This session was part of the Advocacy sector Conversations forum series held online on 27 September 2022.

Overview

Disability Advocates are highly likely to identify family violence or receive disclosures of experiences of violence in their work. Rates of violence against people with disabilities are around twice as high as across the general population. Yet the links between the disability advocacy sector and the family violence response system is not clear.

Jen Hargrave  from Women with Disabilities Victoria facilitated this session, bringing together key partners from the family violence response system to bring Victoria’s advocacy sector up to date on information and referral pathways.

Guest speakers include:

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 Transcript

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Good morning everyone.  Welcome to the last session of the September 2022 advocacy sector conversation series.  My name is Damian Cavenagh and I’m representing the disability advocacy resource unit today.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I’m coming to you from today and pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging.  I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today.

We hope you’ve all settled in comfortably and are ready for a fantastic session.  We encourage your active participation today so please type any questions you have in the Q&A box at the bottom of the screen and at the end of the session I’ll be facilitating a Q&A session with the panelists.

Disability advocates are highly likely to identify family violence or receive disclosures of experiences of violence in their work.  Rates of violence against people with disabilities around twice as high as across the general population.  Between disability advocacy sector and the family violence response system…to walk us through who are the key partners in keeping our people safe, please give a warm welcome to the facilitator of this session, the one and only Jen Hargrave.

JEN HARGRAVE:
Thanks Damian.  Welcome all.  As Damian said, my name is Jen.  I’m joining you from the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri people.

Today we have a top lineup of speakers and at the end of this hour you’ll know touch points in the family violence support system to support your clients.

We’ll hear about a brokerage fund which can pay for disability supports during a crisis.  We’ll hear about important…we’re going to hear about…new entry point to the service system being rolled out in Victoria.

Just before we hear from our speakers a brief introduction from me.  As Damian mentioned, disabled Australians experience family violence at rates much higher than our nondisabled counterparts.  It is essential that we have access to mainstream specialised family violence response services.

As disability advocates you may have tried to link your clients to services.  For you maybe it was a smooth referral and your client got the support that they needed, or maybe you saw disability access barriers to the system.  Unfortunately like with any service system we’re going to encounter systemic indirect discrimination.

Part of our role as advocates is to understand what the service system is supposed to provide and to advocate when we see discrimination and system failure.

Victoria has a family violence protection act which protects the rights of all Victorians from family violence.  Shortly our speaker from the Orange Door is going to talk us through the legal definition of family violence here in Victoria.  As you might expect the definition includes intimate partners, ex partners, relatives and all the children who normally live with the relevant person.

The definition also includes familylike relationships.  Familylike relationships are those where the social and emotional ties between the people are like family.  To be like family the people do not have to live together.  They might have frequent contact or they might be socially regarded as being like family to each other.  The relationship might have forms of dependence or interdependence.

The Act goes on to say that when considered in its entirety a factor in a familylike relationship may be the provision of care or sustenance, whether that care is paid or unpaid.  The law provides an example which reads:  a relationship between a person with a disability and a person’s carer may over time have come to proximate the type of relationship that would exist between family members.

The breadth of family in our legal protections may be useful for you in your work.  Now we recognise that family violence is a common experience so if at any time you need to take a break from the forum please do so, and we’ll bring up a slide with contact details for 1800 RESPECT.

So if you would like to speak to someone for confidential counselling 1800 RESPECT is a free service available over phone or via web chat.  Thank you for sharing that slide and the web address, if anyone would like to hear it verbally is 1800respect.org.au.

Now to our speakers.  Damian will be monitoring the chat during the three presentations and he will read out some questions after the three presenters.  Our first speaker is Del and Del is a service system navigator at Melbourne’s north eastern Orange Door.  Del will tell us what the service does.  Please welcome Del

DEL AULICH:
Thanks Jen.  Thank you for inviting me to come along today and talk to you guys about the Orange Door.  My name is Del Aulich and I am the system navigator at north East Melbourne Orange Door.

The Orange Door grew out of the royal commission into family violence held in 2015 and the report came out in 2016.  Currently there are 16 operational Orange doors across the state and the aim by the end of the year is to have 18.

On this one here I’ve got my address, my details which is the Orange Door at north East Melbourne’s phone number is 1800319355.  I was to copresent with my colleague Carmel who works in the inner Gippsland area Orange Door but unfortunately she was unavailable to come today.  Her phone number is 1800319354.

Next slide please.

