead, each agency leads the activities associated with their role. Case-tracking meetings, or other mechanisms, could be used to allocate primary responsibility to a particular agency on a case-by-case basis. The assigned agency would be responsible for coordination of service delivery and providing information to victims and offenders on case progression. This is not a cost-neutral option. Significant resources would be required to investigate appropriate models—recruit, train and retain skilled staff, and implement and monitor the system.

The report findings also indicate that victims do not necessarily have a full understanding of system processes and that the level of information they seek is not always provided. Currently, ACT Policing and the ODPP produce information for victims of crime including the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet and Family Violence and Steps in a Criminal Prosecution pamphlets. FVIP partners should explore options for developing alternative information sources for victims and offenders involved in family violence incidents. These information sources should be pitched at different age groups and literacy levels and may include a dedicated website, visual literature and a comprehensive guide to criminal and civil justice responses to family violence and victim support. Information that could be covered includes:

  • victim rights;
  • how crime may affect people;
  • a map of criminal justice processes;
  • information about safety planning;
  • information about each FVIP partner agency;
  • references to legislation;
  • support services;
  • advocacy services;
  • victim impact statements;
  • the roles of victim liaison officers and witness assistants;
  • how to make statements; and
  • how to talk to adults (parents, teachers etc) about 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

One of the challenges identified during stakeholder interviews was that it is often difficult to balance the rights of both victims and accused persons. The FVIP has, and should have, a strong focus on victim rights and safety. Processes and procedures of FVIP agencies may, however, lead to unintentional adverse consequences for some defendants. For some defendants, the criminal justice system response may not be the most appropriate response. Accommodation support, bail support and respite may need to be explored as alternatives to detention or criminal justice intervention for some defendants, for example, young people and persons with mental health issues.

The courts and ACTCS provide opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation; however, it is unclear whether these are adequate. Stakeholders identified this objective as an area requiring strengthening.

Empirical data that provides evidence that the sentences imposed and/or interventions undertaken are having an impact is not available. It appears, however, that the specialist jurisdiction and court processes are having a positive effect on the timeliness of case resolution, victim satisfaction and conviction rates. It may be necessary to explore whether the work of the court could be consolidated with a legislative or court rules focus. Offenders often have multiple and complex needs, some of which may need to be resolved (such as alcohol misuse) before they can address their offending behaviours. The literature demonstrates that a range of interventions should be available to meet these multiple and complex needs.

Data collected from ACTCS identifies that few offenders assessed for the FVSC Program are found suitable and of those that are found suitable, few offenders complete the program. The FVSC Program has not been evaluated. The data also reflects that some of the persons who are not found suitable are referred to other services. Data is not collected to assist in determining, broadly, what these offenders’ needs are or how they are being addressed. An outcome evaluation of the FVCS Program should be undertaken and the terms of reference should include identifying other supports family violence offenders may require to promote successful behavioural changes. Such an evaluation is not a cost-neutral option. It would require extensive planning, need to be carried out over a minimum 12 month period and be funded.

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 FVSC 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, be documented in the annual FVIP statistics.

Working towards continual improvement of the Family Violence Intervention Program

The FVIP has been successful in implementing a range of practices that improve the criminal justice system response to family violence. Agencies have created specialist positions, changed data collection methods, established programs, implemented learning opportunities and commissioned research. Some stakeholders identified that more attention needs to be paid to continuous improvement.

The FVIP, in its current form, is following current good practice, which it once led. For the FVIP to progress in the future, it will need to acknowledge its strengths and build upon them to ensure that it remains fresh, innovative and responsive.

Developing performance measures against which the FVIP can be assessed will assist FVIP partners to allocate resources and identify strengths and areas requiring improvement. Performance measures must be attached to identifiable outcomes. These outcomes should be developed and agreed upon by the FVIPCC. Outcome-focused performance measures would complement the measures currently being captured and act as headline indicators of ultimate performance.

