Published: 10 November 2016

Legislative Council Tuesday 25 October 2016

MOTION  Consideration and Noting - Report of the Commissioner for Children and Young People 

[3.31 p.m.]   Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -

That the report of the Commissioner for Children and Young People titled 'Children and Young People's Unique Experiences of Family Violence' be considered and noted.

In noting this very important and informative report, I commend the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Mark Morrissey, on his approach to his work in this area.  He has worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of young people are heard in matters of such importance to them.  I note the voices of the children throughout the report in words and pictures, a valuable inclusion in the report.

 We all know that family violence has been under the spotlight in a way that it never has been before, predominantly through the work of the 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty.  I have heard Rosie speak a few times now, and I am always impressed with her strength and commitment to exposing the devastating impacts of family violence and the need to actively do something about it.  During her year as Australian of the Year, she undertook a gruelling schedule whilst continuing to grieve for her only son, Luke, who had been killed by his father.  Since then, Rosie has continued to actively work in this area and work with governments to develop and implement policies to address this scourge on our society.  Rosie spoke at the launch of this report and inspired all there to continue the work to address this challenge.

Other inspiring speakers at the event included the amazing Project O girls from Wynyard High School.  I have spoken about this wonderful group of young women from Wynyard who are participating in this excellent Big hART project.  To use their words from the launch -

We have come all the way from Wynyard High School in the north-west.  We represent 25 girls who believe we can make a difference.  We have been working with Australia's leading arts and social change company, Big hART, on Project O.  Project O drives change in communities affected by family violence by backing young women like us and investing in us as change makers.  

I first joined the project as a way to socialise outside of school.  I then joined the twice-weekly classes at school as a way to say that I feel and to improve my people skills.  

Our community, Wynyard, is a beautiful place, not just the scenery but the people too.  But we also have some not-so-good things.  Earlier this year we learnt that more than half of us in our group had directly experienced family violence.  That hit us hard.  It sparked a passion in all of us to fight for other children who were in what had once been our position.  

We are all from Wynyard, we are all powerful young women.  We represent the good in our community, and not only have we gained the resilience to bounce back from difficult situations but the ability to bounce forward.I thank the Project O girls for providing some of the words they used at that launch to quote from.  

The Project O girls have been quite involved with the Commissioner for Children and Young People.  What is even more exciting is that they have continued to work with him to produce a version of this report aimed specifically at young people.  I am sure you would agree that this report is more focused on an adult audience that brings the voices of children to the forefront.  It is confronting but we do need to know.

As the commissioner stated in the report, on page 9 - 

It is well understood that children and young people do not have to directly witness or be subjected to family violence ... in order to be affected, and that the impacts may affect their social, psychological, behavioural, and emotional development.  

This realisation has led to significant and ongoing legal and policy responses at both national and state levels.

The Tasmanian Government has done a lot in this area already.  This is very welcome and needed.  However, we cannot be complacent.  We need to continue to review and revisit policies and work to address the fundamental issues that place individuals at risk.  We know that women and children are over‑represented in the alarming statistics.  Much of this can be linked to a lack of respect for women.

At the breakfast last week when Rosie Batty also spoke, another speaker stated that not all disrespect ends in violence, but all violence stems from disrespect.  

Protecting children is everyone's business.  Before I refer specifically to the content of the report, I would like to read a recent article from the media.  It does not reference this report but it is clearly linked to this important topic.  You might appreciate it as it is a footy story and it was written by Emma Quayle from The Age.

Jimmy Bartel wins the Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award at the 2016 Brownlow Medal.

Jimmy Bartel's whole new level of courage. Where do you even start separating all the brave things Jimmy Bartel did in his 15 years at Geelong?  There were so many that they almost blur into one single image of him running back with the flight of the ball, eyes fixed firmly overhead, holding onto the mark as other players barrel into him, and then getting straight back up.

Bartel will be remembered for many things.  The 305 games and the 202 goals, the three premierships, the Norm Smith Medal and the Brownlow.  The match-winning moments, the way he seemed able to save his very best games for the biggest games his team had to play.