So what is the Orange Door?  Really we’re a specialised in take service for family violence and child wellbeing.  We’re a referral point for all families, children, older people experiencing family violence.  So victim survivors come through to us as well as men and women who may perpetrate family violence and as well we also support and provide access to in take for the care and wellbeing of children and young people.

We’re a short term, we’re not a case management service, we’re a short term service.  So initially our role is really gathering all the information around what constitutes family violence, understanding risk, doing very thorough risk assessments as well as comprehensive child wellbeing assessments, safety planning, also understanding what the issues are and the context for each member of the family, so the parents, family members, children as well.

We then provide allocations and referrals outwards to the most appropriate services in the community who can respond and continue on providing support for those people who have experienced family violence and may need support with caring for their family and their children.

Next slide please.

So we’re talking about family violence today and Jen’s already gone through family violence protection act which is quite comprehensive and came out in 2018.

Family violence incorporates a whole lot of areas as well as physical, which could be kicking, pushing, punching, slapping, hitting, it could be psychological which may include threats to harm, to kill, intimidation and gaslighting.  As well as that there’s stalking, which will be following a person, harassing them, checking their social media, emails, vehicles.

We have had people who come into the Orange Door who have talked about their vehicles being impacted.  There may be tracking devices placed on it.  Secret cameras recording as well.  There’s social and that’s about really not allowing and preventing partners from seeing friends, accessing social events.  It may be their religious events or cultural events but the partner or the person is inhibiting them from accessing that and seeking the support they would normally have.

It could be sexual.  It could be rape, it could be making someone unwillingly do sexual acts, being forced to watch pornography and reproductive coercion also about their fertility rights.

Another area of family violence is financial.  We see a lot of this.  It’s controlling employment, taking control of money, assets, keeping track on what people are spending, their income, so really controlling their ability to be financially independent.

It would be emotional, a lot of name calling, putdowns, humiliating, degrading behaviour towards a person, making them feel worthless and reducing their ability to have value in themselves.

Spiritual, and I’ve already mentioned that a bit, not allowing someone to practise their beliefs which is huge.  For many people in our society their religious belief and their spiritual and cultural belief and connections are really important and create who we are as people and if someone controls that it once again reduces our ability to have any control or independence or feeling of self-worth.

Family violence covers a whole lot of areas and controls who we are as people and how we feel safe within society.  Some of the red flags that really are important, I guess, as carers or people living with people or supporting people with disability as to everyone else to keep in mind is that controlling behaviour.

If you notice there is an escalation of violence, and I’ve already gone through what the violence may look like and be like.  If you notice, escalation of that.

Another area of stalking that we’ve talked about, that jealous, obsessive behaviour, not allowing people to even meet their family or friends, and it may be just someone saying look, stay with me this weekend or stay with me.  You don’t need to go out.  Stay here with me.  Be with me.  Why do we need other people in our lives?  We’ve got each other.

Alone that might not be something, but together with other things it may actually be a real indicator or there may be family violence happening.

Threats to kill.  Strangulation is a huge one.  People actually put their arms around someone’s throat and press on that is a major concern.  Threats to harm, threats to harm children is another major one for us.  We’re really concerned about the impact of family violence on children, how it may harm them.  They may not be physically present or hurt, but it impacts on their wellbeing as they grew up is immense.

If you notice someone has access to a weapon or threatens to use a weapon or may purchase a weapon that’s a red flags as well.  When a perpetrator or someone who is in violence threatens to kill themselves or threatens suicide that can also be used as a bit of a coercive way as well.  People using drugs and alcohol, that increases.  Sexual assault.

Once again another really major one is threats or harm to animals.  That’s always really a huge red flag to be aware of.

Pregnancy and birth.  That’s a high risk area.  We worry about that when a person becomes pregnant, it may change the relationship or a perpetrator may feel and believe it changed their relationship and their amount of control over that person.

The same with someone leaving.  That’s also another huge  can be a red flag, when someone makes a decision to leave a relationship, unless it’s in a really planned way and a really well thought out way that can be a really high risk area as well.

How do you know if someone you’re working with someone you know, a loved one is actually being affected by family violence.  People become really careful of hiding things.  A lot of shame.  People can feel embarrassed.  They can feel they’re not doing the right thing, they take a lot of guilt on.  So people become good at hiding this.

Some things to look out for, and alone they may be part of that person’s normal personality or their behaviour, but combined with other things it may be really something to be aware of.  The person may suddenly appear more, anxious, withdrawn, not wanting to associate with you or not wanting to do the usual things they find pleasure in.  They may appear over eager to please their partner or the person perpetrating violence, putting their own self second best and really wanting to make sure they’re okay and worried about them.

