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First to know, first to act

Assisting universal community service providers to identify and respond appropriately to family violence
Family violence Violence against women Victims of family violence Community-based family services Community-based social services Homelessness Melbourne Metropolitan Area
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First to know, first to act (report) 1.05 MB

Many women present at homelessness crisis agencies citing relationship breakdown or financial difficulty, rather than family violence specifically, as a primary cause of their need for support.

There is an urgent need to integrate family violence identification and support into crisis and universal service practice frameworks. ‘First to know’ service providers need to better understand the relationship between exposure to family violence and effects on women’s and children’s housing status and their physical, mental, social, emotional and financial wellbeing. Where services fail to initially identify those experiencing family violence, the assessments of client risk and planning for client safety can be inadequate. Clients may not receive the information they need on their legal rights and safe housing options, or be offered the early intervention, support and recovery options that are available.

This research project has been funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and is a collaboration between Wesley Mission Victoria (Wesley) and Swinburne University of Technology. In 2014, Wesley provided homelessness and crisis support to over 980 women aged 26 to 65, and to over 300 accompanying children. Given the reported prevalence of family violence, it is likely that a large proportion of these were experiencing or had experienced family violence.

The overall project objectives are:

  • to understand how community service providers with non-family violence specific services can most effectively identify women and children experiencing family violence, in order to inform appropriate service delivery and support
  • to inform the community service sector on program design and practice for ‘first to know’ services, providing effective early intervention responses to women and children seeking support as a result of family violence

The research on which this report is based aimed to answer two questions:

  • How and to what extent are universal community service providers screening for family violence?
  • Where screening tools are used, are they helpful to clients?

This report presents the findings from:

  • a review of the relevant literature regarding family violence and screening for family violence
  • individual, in-depth interviews with 30 professional staff and managers working at community service providers in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne
  • individual, in-depth interviews with eight female former service clients who have had experiences of family violence.
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