Bartel was pick 8 in the 2001 'superdraft' and became all Geelong hoped he would be and so much more.  His courage manifested itself in different ways on the football field: the gutsy marks and the clutch goals and all those big‑hearted matches.  Bartel was there when it mattered, always.

But one of the toughest things he ever did was also one of the last things he did, and he did it a long, long way from the field, exposing himself in a different way than he ever did during a game.  

Bartel did not talk simply about the violence his father exposed him to, his sisters and his mother to, in an interview on the eve of the season with Hamish McLachlan.  He detailed it in a way that was difficult to read and impossible not to be affected by.  He spoke about watching his mother crawl away from his father after he had hit her in the hallway at their home.  He described him picking her up and tossing her against a wall.  He said he was the next one thrown into an old bureau.  He had tried to force himself between them.  He was four.

There was much more.  The way his father made his mother feel like she should apologise to him for his own violent behaviour, how his dad viewed him as some sort of competition, how as a 21-year-old, after his sister had her first baby, he drove to Wodonga, confronted him outside a pub and told him that the family could no longer have anything to do with him.  His sister's apprehension about letting their dad meet her son after he turned up once unannounced, had led him to that point.

'It was a real line in the sand moment,' Bartel told McLachlan in the interview.  'I was thinking that there is another generation that was going to have to go through it all if I didn't do something, so I had to stop it'.

Bartel began to grow a beard after the interview, and let his hair grow long.  He was so shaggy by the end of the season that his baby son Aston didn't recognise him when he shaved it all off.

His goal was to raise awareness for domestic violence - to make it so that every time a kid asked their parent about why he was so ratty they could have a conversation about more important things - and to also raise money. He let his hair grow for more than 200 days and raised a lot of money for his, 'face up to domestic violence campaign' and two charities, the Luke Batty Foundation and Bethany, a family service organisation based in Geelong.

Bartel was the last man standing of the Cats' 2001 class.  James Kelly, Steve Johnson and Gary Ablett play for different teams now - and felt as though he still had more to give to the club but that he was ready for him to step away, even though he had triggered a one-year contract extension.

He leaves us as one of just two 300-game players to play in three flags, win a Brownlow and a Norm Smith Medal (Brisbane's Simon Black is the other).

'I am forever grateful to have been drafted by the Cats.  I hope in some way to have repaid the faith that was shown in me all these years ago,' he said announcing his retirement on Wednesday.  'While I feel I still I have more to give, I understand the bigger picture and respect the direction the club wants to move in'.

Bartel also retires with a big collection of awards.  But the last one he won was on Brownlow night this year, the Jim Stynes Award for Community Leadership.  He was taken aback this year by how many people contacted, called and messaged him with stories of their own, and hugely affected by them all.

Despite the traumas of his own childhood, some of their stories were hard to hear.  And so he walks away as much, much more than a champion footballer who put his body on the line all the time.

This highlights the power of a person with a reputation and who is well known in many areas of the community.  Not everyone knows football and goes for the draw - I do not, either - but he was able to make a difference and stand up in a tangible way.  There is quite a cute YouTube clip of him picking up his baby after he had shaved his beard and cut his hair, and the reaction of his child who did not recognise him.  It was interesting.  I commend Bartel on his work in that area; it is people like him who can make a difference, as Rosie Batty has.  

There have been many individuals who have contributed to this important debate and much work that has been done.

As this report notes, there are many great initiatives put in place, including the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, the COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children, Our Watch and a range of other reports, research and submissions from within and outside Tasmania.  All these work toward addressing this important issue.

I also note the report clearly identifies what we are talking about on page 12 when it notes the terminology used, relating it to that contained in Tasmanian legislation.  The report states -In Tasmania, under the Family Violence Act 2004, 'family violence' means any of the following conduct committed by a person, directly or indirectly, against their spouse or partner:

•        assault, including sexual assault; 

•        threats, coercion, intimidation or verbal abuse

•        abduction

•        stalking

•        attempting or threatening to commit conduct referred to above

It also includes -

•        economic abuse

•        emotional abuse or intimidation

•        breaching an order relating to family violence

•        damage caused by a person, directly or indirectly, to any property owned jointly, or by their spouse or partner, or by an affected child.