They may suddenly feel like they have a lack of ability to make decisions on the spot and they may say I can’t do that.  I have to check with this person.  I have to see if it’s okay with them.  I better make sure they’re happy with this.  They may make comments to you which may suggest their life is being controlled and monitored.  That may be about  I have to check in.  No, I don’t think I should do that this weekend.  I better make sure they’re okay about this.  I better see if they’re okay, if I can get permission to do that.

Anything that suggests in a way there’s someone who’s making decisions on their behalf, it’s taking away their power and control to do that.  They decline invitations, deny everything is the matter when you ask them if they’re okay.  Children may appear to be fearful of a parent or not want to spend time with them.

It’s always good  if any of these things present for you it’s always good to be curious.  Feel a bit curious about it.  Ask some questions.  Are you okay?  Is everything alright?  Are you feeling safe?

The person may not have finances to pay for things independently and that may be a real change.  Suddenly they say look I haven’t got money for that or I’ll have to check with so and so to see if I can have access to money for this.

Of course there may be evidence of injuries.  There may be some bruising, some marking that’s unexplained or they can’t explain or you’re not satisfied with the explanation given.  Depending on your relationship with them, if it’s feeling safe for you, once again I think it’s okay to ask are you okay?

What do you do?  Once again, listen.  Use that active listening.  Listen without judgment.  Listen with curiosity.  Inquire.  Do you have this?  Are you okay?  Is there anything I can do for you?  What do you need?  Validate.  Listen.  Show you understand.  Also it’s really important for a person to feel that they’re not guilty, it’s not their fault.  So validate.  Let them know that what they’re experiencing is not okay and it’s not their fault.

Support.  Connect them to services.  Find out about services.  The Orange Door website is a fantastic search engine where you can type in a suburb or a postcode and it will show up with family violence and child wellbeing supports in that area.  Eventually by the end of this year, 2022, there’ll be 18 Orange Doors across the state.  They’re operational Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

Enhance safety.  If appropriate and you feel comfortable doing this and you’re okay to do this, discuss a plan.  Talk to them about things that may help them feel safe.  Let them know about services, and even if you’re able to, support them to access services.

Here are some numbers and information.  We’ve already heard about 1800 RESPECT.  That’s a national service available 24 hours to respond to your needs.  The Orange Door, the website is www.orangedoor…as I said it’s a great search engine for services in your area.

Safe Steps is a 24hour, seven days a week service also statewide and the Orange Door works very closely with Safe Steps.  They’re a crisis support for women and children experiencing family violence.

Men’s Referral Service, which is 1300766491 and www.mrs…which is a nationwide service also for men who use violence and to support men and help men access services and support.  They want to make changes.

The other one which is really important to know is in touch which is a multicultural centre against family violence.  Their number is 1800755988.  They respond to women from multicultural backgrounds who are experiencing violence and they work very closely with places like the Orange Door also in collaboration to ensure it’s a really comprehensive response.

I think this brings me to the end of my presentation, but I’m happy to answer questions later on as they arise.

Thank you.

Jen Hargrave:
Thank you so much Del.  Those facts that you took us through are going to be really helpful for people and something we can go back and think about down the track and also your point around validating the person, showing them you believe them and letting them know the violence is not their fault is particularly important for people with disabilities because we’re so often led to believe that we don’t deserve safety because we’re disabled.

Thank you so much, Del.

At the end of Del’s presentation she mentioned Safe Steps, the 24hour crisis response service around family violence here in Victoria.  Our next speaker is from Safe Steps.  Natasha is going to take us through the crisis fund hosted at Safe Steps.  Over to you Tash

NATASHA JONES:
Thank you very much Jen.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  I also want to pay my respects to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work.  I want to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, recognising that sovereignty was never ceded.  I also want to pay my respects to all First Nations people with disability and to any First Nations people that might be here with me today.

We’ve had a bit of a conversation about what violence can look like in a lot of different ways, but I just want to have a bit of a discussion on what we call disability based family violence.

Disability based family violence is family violence that uses a person’s disability against them as a way to initiate, maintain or extend the family violence.  So this can be things like over medicating someone so they are not as aware, under medicating someone so that they become more unwell, breaking or hiding mobility aids which is something that we see quite a lot, and also withholding or controlling when services can enter the home or whether they can enter the home at all.

In terms of accessing services, people with a disability experience specific barriers related to their disability in being safe.  So some of these barriers might include inaccessible services.  For example, for someone that is deaf and it might be a phone only service, or there might be a lack of accessible information to the person, so things not being in easy English or things not being written in the format that people need it in.

