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South Australia's new plan

zohra moosa
30 November 2007
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I had a chance to catch up with Sandy Pitcher, the Director of the Office for Women for the South Australian Government, today and took the opportunity to ask her about her office's work on violence against women. Turns out her team is currently trialling an innovative new programme of work based on a model used in Wales - and there are some lessons to be learned.

According to Sandy, the general picture of violence against women in South Australia is very similar to that of the UK, North America and parts of Western Europe. Unfortunately this does not hold true for Indigenous women: Indigenous women are disproportionately likely to be killed by their partners or face some other type of violence by a significantly higher order.

A review of experiences of women survivors of violence found that women were having to recount their stories up to ten different times as they tried to access different support agencies such as the police and health services. Further academic research analysing coroners' inquests found that coroners were reporting that many deaths could have been prevented if the government was more joined up. As it stood, women at high risk of being attacked were falling through the cracks because different government areas were not speaking to each other about their cases.

Lesson #1: provide integrated services for victims
South Australia's new plan is called the Family Safety Framework (pdf) and includes a Women's Safety Framework (WSF). It aims to provide services that better respond to the needs of victims, including conducting preventative work with men.

Lesson #2: respond to the needs and calls of women survivors
The suggestion for the Framework came out of the 2005 Women's Safety Strategy Conference (annual conference held in conjunction with 16 Days) and has taken about a year to develop. Within it, there is a specific interest in serving the needs of Indigenous women, including responding to outcomes of the state and federal Aboriginal Women's Gatherings.

Lesson #3: facilitate coordination and proactivity of specialist service providers
The WSF uses a high-risk case model whereby the different support agencies meet fortnightly (and more often if needed) at a local level to discuss particular cases of concern at Family Safety Meetings. Each agency is responsible for flagging any cases it feels is high-risk to the others so that they can input from their files at the scheduled meeting. Eighteen services have already signed up, including the police, schools and ambulance services. Sandy is hopeful that eventually the model will be used to handle lower risk cases as well.

Lesson #4: respond to the specific needs of minority women
One of the trial sites is Port Augusta whose population is predominantly Indigenous. At the Family Safety Meetings, an Indigenous Elder is invited to provide additional guidance on appropriate culturally specific responses. For example, in many rural areas where Indigenous women live, there are no safe houses meaning they cannot be taken out of their homes and must be cared for in other ways. Many Indigenous women have been calling for increased police presence as a lack of police is another challenge in rural areas.

Lesson #5: secure buy-in from the top to drive through change
The biggest hurdle to implementing this sensible plan was securing agreement from the police that they would share information from their cases with other service providers. Understandably there were concerns about confidentiality. The issue was resolved by focusing on the ‘high risk' element of the cases: guidelines outline the test of ‘reasonable belief that someone is at risk' as a way to assess the suitability of sharing information. How did this happen? According to Sandy it was the leadership of the South Australian police, particularly some excellent women at senior levels of the force, that led to the changes.

The trial has now been in place for about six months and is due for review after a year.

Photo by CasaDeQueso, shared under a Creative Commons license

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