Therefore family violence is conceptualised in a non-gender specific way.  While violence can affect any person regardless of their gender, it is acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of family violence incidents are perpetrated by men against women.  These women are often mothers and the impact of this violence on their children can be immeasurable and invisible

This report focuses on those children and young people who are dependents of women who experience violence at the hands of their male partner or former partner.

The commissioner stated -

It is important to be clear about the focus of this Report because it affects my analysis of the service response to children and young people in Tasmania. 

The report contains 26 findings and before I comment on these findings, I would like to relate comments made the Project O girls again from the project launch as they were directly involved and engaged with the development and content of the report and really spoke from the heart.

These wonderful young women stood up in front of the huge audience that included many members of parliament, including the Premier, the Commissioner of Police, community and business leaders, and key stakeholders, with a confidence and poise that belied their years.  They were amazing, I was so proud of them, watching them and sharing their journey with them, seeing them grow in confidence and really make a difference.  Not that long ago, a number of these young women could never have done that.  It has been such a positive project for them.  This is again some of what they said at that launch -

When we spoke to our local women's shelter, we learnt about different types of violence and their effect on children.  Family violence affects how kids learn and develop.  They don't socialise properly or learn how to interact.  

This report highlights the need to build capacity and support for those working in shelters and crisis accommodation so they can respond to the specific needs of children and young people.

The report also acknowledges something that we know to be true:  that trauma comes in many ways, that children and young people do not have to directly witness or be subjected to family violence in order to be affected.

Kids should be supported to recognise and disclose violence, seek assistance and heal.  We know that healing can come from hearing and telling stories.

There are lots of people who are afraid to talk about family violence.  It happens to a lot of people but they don't talk about their experiences.  Then they grow up and the cycle continues or they feel powerless.

Many of the girls hadn't spoken about their experiences before this project.  It helped give us a voice that we didn't know we needed.

As the report highlights, a child's experience of family violence depends on their individual circumstances, personal traits and their own coping strategies.  Everyone is unique and so are their experiences.  As a group we value things like being unique, accepting those around us, being consciously present in tasks that we take on, and having the right to choose.  We value family, friendship, dependability and achievement.

If we were talking to other communities who were dealing with family violence we would say that you can achieve a lot on your own but you need to work together.  We have highlighted the issue but our community has acted with us.  One person can be a catalyst, but it needs a community approach.  We want a more accepting community where the generations work together.

Family violence tears communities apart.  As we wrote in our submission, it is an issue for all of us because now we are seen as this community with family violence.  We are more than that.  We are the girls that are making change.  We want to be asked about experiences, and to have our views considered.  The report puts a high value on taking into account the views and experiences of children and young people on matters that affect them.  It says that if children are to cope with family violence they need to be listened to and taken seriously and be actively involved in finding solutions.

This report also speaks about innovation, resilience and breaking the cycle,  something that we feel we are examples of.

Many children and young people who have experienced family violence display high levels of self-efficacy and resilience.  It should not be assumed that young people like us have less potential to succeed, or that we will grow up to be perpetrators ourselves.

Project O focuses on building resilience, to help us build a strong sense of what we want and don't want in our own lives and in our community.  Our project hopes to work with 20 young women a year for five years so that by the year 2020, when we are 20 years old, there are 100 strong women emerging as leaders in our community.  We look forward to working with yo

They are a wonderful group of young women.  Inspirational.  I hope one of them stands for my seat in a few years' time - not next year, they will be a bit young for that, but maybe, if I get another term, in six years I would love to see one of these young women put their hand up because they have really done so much in our community already.  Powerful words from young women who know, understand, and are trying to make a difference in my beautiful home town of Wynyard.

I intend to touch briefly on all the findings while other members may wish to focus more on some that I do not, but the report is easily available online to read and it is very comprehensive.