There’s also negative societal perceptions of people with disability.  Like Jen mentioned, the belief of some people with a disability that they don’t deserve to be safe, they don’t deserve to have happy relationships.  That can be really a barrier to reporting and disclosing as well.

For people with physical disabilities there are also specific barriers that might relate to their mobility.  So if they have an electric wheelchair that’s quite bulky it might be quite hard for them to break that down and transport in a crisis.

As Jen also mentioned, we do have the disability family violence crisis response initiative brokerage which is supported to the DFCRI.  It’s a specific brokerage that supports victim survivors with a disability that are experiencing family violence to help meet their disability needs in the short term.  I’m going to go more into that in a second, but now I’m just going to go into some brief things.

It really is a crisis fund.  We usually say about four weeks, but that can be extended depending on the circumstances and also the amount of funding.  It depends on someone’s individual circumstances and needs.  So we don’t put a number on that because we recognise that every situation is different.

In terms of who is eligible for the funding, it’s people with a disability who are recognised under the disability Act.  This includes people with a mental illness, people with a chronic health condition and also people who have a temporary or permanent injury resulting from family violence.  For example, an ablebodied person who has sustained a temporary injury, for example, broken leg in escaping from the family violence, would also be eligible for this funding.

It’s really important to note also that clients are not required to be on the DSP or accessing the NDIS to be eligible for this support.  I would actually say that most of our clients that access this funding aren’t on the NDIS.

Here we have some brief examples of some of the supports that have been recently provided.  For example, we funded support workers to attend our emergency accommodation for a client that had ASD so they were supported during their stay in emergency accommodation and that allowed the worker to action an urgent plan review.

We also funded an Auslan interpreter and a deaf interpreter to enable the risks assessment to be accessible for that client when they entered refuge, and there was also a case where a woman came into emergency accommodation where her disability and equipment was unsafe so we liaised with the client’s NDIS support coordinator to advocate for additional NDIS funding and during that timeframe when we were advocating the support coordinator was able to complete that and we funded a walker in the intermediate.

We also quite often fund things like bed…and shower chairs because, like I said, they can be quite difficult to bring with.

We’ve talked a bit about the funding so I just want to briefly talk a little bit about our consultative services.  Disability liaison officers at Safe Steps are available to consult Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.  We can consult with any professional in any sector who is supporting someone with a disability that’s impacted by family violence.  We provide resources, information and support.

It’s really important to note that in providing that support we don’t provide case management and don’t work directly with clients except in exceptional circumstances, but we’re more than happy to chat with yourself as a professional and work through the situation that’s happening for your client to provide the best support for them.

So how do you access a consultation with us?  The best way to get in touch with us is by contacting [email protected] or you can also call us on 1800085188.

Does anybody have any questions?

JEN HARGRAVE;
Thanks Natasha.  We’re going to hold off with questions until the end.  Thank you so much for that presentation.

I think the way you took us through the examples of what the fund can do gives us a really clear idea of what’s available through Safe Steps.  I think too that many of you will agree with me in seeing this as a really critical fund because we know that there are so many barriers to getting an NDIS plan or changing an NDIS plan and as you said

NATASHA JONES:
There really are

JEN HARGRAVE:
As you said, in fact only 11 per cent of Australians with disability receive the NDIS so this is such an important fund.  Thank you Natasha

NATASHA JONES:
It’s also the only fund of its kind in Australia which I think is also really important to make note of.

Thank you

JEN HARGRAVE:
And a shoutout to the disability services also who joined us in advocating for the funding to be continued.  I think as a coalition we were quite strong in arguing for this funding to be maintained in Victoria.

Now another really essential part of the family violence service system is legal supports and now we’re going to hear from Rachel from Women’s Legal Service.  Over to you Rachel

RACHEL SHULKES:
Thank you so much.  It’s almost good afternoon everyone.  Thank you so much for having me.  My name is Rachel.  I’m one of the legal educators at Women’s Legal Service Victoria.

Before I begin I would also like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land.  I’m on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.  I would like to pay my respects to elders past and present and I would also like to acknowledge that this land is stolen land that has never been ceded.

So Women’s Legal Service is a specialist community legal service.  We specialise in relationship breakdown and violence against women.  What that means is we offer free legal services to women and people who identify as female in the areas of family law, family violence, child protection, victims of crime and migration law.

We’re also really interested in not only what the law is, but what the law should be.  So we do lots of work in policy and in law reform.  We do education and engagement, which is me right now, and we also have a holistic wraparound service.  So we have financial counsellors and social workers who work alongside our lawyers to support clients in the most difficult times.

