Families Australia: submission to the Department of Social Services on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22: Recommendations for the Third Action Plan

AIM

This paper contains recommendations by Families Australia to contribute to the development of the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (the National Plan).

BACKGROUND

Since mid-2007, Families Australia has supported families and their children by convening the ‘Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australia’s Children’. This National Coalition is now a group of around 200 NGOs and academics committed to the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children. Families Australia, through the National Coalition, shares responsibility for driving implementation of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (the National Framework) with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments.

As recognized in the National Framework’s Third Action Plan, the co-occurrence of factors such as family violence, substance misuse, and mental illness are closely linked to child abuse and neglect. Child abuse and neglect, substance misuse and mental illness are also closely linked to family violence.

This co-occurrence was also previously recognized in a Child Aware Approaches initiative in 2011-2012 run by your department.  The initiative provided one-off funding to promote better understanding of the relationship between child abuse and neglect and family violence, mental illness and sexual abuse while recognizing that substance abuse issues may intersect with these issues.  Child Aware Approaches brought together the National Framework, the National Plan and National Mental Health Reform as they all recognized the need to intervene early, respond to risk factors, build protective factors and ensure better outcomes for children and young people.

Over the last six years of implementation of both the National Framework and the National Plan a number of national and jurisdictional inquiries have highlighted the ongoing need for improved information sharing, better service integration and responses to children and young people affected by family violence. More recent inquiries, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (2016) and the ACT Report of the Inquiry: Review of the system level responses to family violence in the ACT (2016), highlight the same areas of need and include similar recommendations.

Within the family violence service response sectors, children and young people continue to be seen as a secondary target group and not as primary victims of family violence. Both the family violence and child protection service systems have undergone some reform but remain fragmented and crisis driven. Research under the National Plan has had a minimal focus on children and young people.

As we are over half way through implementation of the National Framework and half way through implementation of the National Plan, the development of the Third Action Plan of the National Plan offers a closing window of opportunity to bring the work of these strategies together and achieve better outcomes for children and young people affected by family violence. With almost 117 children per day having a substantiation of child abuse and neglect we all need to focus our efforts on achieving better outcomes.

Families Australia acknowledges the linkages of the $5 million Women’s Safety Package under the National Plan with the Third Action Plan of the National Framework. This is a welcome initiative and should be supported by a greater emphasis in the Third Action Plan of the National Plan on the right of children and young people to be safe and free from violence. This would require a renewed commitment to collaboration between the National Plan and the National Framework and their implementation mechanisms.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Specifically, Families Australia seeks the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to include:

  • Practical strategies that put children and young people at the centre of the Third Action Plan
  • Research undertaken under the Third Action Plan to have a greater focus on keeping children and young people safe and free from family violence
  • Initiatives to better support the adolescent children of families affected by family violence, in particular young males, to break the cycle of violence
  • Service and funding reforms to reduce fragmented and crisis driven services and programs
  • Greater collaboration with the National Framework’s Third Action Plan, in particular with its focus on the First Thousand Days and child safe organisations.

Families Australia is willing to assist in this process to put children and young people at the centre of the Third Action Plan of the National Plan.