Tackling family violence in Victoria needs to be more about long-term systemic reforms rather than ticking off recommendations from the royal commission, the man charged with monitoring progress has told the Andrews Government.
The Labor Government has also been urged by the state’s auditor-general to fund more frontline child protection workers and look after the mental health of its current staff who are exposed to the same mental traumas as emergency services.
In his first report to the State Parliament, family violence reform implementation monitor Tim Cartwright found that “planning has been insufficient for a reform of this size”.
Tim Cartwright is a former senior police officer who now reports to Parliament on the royal commission’s recommendations. (AAP: Julian Smith)
“While I acknowledge that the harm caused by family violence requires urgent action, this urgency must be balanced with planning and ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the reform and the best possible outcome for victim survivors,” Mr Cartwright said.
“The Government’s current work on the reform is overly focused on acquitting implementation of the royal commission’s recommendations.”
The Family Violence Royal Commission and fulfilling its 227 recommendations is a signature policy for Premier Daniel Andrews.
It has allocated $2.4 billion to tackle the problem.
‘Victim survivors need to be consulted’
Mr Cartwright, a former Victorian acting chief police commissioner, emphasised that a whole-of-government approach to reform needed to be taken to achieve Labor’s 10-year goals.
One challenge, he found, was that there was a lack of project management expertise in social policy.
“Taking a non-systemic approach is unlikely to achieve the royal commission’s vision or the vision in the Victorian Government’s 10-Year Plan, Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change,” he said.
In response to the report, Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings highlighted 63 recommendations had been completed and that by the end of the year 70 per cent should be finished.
Opposition prevention of family violence spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the report showed that Labor was mismanaging the important reform.
Victoria’s protectors ‘struggling’
Meanwhile, frontline child protection staff are exposed to the same workplace mental stresses as police and paramedics but are not given the same level of employer support, Victorian auditor-general Andrew Greaves has found.
“Like police, emergency services and youth justice, child protection is ‘frontline’ work that is highly complex and requires specialist skills, and frontline workers are considered to be at particular risk of developing mental health issues,” the report stated.
“CPPs struggle to maintain good mental health in the face of unreasonable workloads and inadequate organisational support.”
In June last year, the state had 1,933 child protection workers, which the report found was not enough to cope with rising demand for their services.
There was a 121 per cent increase in child protection reports between 2009 and 2016, resulting in a 42 per cent increase in CPPs’ average allocated caseloads in that same period.
CPPs’ workload included long and unpredictable working hours, exposure to trauma, violence and death, and high professional expectations.
Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said Labor had funded more than 600 extra staff since 2014.
“Our child protection staff work on the frontline every day to keep the community safe, much like our police or paramedics. That’s why we’ve made record investments to support them and improve the system,” Ms Mikakos said.
Ms Crozier said the Government’s failure in child protection services was impacting on youth crime.
“Too many children from child protection services are ending up in youth justice facilities,” she said.
Staff also reported that it was hard to have pride in their work because of negative portrayals in the media.
CPSU secretary Karen Batt said workloads had been an issue for the union’s members for some time, with staff turnover a major problem.
“The community should acknowledge the professionalism of the staff who should not be demeaned or second guessed, as they have the interests of the child foremost in their minds,” Ms Batt said.