By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser
The April report took a look at what life at home now looked like for families in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The July report expands on the impact of COVID-19 with reporting in the context of family violence, and highlights proposed changes to legislation inspired by the horrific death of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her children.
The already complex and numerous concerns regarding family violence have been heightened behind closed doors since the lockdown required under COVID-19. Concerningly, the number of children aged five to 12 years calling Kids Helpline spiked 25 per cent during COVID-19 compared to previous months (https://www.smh.com.au/national/kids-in-crisis-what-worries-us-is-the-ones-who-are-staying-silent-20200513-p54sjk.html). Queensland police faced the grim milestone of being on track to hit a record number of family violence occurrences, with 96,364 recorded so far – an increase of 8% on last year (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-26/queensland-domestic-violence-matters-of-state-politics/12369878?nw=0). The Queensland government had announced $5.5 million in funding for family violence, with support service DV Connect to receive $1.5 million, $1.7 million allocated for crisis accommodation, $1.8 million for enhanced services, with the remainder going towards an awareness campaign (https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-queensland-domestic-violence-support-services-get-funding-boost-amid-increased-demand/156cf98c-24e1-4cc0-aa98-5d0632d22efc). Finally, Brisbane City Council have adopted a domestic violence strategy which some argue, although a welcome step forward, does not go far enough (https://www.theage.com.au/national/queensland/domestic-violence-strategy-a-first-step-for-brisbane-city-council-20200526-p54wll.html).
Post Separation Family Violence
With family violence services generally focused on the intervention, assessment and crisis stages, a gap exists in support for mothers and children in the years following separation when court ordered contact arguably provides protracted opportunities for perpetrators of family violence to harass, abuse, and control their ex-partners and children. For those interested, Women’s Safety have conducted a survey of their members and released a full report on child contact, shared care, and family law in the context of family violence and COVID-19 (https://www.womenssafetynsw.org.au/impact/publication/child-contact-shared-care-family-law-in-the-context-of-dfv-covid-19/). The Commonwealth government has announced that it will provide $13.5 million to fund a risk screening and triage pilot in Adelaide, Parramatta, and Brisbane registries of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This pilot, implemented under the Lighthouse Project, is a welcome step to improving safety for women and children in the family law system.
This year bore witness to the horrific murder by a perpetrator of family violence of Hannah Clarke and her young children, that again highlighted the need to keep in public view women’s experiences of violence and trauma after separation. Family violence is a social problem that remains an indictment on our society. The Clarke murders provided yet another pivotal moment in which all Australian governments charged with monitoring perpetrator risk and keeping women and children safe, could further understand the risk posed by coercive control. The evidence base on coercive control is well established, but it is yet to be translated into comprehensive training for frontline practitioners outside the specialist family violence sector in Australia (https://inqld.com.au/politics/2020/05/22/short-lived-domestic-violence-inquiry-sent-precisely-the-wrong-message/).
Hannah Clarke’s murder also inspired the introduction of a new bill to parliament by Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett. This private member’s bill is aimed at removing what Mr Perrett describes as confusing laws around custody arrangements (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-15/family-law-changes-hannah-clarke-murder-introduced-parliament/12356476?fbclid=IwAR0I13cZKF9IL7HZlkqYHwJ4jZXHS2BCkT9nCp-DPvKfr3njMoDMewqBAhM). This important piece of legislation is supported by Women’s Legal Services (QLD) who have an information page and petition for those wanting to put their voice forward (https://womenslegalservice.good.do/putkidssafetyfirstinfamilylaw/putkidssafetyfirstinfamilylaw/)
In summary, a continuing focus within the Child, Youth, and Family portfolio of NCWQ is the post separation context and women and children’s experiences of coercive control and family violence. In that context I am working closely with my counterparts in the National Council of Women in NSW in drafting resolutions to be put forward for consideration at the 2020 Mid-Term Conference. Please feel free to contact me with any input you might have in this area.
Women with a Disability
Lastly, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is encouraging responses from individuals and organisations to the issues paper by 11 September 2020 on the experiences of First Nations people with a disability to share their views about what they think governments, institutions, and communities can do to prevent violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations peoples with a disability. The Royal Commission is interested in examples of laws, policies, and practices in different settings that are not working or not working well in areas such as education, healthcare, workplaces, the justice system, home, online communities, and families (https://disability.royalcommission.gov.au/publications/first-nations-people-disability-issues-paper).