Family violence is a leading cause of homelessness, poverty (FaCHSIA 2009, COAG 2010), preventable death, disability and illness for Victorian women aged 15–45 years (VicHealth 2004). Exposure to family violence is now widely recognised as a form of child abuse (Statewide Steering Committee 2005, FaCHSIA 2009). Family violence costs the Australian economy an estimated $13.6 billion per year (FaCHSIA 2009:34), if not effectively and appropriately addressed, the total cost in 2021–22 is estimated to be $15.6 billion (FaCHSIA 2009:36).
Although domestic and family violence began to be taken seriously by Australian governments in the latter half of the twentieth century, a growing body of evidence revealed that prevalence was not decreasing. At the same time, there was recognition that the best interests of women and children experiencing this form of violence were not necessarily being well served (Rorke 2008). In response to calls from the family violence sector, the Victorian government embarked on a program of major legislative and service system reform by adopting a ‘whole of government’ approach to redressing family violence incidence and responding to the needs of affected women and children. The new approach to family violence involves integration of the Victorian family violence service system, and is guided by the goals of ensuring the safety of women and children and holding men who use violence accountable (see Green, ADFVC, record#170). This wide-ranging initiative represents a profound shift in the way government, police, judiciary and service providers respond to, and seek to prevent family violence.
Enabling women to have the choice to remain safely within their own homes, rather than believing they must leave and seek refuge, is a key component in this reform program. Referred to here as ‘safe at home’, the strategy signifies a new direction in the way the family violence service system supports women and their children to escape family violence. This literature review was undertaken to develop a more complete understanding of ‘safe at home’ as a service system response, with a particular focus on its capacity to contribute to the Victorian reform goals of ensuring the safety of women and children and holding men who use violence against women accountable.
The review examines ‘safe at home’ in the context of National and state family violence policy and practice initiatives. Specific focus is given to determining elements required for successful and effective implementation. The aims are to:
- further understand ‘safe at home’ as an intervention strategy within the Victorian integrated family violence service system;
- explore how the ‘safe at home’ strategy might contribute to enhancing the safety of women and children;
- consider whether ‘safe at home’ interventions are able to hold men who use violence against women accountable;
- to identify elements necessary for successful implementation of ‘safe at home’ programs.
Key questions informing the review are:
- How is ‘safe at home’ defined in policy and practice?
- Is there evidence to indicate that ‘safe at home’ programs have enhanced the safety of women and children?
- Is there evidence to suggest that ‘safe at home’ as a response is able to hold men who use violence against women accountable?
- What is required for successful implementation of ‘safe at home’ programs?
- What supports are necessary to enable women and children to stay in their home, if they prefer this option?