Some of the findings almost reflect recommendations in some respects for policy change - but they are all called findings - or suggest enhancement of current policy.  I look forward to the Government's response to this debate and the report to understand what other priorities they think are necessary to make a real difference in this area.

The first finding is about the uniqueness of experience.  A child's experience of family violence is greatly dependent on their individual circumstances and person traits and no child is treated uniformly.  Many of us intrinsically knew this, but it highlights the fact that a one‑size‑fits‑all approach will not work.  As the report notes on page 15, 'many children and young people who have experienced family violence display high levels of self-efficacy and resilience and it should not be assumed that their potential to succeed is lessened, compared to those who have not experienced family violence, or that they will grow up to be perpetrators themselves'.  This is a really important finding and must guide our policy decisions in this area.

Findings 2 and 3 relate to the effects of family violence on children and young people and the complexity of that trauma and finding 2 says -

The effects of family violence on children and young people can have a detrimental effect on their development, as well as their physical and mental wellbeing. 

Finding 3 says -

The experience of family violence by children and young people is a form of complex trauma which describes both children's exposure to multiple, chronic, and prolonged developmentally adverse traumatic events and the substantial long‑term impact of this exposure.

This report makes comments with regard to these findings, including, and I quote from the report -

Research into the effects of cumulative harm has found that the frequency and severity of incidences of abusive and neglectful behaviours experienced by children can more important predicting outcomes than the type of maltreatment.

Cumulative harm can have a significant impact on early brain development and can cause chronic stress responses which can sensitise neural pathways and overdevelop areas of the brain associated with anxiety and fear, whilst causing other brain regions to be under-developed.

Younger children, due to the hierarchical nature of brain development, are neuro-developmentally more vulnerable to the experience of trauma.

The Australian Association of Social Workers in their submission stated -  understanding cumulative harm is crucial, in order to appreciate the experiences and needs of children and young people.

The report also noted that - research assessing the effects of family violence on children does come with some methodological limitations, with some urging caution when making assumptions about cause and effect.

This is because often research on children's exposure to family violence is conducted within a small and unique cohort of children, usually from women's refuges or shelters which may have an over-representation of children who are the most recently and severely affected.  

Children who experience family violence can also be experiencing other significant risk factors, such as poverty, parental substance abuse, family dysfunction, other forms of child abuse and/or neglect, mental health and social isolation, so it is difficult to separate the effects of exposure to family violence.

To me, this highlights the need for the whole-of-government approach that the Government is taking.  I know there is broad support from all parties for such an approach.  If there is an area we need to be united on, addressing these challenges and the education of our children are the key.  

Much of the focus of the effect of family violence has been focused on the adults involved, and this is, of course, important.  However, findings 4 and 5 show children are victims in their own right.  We, as adults, may need to become more aware of that.  

Finding 4 states -

Children and young people do not have to directly witness or be subjected to family violence in order to be affected.  As victims in their own right, children and young people should be supported to recognise and disclose violence, seek assistance. and heal from trauma.

The report notes on page 18 - 

Children were seen as present, but not necessarily visible, and their needs were not seen as independent of their non-violent parent, usually their mother.  Recent research has found, on the contrary, that children who experience family violence have their own unique experience, including individual coping strategies, thoughts and perspectives, as well as a need for services and supports tailored to their level of understanding, age, state of development and individual circumstances.  

Even classifying children's experiences of family violence as 'witnessing' fails to capture the extent to which children are inextricably intertwined in family violence.  The language we use when conceptualising family violence in relation to children and young people is therefore important.  

The report went on to note -

Research also shows that children and young people actively use a wide variety of strategies in response to family violence, including maintaining vigilance and assessing risk, remaining present in order to protect their mother or siblings, physically intervening - as in the case of Jimmy Bartel, that I read earlier -

or drawing violence toward themselves, help seeking, offering emotional support to their mothers or using psychological coping mechanisms such as blocking out violence.

This is absolutely tragic that young children are even placed in a position where they need to do this.  I pondered reading out some of the words of the children as it makes for harrowing reading.  But I will, as their voices are important.  You could read many parts in this report, but I just want to read a few.

