Screening for family violence does not always meet clients’ needs

Monday 5 June 2017

An illustration showing the effects of domestic violence.

Service providers need to better understand the relationship between family violence and housing status

In summary

  • Screening of family violence is irregular and does not always meet the needs of those seeking housing support
  • Women and children who have experienced  family violence do not always identify as survivors
  • Urgent need to integrate family violence identification and support into universal practice frameworks

The screening of family violence is irregular and does not always meet the needs of women and families seeking housing support, finds a new research report led by Swinburne researchers for Wesley Mission Victoria.  

The ‘First to Know, First to Act’ research report explores the best ways for universal service providers to identify and respond to women and children who have experienced  family violence, but do not specifically present or identify as a survivor.  

“Many women arrive at support agencies seeking assistance, citing relationship breakdown or financial difficulty, rather than family violence specifically,” says Swinburne lead researcher and research fellow, Dr Angela Spinney.

Dr Spinney says there is an urgent need to integrate family violence identification and support into universal practice frameworks.

“Service providers need to better understand the relationship between family violence and the effects on women’s and children’s housing status and their physical, mental, social, emotional and financial wellbeing.”

Janene Evans, Wesley Crisis and Homelessness Manager, says the research confirms the urgent need for universal service providers to enhance screening processes that correctly recognise women and children who are experiencing family violence.

“Many of the recommendations align with the State Government’s agenda to end family violence. They also support the Royal Commission’s finding that a universal approach to addressing family violence is the best way to ensure women and children receive the right support from the moment they reach out for help,” says Ms Evans.

“This approach will also enable service providers to have a greater role in rebuilding lives.

“Wesley is committed to leading the way in enhancing service delivery and we’re hopeful that service providers across Victoria will adapt to changes that prioritise the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Research findings

The research report found in instances where services fail to initially identify those experiencing family violence:

  • the planning for client safety can be inadequate
  • clients may not receive the information they need regarding their legal rights and safe housing options
  • clients may not be offered early intervention, support and recovery options.

As well as a review of the relevant literature regarding family violence and screening for family violence, the research report is based on findings from 30 interviews with staff working at community service providers and interviews with eight female former service clients who have had experiences of family violence. 

Report recommendations

  • Incorporating family violence screening conditions for universal services.
  • Staff to be routinely and adequately trained in this area, making them aware of the benefits of thorough screening.

Improved screening for family violence should allow clients to:

  • recognise the situation they are currently in
  • receive relevant information
  • access support and counselling to help them and their children deal with their experiences
  • achieve early recognition of patterns of abuse in future relationships
  • understand that the abusive relationship is not their fault
  • reduce incidence rates of family violence
  • reduce intergenerational transmission of family violence abuse.

The research report has been funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and is a collaboration between Wesley Mission Victoria and Swinburne University of Technology.