December 2021 newsletter stories
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Future-proofing Safety – A major project examining family violence in Victoria during COVID-19
We are proud to partner with Drummond Street’s Centre for Family Research and Evaluation (CFRE) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) on the Futureproofing Safety – COVID-19 and family violence in Victoria project.
Commissioned by Family Safety Victoria, this ambitious mixed methods project will explore how family violence in Victoria has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The research will span the breadth of Victoria’s community services system to understand how services have responded to family violence during COVID-19, and recognising that people who experienced or used family violence during this period may have accessed the service system in a range of ways other than through specialist family violence services.
The project will look at how services adapted, what gaps and weaknesses surfaced, and how services responded to the crisis. It will also take a future focus by providing tangible recommendations on how we can future-proof Victoria’s responses to family violence post-COVID.
Within the wider project which is being led by CFRE, the CIJ will be responsible for multiple strands of data collection and analysis, including:
- place-based and discipline-specific sector focus groups to explore the experiences of practitioners delivering services in the context of COVID-19;
- a case file review of MARAM risk assessment tools and associated safety plans to identify themes and patterns in relation to people’s presenting needs, risk factors and service pathways; and
- interviews with people who experienced and/or used family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand the needs and goals with which they presented to the system, and the extent to which these were able to be met.
If your organisation would like to know more about the project, or to contribute to any components of the research, please contact Riley Ellard at email@example.com. You can also see project updates here.
Research to ensure that Aboriginal perspectives inform responses to Aboriginal victims of crime
The CIJ has recently embarked on an exciting new project, jointly commissioned by the Koori Justice Unit (KJU) and Victim Services, Support and Reform (VSSR) at the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
Building on a key finding of the CIJ’s earlier Victim Services Review – which highlighted that Aboriginal people are over-represented as victims of crime but under-represented as clients of specialist victim services – the research will aim to engage with Aboriginal people across Victoria who have experienced crime victimisation and harm, and to explore their experiences interacting with the justice system and wider service system through yarning circles and individual yarns.
The work will be led by a Project Steering Committee comprised of our project partners Djirra, Dardi Munwurro and Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women’s Service (EMHAWS), as well as VSSR’s recently appointed Cultural Safety Practice Lead, the creation of which was a recommendation of the CIJ’s Victim Services Review. A senior representative from the Koori Engagement Worker network, which delivers services to Aboriginal victims of crime through the state-wide Victims Assistance Program, will also sit on the Committee.
The first stage of work has involved the establishment of a range of culturally-appropriate and supported recruitment pathways, including through our project partners, the Koori Engagement Worker network, and culturally-specific court-based services. In recognition of the fact that many Aboriginal people who come into contact with the service system in the context of their own offending have also experienced crime victimisation and harm, participants will also be recruited through culturally-specific roles and programs in custodial and corrections settings. We are also in the process of engaging with the nine Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees (RAJACs) to identify additional services from which Aboriginal people who have experienced harm may be receiving support. We look forward to formally commencing this important research in the new year, and to working with our project partners to strengthen supports for Aboriginal victims of crime.
CIJ and the Coronial Council working together to improve the experience of bereaved families in Victoria
The CIJ has been working closely with the Coronial Council of Victoria (the Council) on two different, but related, projects to improve the experience of bereaved family members as they navigate the coronial process.
The CIJ’s reports on both projects will inform the Council’s response to a reference from the Attorney-General of Victoria seeking advice on whether the current processes of the Coroners Court of Victoria (the Court) operate in a way that is responsive and sensitive to a range of bereaved family needs, and what changes should be made to improve the experiences of all Victorian families who engage with the coronial process.
For the first project, the CIJ interviewed 18 family members who had recently experienced the coronial process and 19 stakeholders who work within, or alongside the coronial process. Based on the interviews, the CIJ was asked to: document feedback and trends
- provide a thematic analysis of the responses
- describe the main points of frustration; and
- provide broad recommendations for changes within the coronial process.
The CIJ’s report was provided to the Council in October 2021. The CIJ was privileged to listen to the experience of family members as they recounted their experiences of the coronial system. We hope the report’s recommendations will ultimately lead to improvements for other families who may be required to make the same journey in the future.
The second project is still in progress and involves the CIJ identifying best practice restorative justice models tailored to the context of the Coroners Court. This accords with a proposal initially put forward by the CIJ in 2017, as part of the Council’s review of the appeal provisions of the Coroners Act 2008 (Vic). At that time, the CIJ proposed that the Court introduce restorative justice practices, including restorative justice conferencing, to complement established coronial processes.
The Council endorsed this proposal and the current project sees the CIJ collaborating closely with the Court and other stakeholders, as well as drawing on the learnings from bereaved families gathered in the first project, to develop a preferred model. Once completed, CIJ’s advice on a preferred model will be considered by the Council in its response to the Attorney in March 2022.
The VLRC recommends restorative justice as an option in response to sexual violence
Recently, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC)’s report ‘Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences’ was released. The report outlines an array of recommendations aimed at increasing the choices open to victim/survivors of sexual violence, and improving the responses they receive if they choose to engage the support service, heath and legal systems.
For us at the CIJ, the report’s focus on restorative justice is of key interest. We are delighted to see that the VLRC has endorsed the use of restorative justice in response to sexual violence. As the report states, ‘the time has come for restorative justice in Victoria.’ We couldn’t agree more!
The VLRC took the view that restorative justice should widen the justice options open to victim/survivors, and therefore should be an additional option that can operate alongside the criminal justice system. The report recommended that rather than being a pathway that can only be explored instead of a criminal prosecution, restorative justice should be available to victim/survivors who choose not to make a report to police, and also to those who choose to pursue a criminal prosecution.
The VLRC acknowledged that there are risks involved in using restorative justice in response to sexual violence, but went on to say that it is possible to address these through careful program design and a principle-based scheme.
Open Circle’s restorative justice work in the area of sexual violence was expressly recognised by the VLRC, who commented that this work should be encouraged to continue and develop. Indeed, doing so will be a key focus for Open Circle in 2022. We aim to expand the visibility of and access to restorative justice in response to sexual violence, so that all victim/survivors are aware that this is an option open to them, whether or not they choose to engage in it.