One from a seven-year-old child - 

Daddy might break in and push the door down and run in and get mummy and pull out a gun and shoot her, and I cannot help it.  I have this dream that there are a witch that throws fire at me, and I wake up and I do not know where I am.  I get real scared and scream out.

From an eight-year-old child - 

I run down the stairs to see what is happening.  I tried to help, I tried to guard my mum, so he could not hurt her.  I did not talk about it with anyone else.  I used to run down the stairs to see mum was okay.

From another eight-year-old child -  

I would hear daddy and mummy yelling and it would wake me up.  It would get louder.  I would run out to the lounge room and sit on mummy's knee.  I sit of mummy's knee so daddy would not hit mummy.  He loves me and he would not want to hurt me.

Another eight-year-old child's comment -  

Mummy told me to hide under the bed and not come out.  When I heard the gun shot, I thought mummy was dead.  Then she walked into the room and I knew she was not dead.

A poem from a young person, titled    'But why?' -  


Daddy's car is coming up the driveway,

But how come mummy has started crying,  

She was happy all day,

I wish the happiness would stay.

Daddy comes in and slams the door

And mummy is sitting on the floor,

Daddy walks up to her and slaps here in the face,

He yells and screams and he won't stop,

I run too my bedroom and hideaway.

Daddy has gone,

Mummy is crying,

I run to her and hold her hand,

There is blood everywhere,

The room is dark,

I want to help,

But I don't know how,

I love her so much,

And so does daddy, so why does he do it,

And why now.

Days pass,

Then daddy comes back,

He is so scary,

I wish he wouldn't come back,

Because he just hurts mummy again,

Then he goes.

I cant hear crying the sounds are so low,

I run out there to hold her hand,

But she won't look at me,

'Mummy mummy, wake up'

But still she won't look at me,

Then I relies it's to late,

Mummy has gone,

I hate daddy,

He has hurt mummy too much but why?


Pretty powerful words; it really breaks your heart to hear the children who are in this situation, and this is what this report if focused on, the impact on the children.

We have done a lot of work on the impact on the women, or the victims, mostly women, but it just breaks your heart.  I believe we would all agree young children should not have to do this.

The report goes on to say -

Recognising children and young people as victims in their own right is consistent with Action Area 3 of the COAG Advisory Panel’s Report which states that ‘children and young people should also be recognised as victims of violence against women’.

Further, referring to a submission from a worker in the Burnie Child and Family Centre, the worker highlighted the reasons why parents may underestimate the impacts on their children.

The submission said -

Also, parents tend to underestimate how much their children have witnessed or experienced and they have little understanding of (or reluctance to explore) how the effects of this might affect behaviour and development.  Until they have a handle on their own emotions and responses to the situation, it appears that oftentimes the adults cannot respond adequately to their children’s needs.

Finding 5 notes - 

There may be value in developing and providing further information, education and communication materials to parents and service providers on understanding the effect of FV on children and young people.

Sadly, the report also noted the mother-child bond appears to be a protective factor.  You could argue this is a good thing but when you read some of the comments from the children in the report, and some of them I have just read to you, it not only breaks your heart but makes you realise this should not even be necessary; children should not need to use this bond as a protective factor.

Finding 7 states - 

The continuation of a child’s secure attachment to their primary caregiver (usually their mother) has been identified as a protective factor for children exposed to FV. 

To highlight this, I will read a couple of other children in the report.  I am not sure how old this child was, but one child's comments was -

My mum has helped me the most.  No one else really talked about it very much apart from my mum.  I can’t really think of anyone else who has really helped me apart from my mum.  All the help was from my mum, she explained everything. 

There is ongoing research into many of these areas as recorded in this report, and of course more is always needed to better understand the reality and key issues.  Finding 8 does indicate there is a need to improve the ways we gather information on children and young people and their experiences of family violence across the system.  It also notes that data should be analysed to be sure the system is responding appropriately to the needs of children and young people.  We do not have reliable and accurate data; it makes it very hard to develop policy that will actually hit the mark.  I believe it is a criticism in many areas of health as well, that we do not always have consistent, reliable datasets to help guide us in this, but obviously this is another area that needs to get more attention.

