Safer Pathway has rolled out to 43 sites across NSW, with the remaining sites to be in place by November 2018. Feroz Sattar and Ellen Temby explain how Safer Pathway works.
What is domestic and family violence?
Domestic and family violence is an act of violence between persons in a domestic relationship as defined in the Crimes (Domestic and Personal) Violence Act 2007. Domestic relationships can include intimate and family relationships, such as married or de facto couples (including same-sex and gender-diverse relationships), carers, relatives, long term residents in the same residential facility and for Aboriginal people, extended family or kin. Domestic and family violence can include physical abuse, intimidation, stalking, sexual assault, psychological abuse, financial deprivation and social isolation.
Domestic and family violence is a violation of human rights and is a crime. It is the most prevalent form of violence experienced by women in Australia. It is the leading cause of death for women under the age of 45, with approximately one woman killed each week by her current or former partner. Although domestic and family violence is predominately perpetrated by men against women, men can also be victims.
What is Safer Pathway?
The NSW Government has invested $390 million over four years to tackle domestic and family violence. One of the most significant domestic and family violence achievements is Safer Pathway. Safer Pathway is a streamlined and integrated approach to safety assessment, referrals and service coordination that priorities the safety of victims and their children.
Navigating the service system can be confusing, repetitive and time consuming. Safer Pathway helps victims navigate this, by creating a coordinated and consistent response where government agencies and non-government agencies work proactively and collaboratively to provide victims with the support they need, and so victims do not need to keep telling and re-telling their story.
The key components of Safer Pathway are:
- a Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool (DVSAT) for Police and others to better and consistently identify the level of threat faced by victims
- a state-wide Central Referral Point (CRP) in which case workers are able to electronically manage and monitor referrals
- a state-wide network of Local Coordination Points (LCP) staffed by specialist workers to provide victims with case coordination and referral to a Safety Action Meeting if necessary
- Safety Action Meetings (SAMs) where agencies and services share relevant information in order to lessen or prevent serious threats to the safety of victims and their children
- laws that allows service providers to share information to facilitate victims’ access to support.
Since the program started on 15 September 2014, Safer Pathway has had 397,175 victims referred (285,600 females and 111,575 males). In 2017/2018, there were 131,465 referrals (93,765 females and 37,700 males). Of these, 6,217 female victims (6.63% of the total female referrals) and 914 male victims (2.42% of the total male referrals) were assessed as facing a serious threat. The dynamics of domestic and family violence are complex. Female victims are more likely to experience violence in intimate partner relationships, while male victims are more likely to experience violence at the hands of another family member.
Moving forward, Safer Pathway will focus on expanding referral pathways into Safer Pathway for victims who do not go to Police, including via local neighbourhood centres and health professionals. Safer Pathway is also working on improving access for people from culturally and linguistically backgrounds.
What are Local Coordination Points (LCPs)?
LCPs are community organisations staffed by specialist workers who explore support options for each victim. LCPs will proactively call victims to offer them support, making appropriate warm referrals to a range of service providers. Where the victim is at serious threat, the LCP can also refer them to SAMs (see below).
LCPs are not case management services. If a victim is already being provided with case management by another service, this can continue. Safer Pathway builds on, but does not replace, existing services. Local, well established services are likely to receive referrals from LCPs.
What are Safety Action Meetings (SAMS)?
SAMs are regular meetings of key government and non-government service providers aimed at reducing serious threats to victims’ lives, health or safety. SAMs are chaired by a senior police officer and organised by the LCP.
The government members include Police, Heath, Department of Family and Community Services (housing and child protection), Department of Education and Communities, and Corrective Services. Non-government members are decided locally by the Chair and the LCP. The same local representatives from each service provider are expected to attend each SAM and they will have authority to make decisions.
Through sharing relevant information, members develop a comprehensive picture of each victim’s situation and develop a list of actions for the members, designed to reduce the threat to victim’s safety. Victims are never obliged to do anything as a result of a SAM. Although the SAM may make recommendations, the victim still has the right to use or not use support services.
What can Safer Pathway do for me?
A few de-identified case studies are set out below.
Over the last 18 years, Patrick had subjected Nadia to extreme physical violence, including on one occasion stabbing her in front of their children. Patrick went to gaol for this assault. An Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) was granted for Nadia. The order prevented Patrick from contacting Nadia, but it allowed him to contact certain people by phone, including their eldest son.
As Patrick’s date for release was approaching, Nadia’s counsellor noticed that she was becoming increasingly anxious. The counsellor decided to refer her to a SAM. At the SAM, the following actions were developed:
- Police to work with their counterparts in the town where Patrick would be released, seek their assistance in extending the ADVO for a further 12 months
- Corrective Services to investigate whether Patrick could be placed on electronic monitoring when released
- Housing to:
- investigate whether Patrick could be relocated to an area in which electronic monitoring was being trialled, and
- review security at Nadia’s house and upgrade if needed.
Jessie is an Aboriginal woman who had experienced ongoing violence from her partner, Will. Jessie was too afraid to report this to anyone. Witnesses who saw Will assaulting Jessie in public contacted the Police on several occasions. However, whenever the Police talked to Jessie, she refused to answer questions.
Recently a LCP staff member saw Will assaulting Jessie on the street. The staff member contacted the Police and liaised with them to get Jessie’s phone number. When the LCP was able to contact Jessie, she revealed that she was terrified of Will and had nowhere to go. The LCP referred Jessie to the SAM, where it came to light that there was an ADVO for Jessie against Will in another Police Local Area Command. The assault witnessed by the LCP worker was a breach of this ADVO, so the Police were able to charge Will. While this was happening, the LCP assisted Jessie to relocate without Will’s knowledge.
Where can I go for help?
- anyone in immediate danger should call Triple Zero (000)
- women experiencing domestic violence can call 1800 WDVCAS (1800 938 227)
- men having problems with their violent behaviour can call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.
- anyone experiencing sexual assault, domestic and family violence; their friends and family; and workers and professionals supporting someone experiencing or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence – call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). This is a national service available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Feroz Sattar is the Coordinator Safer Pathway and Ellen Temby is a Policy and Project Officer, both at Victims Services in the NSW Department of Justice.