Experts say Australia is not equipped to keep at-risk families safe during a crisis: report

Experts say Australia is not equipped to keep at-risk families safe during a crisis: report

Australia must improve its front-line social services responses to reduce the impacts of large-scale disasters on vulnerable groups, according to a report released by Family Safety Victoria.

Future-proofing Safety: Surfacing inequality and building service capacity for crisis-ready responses highlights the significant challenges for people who experienced or used family violence during COVID-19.

Led by the Centre for Family Research and Evaluation at Drummond Street Services, RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the report presents a framework for how government, peak bodies and services can better prepare for future crises to future-proof the family violence and wider community service system.   

The research investigated how services across Victoria responded to family violence during COVID-19, revealing how family violence, sexual assault services and child protection responses were stretched.

It also highlighted a number of gaps and weaknesses within the current service system, raising concern for the system’s ability to withstand future disasters and increasingly common climate induced weather events.

15 September 2023


Elena Campbell, Associate Director of Research, Advocacy and Policy at the Centre for Innovative Justice, called for more government and service collaboration, adequate resourcing, increased funding and capacity building across all sectors to ensure the system is ready for the next time.

"The report has highlighted that prioritising those most in need is absolutely critical to reducing the risk of entrenching the level of disadvantage in the service system," she said.

The findings also highlight the increased demand for services across a broad array of sectors beyond family violence-specific organisations, and across diverse cohorts and communities.

Beth McCann, Director of the Centre for Family Research and Evaluation at Drummond Street, said the research found an increase in service demand during the pandemic for clients with disabilities, single-parented households, people who spoke a language other than English at home and for First Nations clients.

“We also found that young people identifying as LGBTIQA+ were at much higher risk, while visibility of children and young people overall during this time was lost to the system."

She said that crisis and disasters were becoming increasingly common and were no longer seen as one-off events and spoke to the need to future-proof the family violence service system in Victoria.

“Services must be able to support and promote safety for disadvantaged populations by considering the overlapping cycle of preparation, response, aftermath and review to prepare for future crises.”

Dr Rachel Carson, Executive Manager of Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the increase in service demand, as well as increased client needs and complexities had coincided with a range of complex staffing needs that continue to have a huge impact on the service system’s ability to respond to those seeking support.

“The high turnover in staff will likely continue to have broad reaching implications including a loss of corporate knowledge and professional experience, increased pressure on the existing workforce and a reduced capacity to transfer knowledge and build the skills of new graduates and the emerging workforce,” Carson said.

Drummond Street Services, GenWest and Good Shepherd also contributed to the report, which was funded by Family Safety Victoria.


Story: Katie Comas

15 September 2023


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.