Findings 9 to 11 address the matter of family violence being a child rights issue.

Finding 9 states - Children and young people have a right to live free from all forms of violence, abuse and neglect and this principle should be a fundamental aspect of family violence policy and practice.

Finding 10 states -  Responses to children and young people exposed to violence must prioritise their safety and long term well-being.

There is a need for services and supports for children and young people to be tailored to their level of understanding, age, stage of development and individual circumstances. 

Finding 11 -

Children’s best interests should be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them - for children and young people with experience of FV, this means that their rights, interests and needs must be considered and responded to as a priority by policy makers and service providers – not merely as secondary to the needs of their parents. 

The report notes -

It is a fundamental principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that every child and young person has the right to live their life free from all forms of violence, abuse and neglect.

[4.00 p.m.]

And further -

For children and young people with experience of family violence, this means that their rights, interests and needs must be considered and responded to as a priority by policy makers and service providers, not merely as secondary to the needs of their parents.  The Committee is clear that there can be no real appreciation or understanding of what is in a child's or young person's best interests without according them participatory rights or the right to be heard.

The report goes on -

Children are experts in their own lives and hold valuable information and knowledge about their own particular needs.  Respect for children's views is one of the four key principles of the CRC and it is fundamental to the fulfilment of other rights, including the right to live free from violence and the right to have their best interests promoted and prioritised.

With regard to the need for children's voices to be heard - and as I have already noted, the voices of children are clearly heard in this report - the report states -

The right to be heard has specific relevance in the context of family violence where children and young people have their own distinct experiences and interpretations of those experiences, which are not necessarily the same as those of their non-violent parent.  The literature indicates that children's awareness of family violence and its extent is often greater than thought; children engage in a range of protective behaviours which can be hidden; children and women can perceive the effects of family violence on children differently.

When asked what children with the experience of family violence need, children can be 'astonishingly clear and consistent'.  In Mullender et al's research into children and young people's understandings and experiences of domestic violence, two issues emerged as crucial to children's ability to cope with family violence and its effect on them.  These were the importance of being listened to and taken seriously as participants in the domestic violence situation, and being actively involved in finding solutions and in decision-making.

Finding 12 states that 'there can be no real appreciation or understanding of what it is in a child's or young person's best interests without according them the right to be heard and to have a say on matters that affect them.  Crucial to children's ability to cope with family violence and its effects on them are:  being listened to and taken seriously as participants in the situation; being actively involved in finding solutions and in decision-making.  A survivor exposed to family violence put it this way:  'The worst is to be portrayed as to the world at large of you being the liar when you are the one who is telling the truth.  That stays with you because you doubt yourself.'

As the Project O girls said at the launch, 'We want to be asked about experiences and to have our views considered.  The report puts a high value on taking into account the views and experiences of children and young people on matters that affect them.  It says that if children are to cope with family violence they need to be listened to and taken seriously and be actively involved in finding solutions.'  The Project O girls definitely have been involved and had their voices heard and been able to clearly articulate them, which is a really positive thing.

Finding 13 echoes their views, the views of the young women involved in Project O.  'There is value in ascertaining and taking into account the views and experiences of children and young people - in research and in the scoping, design and evaluation of services, but always ensuring that this is done in a way that does not do them harm.'  I thank Mr Morrissey, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, for listening so intently to the voices of these children.  This aspect of the report extends to the legal processes that children find themselves in.

Finding 14 speaks about this -

To maximise positive outcomes it is important to support children and young people having a full and effective participation in child protection, family law and family violence intervention making commensurate with their age, maturity and evolving capacity.

The report also covers quite extensively the Tasmanian Government responses to family violence and acknowledges and commends successive Tasmanian governments for developing and building upon the existing integrated response to family violence comprised of Safe at Home and Safe Home, Safe Families.  I similarly commend past and current governments in this area, and acknowledge more needs to be done.  Most importantly it is done with the support of all political parties.  The challenge is enormous, but we do have to act.