Indicators could be developed in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations, Public Accountability and Performance Reporting Schedule C to ensure the measures are easily transferrable to reporting requirements that could result from the implementation of the Time for Action plan. The indicators should be:

  • meaningful—to improve public accountability, data must be reported in a way that is meaningful to a broad audience (many of whom will not have technical or statistical expertise) and validly measures what it claims to measure;
  • understandable—the data will be accessible, clear and unambiguous so that the community can come to its own judgements on the performance of governments in delivering services;
  • timely—to be relevant and enhance accountability, the data published will be the most recent possible—incremental reporting when data becomes available and then updating all relevant data, is preferable to waiting until all data are available;
  • comparable—data must be comparable across jurisdictions and over time—where there are no comparable data for a particular performance indicator, the parties will work together with assistance from technical experts to develop common definitions, counting rules and measurement standards so that data can be provided on a comparable basis;
  • administratively simple and cost effective— the costs involved in collecting data will be proportionate to the benefits to be gained from the resulting information;
  • accurate—data published will be of sufficient accuracy so that the community has confidence in the information on which to draw their analysis; and
  • hierarchical—high-level performance indicators should be underpinned by lower level (more detailed but consistent) performance data where a greater level of sector specific detail is required for other purposes (COAG 2011: c-2).

Data collection and dissemination must also be improved to allow for more sophisticated analysis of emerging issues and trends. Data may be required for many purposes including operational need, reporting to government and research. Current gaps in data collected or readily accessed for analysis include:

  • evidence of alcohol or other drug use at the time of family violence incidents;
  • mental health status of family violence victims and offenders;
  • child or young people witnessing family violence;
  • CALD status of family violence victims and offenders;
  • Indigenous status of defendants appearing before the Magistrates’ Court;
  • Supreme Court data;
  • Family Court data;
  • reoffending rates;
  • ratio of supervised and unsupervised GBOs; and
  • length of orders.

The data that is collected is not necessarily comparable to that which other agencies collect. Agencies have limited capacity to refine collection methods that will meet multiple needs. These issues may create barriers to the data being utilised. Other barriers to the use of data may include:

  • reliability and accuracy;
  • restricted access;
  • organisational priorities;
  • differences in terminology; and
  • sensitivity of data.

Access, collection and dissemination of data issues could be improved by the establishment of a centralised database. This database should be established utilising the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Conceptual Framework for Family and Domestic Violence to ensure consistency of terminology and comparability of data. Undertaking the establishment of such a database will require considerable resources.

The creation of this database should not overburden already under-resourced operational areas of the FVIP. It would need to be created in such a way as to allow the information parent agencies currently collect to be ‘dumped’ into a central database for cleaning and analysis. This may best be supported by the establishment of a dedicated project officer position. The position would need to be at the Administrative Service Officer 6 or Senior Officer Grade C level. The position could support agencies by collating data for research purposes with a strong emphasis on operational need. The role could be used to explore key areas of common interest to FVIP partners, such as reoffending, that are currently not measured. The position could prepare quarterly reports for FVIP partners to support operational areas in service delivery.

The creation of a central database and project officer position would increase transparency and accountability for FVIP partners and allow emerging trends to be identified in a timely manner. The data analysis could support operations, contribute to research and improve reporting to government through the provision of consistent evidence on the effectiveness of the FVIP.

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

Recommendation 19: That the FVIP continue to collect data.

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

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

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

The FVIP is an effective, coordinated criminal justice system response to family violence in the Australian Capital Territory. Its present operation follows current good practice. The future of the FVIP will best be supported through governance and accountability arrangements that entrench it as a program and give it the authority to build new and innovative approaches to family violence. Some fine tuning of current operations is also required to ensure responses remain effective and are efficient. The data on FVIP operational areas suggests a steady flow of family violence cases through the police, courts, corrections and victim advocacy services. The results demonstrate that the FVIP is operating effectively. They do not however, identify any trends to guide future program development in a meaningful way. Given that family violence is a dynamic offence behaviour, it seems likely that there is much more to be known about family violence and how it is experienced in the Australian Capital Territory. Data collection and analysis must be made a priority to ensure the FVIP has the information it needs to provide appropriate responses for all victims and offenders involved in family violence.