I’m going to talk to you today using the lens of a case study and I must confess I’m a former high school teacher so I often teach or share knowledge through case studies just to really make sure the message I’m wanting to send is coming across.

We’re going to pretend that we’re working with Mavis.  Mavis recently left her husband George.  There was a history of family violence, including psychological abuse and economic abuse.  Following the birth of their child Sally the violence escalated and became physical.  Mavis, who you’re working with and maybe advocating for, tells you that her husband threatened to contact child protection if she ever left him, and following separation George, who is her husband, lost his job.

In that story we’ve seen some really clear red flags.  We’ve seen a recent separation, we’ve seen the escalation of family violence to physical violence, George has lost his job so there’s economic uncertainty, and there are threats.

I really appreciated the language that was just used about disability based violence because the threat to call child protection I think has a greater weight for Mavis who has a disability.  George has contacted Mavis regularly asking to see Sally.  Mavis does not believe it’s safe for George to see Sally and Mavis is very concerned that George could attend the childcare and take Sally.  She’s also worried that she has no money and is currently finding it really hard to support Sally by herself on a pension.

So part of my presentation today is really narrowing in on what are the legal issues that are present for both Mavis and Sally and what could be a possible legal response.  So

we know that Mavis has immediate concerns for her safety of herself and also of her child Sally.  An immediate response might be contacting the police and taking out and asking the police to take out an intervention order that protects her and protects Sally from George.  Now Mavis might be reluctant to go to the police.  She might have had bad experiences with the police in the past.  So she could also contact the court directly, the magistrates court, and make her own application for that immediate protection to stop George coming anywhere near herself and also Sally.   George has been asking to see their baby.  George has been asking to see Sally.

So straight away we’ve got a parenting legal issue.  Mavis needs legal advice about what her options are under family law.  She needs to know that she does not have to send Sally if she doesn’t believe it is safe to do so.  Under family law in parenting matters George does not have rights.  He’s got responsibilities as a parent and it’s Sally, their baby, who has the right to have a meaningful relationship with her parents, provided it’s safe.

Mavis is also worried that George is going to contact child protection and really start a process that removes Sally from Mavis’ care.  Mavis needs legal advice to know how likely this is and also what protective measures Mavis can take so that child protection won’t become involved.

Mavis has no access to finances, no access to money.  She needs legal advice about her entitlements under a property settlement.  If Mavis was to divorce George before she starts any action to divide property, and property is not just houses or cars, it can also be superannuation.  If she was to divorce George she would only have 12 months to access the Family Court.  So getting this legal advice early at the time of separation, before a divorce happens, is very important.

Mavis is also a victim of a crime.  George has been physically violent towards her.  She may have eligibility under the victims of crime assistance tribunal.  That’s very important that she lodges that application within two years of that act of violence occurring.

So what would happen if Mavis did not seek legal advice?  Assuming the worst, if she didn’t seek legal advice she may not have the protection of an intervention order, she may not know that she has a right to obtain an intervention order to protect herself and Sally against George.  Without that intervention order there could be a flow on effect.  George could attend the childcare and collect Sally because nothing would be preventing him from doing so.

Mavis may not understand that she doesn’t actually have to allow George to see Sally.  In turn, child protection may become involved as they say Mavis is not acting protectively.  She’s not protecting Sally from George and then child protection becomes involved.  So this is the worst case scenario.

Also Mavis may not know her entitlements to money and items to assist her in recovery through victims of crime and she may also not seek any entitlements under a property settlement.  So she may be financially worse off.

So to access the Women’s Legal Service your clients can access Women’s Legal Service only through you because unfortunately clients cannot directly call the Women’s Legal Service to self-refer.  We operate on a worker referral service.  So worker and advocates refer in and not the client.

We will provide assistance to clients who identify as female who require assistance with a problem that relates to family law, family violence, child protection, victims of crime or migration law.

We have an intake lawyer who will ask you specific questions about your client’s financial situation as well to make sure that they’re eligible for our service.  We do try to provide a service to as many people who call through, but as we only have a certain number of workers we have to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Our telephone number is 86220600, and our hours of work are Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

If you’re interested in learning more with how to identify legal issues in relation to family law, family violence and child protection, we offer free training and in the material that will be available to you after this training on this slide there’s a link for you to click on and you can register and it’s completely free and it’s online.

That is the end of my presentation.  Thank you so much.

JEN HARGRAVE:
Thank you so much Rachel.  I’ve got to say for many of the women who approach me finding advice about where they can find help, legal assistance is often the first thing that they want to know about and it’s often one of the most important things in helping them become safe.