The report goes on to suggest, on page 44 - 

The child protection system in Tasmania must be included in any discussion of Tasmania's response to family violence, given the mandatory reporting obligations that arise in relation to an 'affected' child, as defined in the Family Violence Act 2004, and referred to earlier in this Report. 

A common theme in recent major inquiries or reviews into family violence is that child protection services are not equipped to deal with matters involving children affected by family violence. 

We all know that there is more work to be done in this area.  It is a big ask and a big task but we need to properly resource these areas because the damage is so profound and so lasting if we do not.

Finding 16 notes -

Experience of family violence is a significant contributor to entry to the statutory child protection system - and family violence appears to be one of the most common factors in notifications to child protection.

Finding 17 states - 

implementation of Strong Families - Safe Kids (the Child Protection Redesign) provides the opportunity to ensure our child protection system responds appropriately to support children and young people and their non‑violent primary carer (usually their mother), and takes account of the risk posed by the perpetrator in determining a response.

We also need to appreciate the need for an integrated service response to children and young people affected by family violence as suggested in finding 17.  Finding 18 states -

... for this to occur we need organisations and agencies across the service system to work together with: 

•           a common philosophy and understanding of the effects of family violence on children and young people; 

•           a shared understanding of risk; 

•           a common approach to how we examine, assess and respond to the needs of children and young people; 

•           appropriate information sharing and an understanding of referral pathways.

Findings 19 and 20 highlight the need for practice guides and evidence-based services.  It states that evidence in other jurisdictions suggests that this could be achieved by the development of practice guides, particularly relating to children and young people affected by family violence.  

A set of Principles could be developed to guide our response to children and young people affected by family violence.  

Further, finding 20 states - 

Wherever possible, our services should be evidence informed and evaluated to ensure they have the best available information on how we work to address the harm caused to children and young people by family violence.

It is clear that this integrated approach is imperative if we are to make a difference.  I only spoke recently in another debate about the need for services to wrap around families who we know are at risk or we learn are experiencing family violence.

Ideally this would start pre-conception where possible, continue throughout the perinatal period and throughout the young person's life until it is no longer required.

Finding 21 states -

Mainstream services especially those which work directly with parents and children - such as health services, early childhood, schools, child health nurses - have an important role to play in identifying and responding to children and young people affected by family violence.  We need to support these workers, including by providing training and resources and by considering other responses such as embedding specialist workers, building on the work already underway in Tasmania.

Finding 22 acknowledges the need for greater investment in the antenatal period -  

Acknowledging that pregnancy has been identified as a time of increased risk of violence for women, experience in other jurisdictions suggests that evidence-based programs for expectant, new and vulnerable parents may have positive family violence-related outcomes.

There is more work to be done in this area.  As I said, working as a midwife we know who these families are often.  Prevention is always so much better than trying to fix up the damage afterwards.  It is less costly in the long run in so many ways.

Schools also have an important role to play and need appropriate resources.  Crisis accommodation is an area where we need to do more, and this all costs money.  It is about priorities, I understand that, and I commend the Government for the work that it is already doing.  I am not being critical of the Government here and neither is the commissioner in this report, but just identifying those areas that perhaps need a bit more attention.

Finally, 23 states -

We also need to find ways to build capacity and support those working in crisis accommodation so that they can respond to the specific needs of children and young people affected by family violence.

Mr President, we need innovative responses that enable all who are impacted access to the necessary support.  The report acknowledges that children and young people access support in different ways.  We need to consider investing in innovative technologies across all areas that may be of benefit.   As the report states, there is value in investigating innovative technology such as interactive websites and other innovative security measures could also be considered in terms of keeping children and young people safe, and the victims as well perhaps avoiding further exposure to violence.

Of course, we also need to work with the perpetrators, as well as prevent perpetrators of the future.

I encourage all honourable members to visit the Our Watch website for good information and tools in this regard.

