Yesterday’s announcement by the Victorian Government of a $572 million statewide funding boost to tackle family violence over the next two years is desperately needed and will save the lives of women and children, says safe steps Family Violence Response Centre CEO, Annette Gillespie.
Ms Gillespie says the $103.9 million allocated to specialist family violence services, along with the $10.4 million for additional family violence workers, in today’s announcement is especially welcome and could not have come at a better time.
“Frontline services such as ours have been struggling to cope with a huge increase in demand for far too long.
“The need for our services has reached unprecedented levels. Without this extra funding we would most certainly not be able to meet the ever-increasing demand.
“Today’s funding announcement is a very important – and very welcome – move by the Victorian Government which will almost certainly save lives of women and children at risk from family violence.”
Ms Gillespie says, up until this point, funding has not met current demand and would certainly not have met the anticipated increase in demand for safe steps’ family violence response services in 2016-17.
“In 2015, safe steps fielded approximately 60,000 calls for assistance and provided 20,000 emergency accommodation beds to women and children fleeing family violence.
“However, crisis calls to our service increased by 43 per cent between February 2015 and February 2016.”
Ms Gillespie says the past quarter has also seen a 21 per cent increase in demand for safe steps’ emergency accommodation.
“If demand continues to increase at the current rate we would expect to see an 80 per cent rise in the number of bed-nights we provide to women and children fleeing family violence this year.”
“An overall increase of funding of 40 per cent is needed just to meet current levels of support provided through safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Centre. An anticipated increase of a further 40 per cent over the next 12 months is needed to meet anticipated demand.”
Ms Gillespie says safe steps’ data clearly show that not only are more women reporting family violence but that violence is actually increasing.
“The increase in demand over recent months is further evidence that increased resources to frontline family violence services are wholly justified and that the community needs to make the elimination of family violence against women and children a priority.”
The $122 million for intensive support for children witnessing and experiencing family violence announced as part of today’s funding package is another vital move forward, according to Ms Gillespie.
Ms Gillespie says just over 50 per cent of clients helped by safe steps are under the age of 18 with many of the women coming through the service escaping violent homes with their children.
“For too long children have been the forgotten victims of abuse in the home,” says Ms Gillespie.
“Today’s funding announcement is a critical step forward towards addressing the impact and harm delivered upon children as a result of family violence.
“Children living in homes where there is family violence are in an environment that is unpredictable and filled with tension and fear. Children in this situation may see their mother threatened or harmed or overhear conflict. They may see the aftermath of violence such as their mother’s injuries and her distress.
“These children are living with trauma. Exposure to domestic violence can have significant psychological, behavioural, health and socioeconomic impacts on children, including depression, anxiety and difficulties in school,” says Ms Gillespie.
“Even when they are not direct targets of abuse, family violence can have a devastating impact on children who witness violence in the home.”
Ms Gillespie says every part of the family violence package announced today – which includes 130 new social housing homes, the introduction of Victoria’s first Gender Equity Strategy, establishment of dedicated Aboriginal family violence programs and reform of the justice system – is a significant step towards helping eliminate violence against women and children.
“There is no doubt about it. The package announced today will save lives.”
As the state-wide 24/7 first response to women and children experiencing family violence safe steps has a proud 40 year history of offering immediate response that informs, protects and connects women and their children so they are safe and their voices are heard.
“Women experiencing family violence can call our 24/7 free call family violence response phone line on 1800 015 188 and speak confidentially to another woman for information on family violence support services, legal rights and accommodation options,” says Ms Gillespie.
If you or someone you care about is living with an abusive partner or family member call safe steps Family Violence Response Centre 24/7 on 1800 015 188