Thank you for taking us through that.

I hope after hearing the three presentations that disability advocates are feeling like they don’t have to be so alone in thinking about what they can do for their clients.

Now we’re going to open it up for questions.  We’ll get joined by all the panel, and Damian is going to select some questions from the chat for us.

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Thank you very much the panel.  They were fantastic presentations.  Just before we do go to questions, we had a couple of comments about whether the slides will be available and the recording of the session.  They will be available on the DARU website after the session in about a week or so, so you’ll be able to access a copy of the slides as well as a copy of this presentation as well.

I’ll go to questions now.  I’m just going to look over on my other screen so you’ll have to excuse me as I read them out.  We got quite a few to get through so if we don’t get through them all we’ll, again, try and put them on our website in a week or so as well.

The first question is a long one so just bear with me as I read it out.

QUESTION:
There was mention at the start of the presentation around definitions of family violence and that the provision of care/sustenance was included which the questioner is taking to mean abuse by support staff can be included in this definition.  Does the Orange Door assist in situations that are beyond a definition of family violence, for example co-residents in a SIL setting with multiple people with disability living together, also known as group homes heading.  What about situations of violence in residential aged care where it’s resident to resident or other situations which might be a neighbour or a friend where it’s not necessarily a care/sustenance relationship.

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
This question is outside of Victoria, so he or she is also interested in knowing if it works in situations there as well

JEN HARGRAVE:
Look, each Act in each state and territory is different and in Victoria we had strong advocacy from Women with Disabilities Victoria and others in the family violence service system to say we needed disability based relationships recognised in the Act.

Having said that, I think when we’re talking about a disability service setting we have to recognise that that circumstance and that environment and those relationships are primarily managed by a disability service provider or, for example, if it’s a mental health facility by often the State Government.

So first primarily to recognise where the ultimate responsibility for that environment sits, but it’s a great question in terms of what the Orange Door might do.  I’ll hand over to Del

DEL AULICH:
Thanks Jen.  That’s a really interesting one isn’t it.  I think what Jen said is right, really it’s about the organisation or the people providing that service, that company, that really have the responsibility to maintain a safe environment for its residents really.  I think that’s really important to bear in mind.

What would the Orange Door do?  We’re fortunate in Victoria, and also fortunate in where I am in north East Melbourne area, that we have  there has been employed specialist family violence disability practice leaders.  So one of the things we would do, we would consult with them around any situation that we felt that was outside our expertise or outside our area, or a little bit unique.  I think in that situation there we would certainly consult with them and I guess try and provide a response.

Anyone who accesses the Orange Door we will try and provide some response, whether it’s in our realm to provide a service system response or to seek other consult and seek support from other areas of expertise, but then try and provide a response based on each individual case around who may be best able to respond and whether we think there may be a need to call the police in.

Once again depending upon the definition, whether it’s a criminal situation or a civil situation.  But we would actually do a very thorough assessment and then consult and then hopefully try and provide a response as to where the best pathway would be.

So each situation would be unique, but once again just echoing what Jen said really, service providers have a responsibility to provide a safe environment and that’s part of their realm as well

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Thank you.  Question 2, the questioner has asked:

QUESTION:
Is the DFVCRI support available for all genders and ages and is this provided by Safe Steps for all of member?  Are there any eligibility requirements around what area a person is living in?

NATASHA JONES:
The fund will support people of any gender identity.  That includes trans people, nonbinary people and any other gender identity.

There is no restriction in terms of location.  We support all of Victoria.  It doesn’t matter what area a person is living in, as long as it’s in Victoria we can support them

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Thank you.  Next question.

QUESTION:
How do people with disability link into services when they are homeless or couch surfing?

JEN HARGRAVE:
Del do you want to start us off on that one?

DEL AULICH:
Yep.  The Orange Door, as I said, we’ll have 18 Orange doors across the state and our main thing is really there’s no wrong door.  If you can go to any Orange Door and expect to get the same response.

So we would do once again an assessment, we would look at risks, do a very thorough, comprehensive risk assessment under the…gather other information and once we’ve done that we’re intake and assessment only and our main role then is trying to refer out to the most appropriate services who could then continue on with the supports you need.

So even if you are moving around a bit, you might be in our area for this week but next week you might be somewhere else, so your supports to another Orange Door in another area, but really you should be able to access any Orange Door no matter where you are and we will do as much as we can around comprehensive assessment, intake procedures and then hopefully refer you on to the most appropriate services that you need.

