All women experiencing violence should be supported towards their immediate and longer term safety and wellbeing. Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCAS) currently provide life-saving supports to more than 43,000 women each year from a diverse range of backgrounds, including Aboriginal women, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse women, women with disability, rural women, older women and LGBTIQ women. WDVCAS workers provide phone support, advocacy, referral, safety planning and court support to women who have expereinced domestic and family violence across the state. WDVCAS operate in 29 locations and provide support at 117 courts across NSW.
Advocacy services for women experiencing violence in NSW are not meeting demand
Since 2015 WDVCAS have been the first responders across the state providing follow up support services to women who are victim/survivors of domestic violence, following an incident involving police. Since then, the number of victim/survivors that WDVCAS support has doubled, however funding for these services has not matched the increase. Victim/survivors need intensive support from the time they are referred, however this is not always possible because of the demand for services meaning that most services have wait lists. Women who are victim/survivors of domestic violence should have the support they want and need to increase their safety and wellbeing.
More funding for case management support is needed to keep women safe
Case management offered by WDVCAS is currently offered in Wagga Wagga and Macarthur through ongoing funding from the Domestic Violence Intervention Court Model (DVICM). In these two sites, women are supported from first mention through to hearing and are thoroughly supported along the way until they are accepted and settled into other supporting services. In 2017 Macarthur WDVCAS provided case management services to 2,409 clients with 11,014 service events provided. In 2017 Wagga Wagga WDVCAS provided case management services to 558 clients. Macarthur WDVCAS hosts the only specialist disability focused and youth focused case workers in NSW, who will be defunded in June 2019 if funding is not secured. Victim-survivors, workers and other professionals in both areas attest to the success of the scheme.
WDVCAS is the best way to ensure that women who experience violence are supported
Victim/survivors of domestic violence are supported by the one agency following a domestic violence call our from police. Women do not have to repeat their story and are assisted with safety planning and essential supports such as support accessing housing, welfare payments, counselling and support through the court process. At Macarthur and Wagga Wagga, women can be supported throughout the whole court process, where other WDVCAS services are only funded to support clients at ADVO mentions. Women are still referred on to other integral specialist support services, however they are more thoroughly supported while they wait for vacancies and wait lists to clear, which are as long as threemonths in some areas. In our experience, the key time to support a woman in a ADVO matter is when her matter goes to hearing. This is a particularly traumatic part of the justice journey for them and it is imperative that these women have the continued support of workers they already know – and who already know their matter. Support at hearings can also lead to better victim attendance at court and advocacy with the Police leading up to and at the hearing itself.
Women want support from specialist women’s organisations
Interviews with domestic violence victim/survivors show that they value the support of WDVCAS and want support through their court process and until they have other support systems in place (McKew & Field, 2016, Liang, 2014). Liang (2014, p.9) interviewed 50 victim/survivors of domestic violence and noted that ‘women spoke unreservedly about the support provided through the WDVCAS, the importance of the ’safe room’ at Court, and the benefits of being linked into specialist women’s and domestic violence services which offered broader and longer-term advocacy and support’.
Quotes from victim/survivors interviewed about their experience of obtaining an ADVO (Liang 2014)
The Court Support – absolutely brilliant. I can’t remember her name – there was in particular lady, she’s just – she’s there every time. And I know, by face, I don’t know a lot of their names, but it’s the same group of women that are there in Court Support. And they’re just fantastic.
[WDVCAS coordinator] was the first person to really give me any advice about – it was the first time I’d known about domestic violence [victim’s] compensation. And she was just – she was very understanding and she was saying – she’ll be somebody I’d say would be very helpful to get in contact with because I think she realises how difficult it is for women to go through this process and how often – and the number of times that they do feel very let down.
If it wasn’t for [WDVCAS Worker] again, she’s helped me out so much with getting my kids back. Helping me getting a house. So I’m stable. [Without her], I’d be back where I was living homeless with no children. And my kids are my life.
Based on current figures for Macarthur and Wagga Wagga, case management across the state by WDVCASs could be provided for 14 million per year. Case management funding for 4-5 case workers in all 29 WDVCAS services is needed to ensure that the more than 43,000 women supported by WDVCAS services are thoroughly supported from the time of a critical violent incident, throughout their court case and until they are well supported by another specialist women’s service.