Finding  25 states -

There may be value in introducing individualised case plans for those persons attending perpetrator programs; these plans would provide the basis for interventions across the system. 

The report acknowledges the focus is predominantly on the victim.  This is changing and I encourage the Government to continue to work in this area to address this.

As the report notes on pages 68 and 69 -

A particular source of criticism of FV services, and in particular child protection interventions, is the tendency to focus on the non-violent parent (usually the mother) and her ability to protect her children, rather than focusing interventions on effectively targeting the perpetrator of the abuse who is the source of the inherent risk.

As part of Safe at Home, the Tasmanian Government operates the Family Violence Offender Intervention Program (FVOIP) which is delivered by Community Corrections.  The program receives referrals through the courts and for those deemed eligible, perpetrators may be sentenced to attend the program as part of a community based order.  In 2014-2015 the program commenced with 37 participants with a completion rate of 75.68% (28 participants).

 Under Safe Homes, Safe Families, Relationships Australia will deliver a community based Men's Behaviour Change Program to assist men who have used violence and abuse towards their partners and a specialist FV ducation and training program for workers in mainstream services who may come into contact with low to medium risk FV perpetrators.

There is a growing body of knowledge regarding good practice in work with perpetrators of FV.  It is generally accepted however that perpetrator programs need to encompass both formal (criminal justice, civil justice and child protection systems) and informal accountability processes (support services for perpetrators), which when they interact, provide a holistic approach to addressing violent behaviour.  It has been recommended by No to Violence (the Male Family Violence Prevention Association in Victoria) that each perpetrator of FV has an individualised case plan which provides the basis for interventions across the formal and informal accountability areas.

This approach is supported by the assumption that: while men's gender-based power to entrap and coercively control an (ex)partner based on male entitlement and privilege is at the heart of their choice to use violence, other factors can contribute to making these choices 'easier', and to the severity of the tactics they choose.  These factors - AOD abuse, mental health issues, problem gambling or homelessness for example - do not cause domestic and family violence, but if they are part of a perpetrator's context, they make his task of choosing non‑violence more difficult.  A focus on these contributing factors - or criminogenic needs in corrections terminology - is by no means sufficient to address the man's use of violence and coercive control, but can help make the pathway easier for the man to choose non-violence.

This recognises that general group work programs for men may not be enough to encourage long-term behaviour change as they are predicated on a one-size-fits-all model.  This does not mean that the program provider needs to address all of the contributing factors themselves but may refer the perpetrator to other appropriate services with 'strong communication between all service providers involved to ensure consistent approaches and messages', noting that:

The importance of inter-agency clarity around approach and message consistency cannot be over-emphasised.  Case management work to address the man's criminogenic needs should not be about not naming the violence.  It is not an approach of, 'let's work with him on these other issues first and talk about the violence later'.  Allied sector agencies working with FV perpetrators on particular issues related to risk, need to be trained and supported on how to name the violence when working with the man, how to work within a framework that does not blame alcohol or mental health issues for his behaviour, and how to work in alliance with the coordinated community response that's holding him accountable for his behaviour.

Mr President, finding 26 speaks about the 'need for greater integration between the family violence system, the child protection system and the family law system to overcome well understood issues of concern'.  I know the Government are aware of these challenges and I am sure will be responding to this report, as they have other reports in this important area.

 I agree with the commissioner's closing comments when he stated -

 It is my firm belief that those working in the Tasmanian service system who support children and young people affected by family violence are genuinely committed to promoting their safety and wellbeing.  I hope this Report assists in progressing the important work currently being undertaken in Tasmania to improve our response to family violence. 

I look forward to reading the companion report that the Project O girls are working on aimed at the younger readership to maximise the reach of this important work.  I am very confident it will be a very helpful and informative report for all young people to read.  I commend the commissioner for engaging the Project O girls in undertaking that body of work.  It is okay to have a report like this that in many respects is quite inaccessible language‑wise to young people.  It is very important, but it also needs to be translated into language that children and young people can understand.

Mr President, I commend the report to the House and look forward to other members' contributions on this important topic and report.

[4.16 p.m.]




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