JEN HARGRAVE:
It’s such an important question because we do know that family violence continues to be the biggest cause of homelessness in Victoria particularly for women.

Rachel and Natasha, I don’t know if you wanted to add anything about people working with your services who don’t have an address

NATASHA JONES:
I was just thinking I’m aware that there is an app called ‘Ask Issy’ which is supposed to be very good, I’m just not sure how accessible it is

JEN HARGRAVE:
Thanks Natasha.  That’s to help people find crisis accommodation, that app?

NATASHA JONES:
It’s an app that has links to a number of different services

RACHEL SHULKES:
Rachel here.  We do work with a lot of people who are in refuge or who are between accommodation, who are couch surfing and who are indeed homeless.  The only difficulty is they cannot refer directly into Women’s Legal Service.  It has to come through a worker, so through an advocate like yourself or through an Orange Door practitioner, through Safe Steps and so on, but not having an address is not a barrier.  In fact it’s all too common, as Jen was saying

DEL AULICH:
Also the Orange Door too, we’re Monday to Friday, so Monday to Friday 9 to 4.

We also, following an assessment, if someone has become homeless because of family violence and they need crisis accommodation, each Orange Door can provide access to crisis accommodation and brokerage to assist people to stay in crisis accommodation and then link them into other services as required.

That’s 9 to 4.  Following that Safe Steps will pick that up after hours and continue with that, but that’s an important element for people to be aware of I think as well

JEN HARGRAVE:
I think too, Del, in terms of that outreach function of the Orange Doors, if the person was able to meet an outreach worker, somewhere they felt safe and was reasonably suitable for a meeting, it wouldn’t have to be in someone’s home would it?

DEL AULICH:
So once again part of our model is to do that, and I guess during COVID we didn’t do much of that, but once again once we’ve done a thorough sort of risks assessment and it’s deemed the most appropriate way to do that we certainly can.

A lot of our work is done over the phone or by emails as well.  So, you know, we don’t necessarily have to see someone, but we try and make ourselves as accessible as we possibly can so hopefully we can be flexible in how people can access us.

JEN HARGRAVE:
I think that sounds really important because I’m thinking about say doing a preliminary risks assessment with someone who has a few communication access barriers or to build up trust and rapport for someone who has experienced a lot of abuse in disability services and across multiple factors of their life, a FACE TO FACE outreach meeting might be the best way to go.  It’s good that there is that option if needed.

Thanks.  Damian.  Maybe we’ll try the next question

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Yes.  Next question.

QUESTION:
Do violence services staff have training in disability awareness?  My experience is that they refer back to disability service providers.

JEN HARGRAVE:
This is a real issue.  If you’re finding the family violence system is turning you away and it’s not making sense why, I think you’re really worth pushing back around that.

The first thing might be to do is to ask them to do a family violence risk assessment with your client before they decide to turn your client away.

I don’t know, folks on the panel, if you want to add anything to that.

DEL AULICH:
I would like to from the Orange Door perspective.  Once again I would be horrified someone who actually was experiencing family violence was turned away from us because they had a disability of any sort or deemed that they may not be able to access our service.

We’re open to everyone.  That’s our motto is everyone is able to access family violence response from us.

Look, we have a statewide inclusion plan and certainly responding to or working in a much more effective way, accessible and responsive way with people who have a disability is certainly a priority for us.  We’re learning all the time and I guess we’re really trying to prioritise different learnings so we actually can  we know how to ask questions, we know how to understand, we know how to conduct risk assessments with people who perhaps may have communication needs or other areas that make it more tricky for them.  Certainly we are learning.

As I said, in our area we have a family violence disability practice lead who we can consult with.  So we’re not there yet, but I think we are really acknowledging we have to do better in that area

NATASHA JONES:
I’ll just step in for a second there.  I would like to just acknowledge those efforts and I have seen an increase in the amount of really positive support that provided to clients with a disability experiencing family violence.

Like you said Del they are not fully there yet, but it is changing for the better.  That being said, though, I do see sometimes it’s more often not family violence workers, but more  sometimes support workers say to myself and my colleague oh, I’m not sure if she would be able to communicate well enough or I’m not sure if she would understand what the purposes of the risk assessment is, so just making assumptions on peoples capacity is something that I have seen.

JEN HARGRAVE:
Yep.  Rachel, was there anything you wanted to add?

RACHEL SHUKES:
I think we can all do better.  I think the legal system and some of the behaviours of some of the key players, whether they be lawyers, whether they be child protection services or Victoria Police can be very ableist.

We’re not afraid to call that out and also to put a mirror up to ourselves and say we need to hear from people with lived experience on how we can do better.

JEN HARGRAVE:
I think that’s a great spot for us to draw a line under the questions.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions.  It’s fantastic to hear Damian that we can save those that we haven’t been able to answer and go back to them via the website to try and address answers to all of those.

It is also a good point to finish up on to remember one of the aims in putting together today’s session was to be thinking about how our sectors can be working together more.  I would love for disability advocates to know that they don’t have to be alone in supporting a client experiencing family violence and that they are able to have expectations that the family violence service system will be there for them.

Unfortunately there may be times where you need to be advocating that your client does need a face to face outreach session or your client does need longer appointment times, or maybe that risk assessment wasn’t done appropriately and needs to be done again under better, more conducive situations.

So you might be picking up times when the service system has made mistakes or asking the system to do better, just as we do with the NDIA and the education department and all the other systems that unfortunately we are coming up against in our work all the time.

I would like to so much thank our top lineup of speakers.  You’ve been fantastically generous with your time.  If we were doing this…but I think you’ve really given us a terrific starting point and a map to the system to some really essential touch points in the system.

Thanks to all of you disability advocates who joined us today and made time for this important topic.

Thanks also to our interpreters and our tech crew, and of course thank you to the fabulous DARU, Natasha, Damian and Melissa.  A lot of that work has been behind the scenes, but thank you again and we hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

DAMIAN CAVENAGH:
Yes, thank you very much Jen, Natasha, Rachel and Del for a brilliant presentation today.  It’s been very important and informative for all of us and we appreciate you all sharing your knowledge.

Everyone we’ve come to a close for the last session of this series.  Thank you again to the Auslan interpreters and the captioners for their hard work today.  Thank you show division for bringing together the production for us all today.

Have a wonderful week everyone and see you next time.  Bye for now

 

Additional Questions

these questions were submitted on the day but there wasn’t enough time to respond.  the panel took them on board and responded after the event.

QUESTION:
Where VLA appointed Lawyer is involved but underperforming (lacking disability understanding), is it possible to make referral to WLSV?

RACHEL SHULKES:
I am so sorry to hear that. I think that it is worthwhile calling our intake lawyer to discuss the situation .  (03) 8622 0600

COMMENT:
Thanks for that feedback – appreciate the responsibility sitting elsewhere – but conscious there is not always the level of specialist violence expertise in those services.

QUESTION:
Or perhaps there are better approaches re training in Victoria on this topic?  (In my location we have disability staff turnover issues affecting ability to maintain a trained workforce)

JEN HARGRAVE:
Training has an important role to play to support workforces to provide appropriate services to disabled people experiencing family violence. We also need to see government encouraging retaining staff in front line jobs so staff can build skills and learn from each other. We need more staff supervision from experienced frontline workers and we need the option of longer appointment times for disabled people.

QUESTION:
Since WLS has refused clients direct access many women have missed out on advice because it can take 3 to 6 months for case allocation particularly in regional south west Victoria. The more service barriers disabled women encounter the poorer the outcomes.

RACHEL SHULKES:
Thanks for sharing, I am happy to take this feedback to the CEO and directors.

QUESTION:
Jen mentioned that people experiencing violence always want to know about legal support.  What type of things are they generally asking about that is legal specific?

JEN HARGRAVE:
When people are considering escaping violence they may start to plan how to separate their economic ties and their parenting ties from the person who uses violence.  They might need advice about how to prepare for that, and which documents to pack for their escape. Some people consider these things before getting an intervention order.

In some instances the person using violence is the guardian and / or nominated NDIS contact. In these instances, it may be helpful to get advice from Office of the Public Advocate and / or NDIA.

RACHEL SCHULKES:
There are critical legal issues that can arise upon separation that relate to safety, housing, children and finances. Women want to know how to keep their children safe from their ex partner, whether they have entitlements in relation to property division ( example  cars, homes, superannuation, bank), if they are on a visa whether they can remain in Australia, if they are a victim of a crime whether they will receive any entitlements to assist in their recovery. Just to name a few! These issues can be time sensitive so early legal advice is crucial.

COMMENT:
i think it should also be mentioned that community legal services can be a useful resource for situations of family violence as they are easily accessible (i.e. most have a weekly drop-in service where lawyers are available to give advice for people who just attend) and can not only be a source of advice because they can do some legal work if they have capacity and/or can help put people in contact with local family lawyers.

RESPONSE:
Absolutely it is important for all advocates to know where their local community legal service and Legal Aid commission is located.

To find your local community legal service please go to this link https://www.fclc.org.au/find_a_community_legal_centre