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Victorian women’s health sector seeks commitment to the development of a comprehensive women’s health policy and action platform for 2014–2018

In Victoria and across the world, different groups experience wellbeing and illness in unequal ways. Women are one of those groups.

Despite living in a prosperous state and having access to a wide range of generalist and specialist health services, there are still many areas of social, economic and health inequities faced by Victorian women.

Victorian women’s health services have developed Priorities for Victorian Women’s Health 2014–2018, which outlines what the women’s health policy and action platform should include, how it must be developed and implemented with five recommended actions and the principles underpinning those recommendations.

Essential homelessness funding under threat

Funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Housing (NPAH) currently expires on 30 June 2014

Women’s Health West uses NPAH funds to help women who have experienced family violence improve home security and obtain court intervention orders as well as supporting families with crisis accommodation.

 

Background

Funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness expires on 30 June this year. The NPAH funding was a three-year agreement (followed by an additional one-year transitional agreement) that enabled the implementation of major national homelessness programs like Safe at Home as well as improving local services and introducing innovations such as ‘enhanced after hours’.

State governments matched funding and managed the funding process.

NPAH funding resulted in new services and increased capacity for many specialist homelessness services. Many innovations are local, smart and focus on early intervention.

Women’s Health West (WHW) is funded under Safe at Home to support 29 women to remain safely in their own home after experiencing family violence. Once the perpetrator has left this is a highly successful early intervention strategy to divert women and their children away from homelessness. We supported a total of 57 women and 93 accompanying children during 2012-13.

In the last financial year alone, Women’s Health West used Safe at Home funds to:

  • Improve the safety of 53 families through 108 security installations, upgrades and/or repairs using a total of $9,649 in brokerage funds
  • Provide court support to 42 women to obtain intervention orders; 41 orders included a clause to exclude the perpetrator from the home
  • Support 2 families to find interim crisis accommodation to be safe while they waited for their intervention orders to be finalised

Statistics for the six months to date from July – December 2013 show a continuing upward trend in reporting, with 2990 police referrals to Women’s Health West (compared with 2207 for the same period in the previous year). This constitutes a 35.5 per cent increase on the same period last year.

The NPAH also provides funds to WHW for an enhanced after hours crisis response. Family violence most often occurs after 5pm and over the weekend when families are together. As such, the 24-hour family violence crisis response program is a critical component of our service. Crisis workers provide immediate face-to-face support to women and their accompanying children who are at police stations and local hospitals because of a family violence incident.

This program also funds us to work in partnership with McAuley Community Services for Women to provide a weekend worker who responded to 737 referrals from Victoria Police in 2012/13 alone. Responses to police referrals included telephone contact, risk assessments, safety planning, information about legal processes, referral to Women’s Health West’s court support, case management and other support services.

Finally, NPAH provides funding for ‘A Place to Call Home’ that offers stable housing by transferring available transitional housing properties to public housing and eliminating the need to relocate a family multiple times. This program also offers intensive case management and financial support to families who have experienced family violence to reduce the impact of homelessness. In 2012/13 WHW provided case management for 7 clients under this program. Of these clients, 3 received an APTCH property and brokerage, and 4 required brokerage funds alone.

Without NPAH funding each of these programs will end.

Write to the Prime Minister

Our CEO Dr Robyn Gregory has written to the Prime Minister — as minister responsible for women’s policies and programs — urging him to renew the agreement.

Please feel free to use this content and the background above to write your own letter. It would assist us greatly with the campaign to secure an agreement and ensure ongoing services by WHW and across Victoria.

Dear Prime Minister

I am writing to you on behalf of the Western Region Integrated Family Violence Partnership (WIFVP), including in your role as minister responsible for women’s policies and programs, to urge you to commit to renewing the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

This agreement makes up a significant proportion of Victoria’s homelessness funding and has been critical in establishing innovative programs to tackle homelessness since 2009.

The WIFVP is a consortium of family violence, community health, and child and family services agencies that work across western metropolitan Melbourne to deliver integrated family violence services to women and children. We currently receive funds under the NPAH to deliver:

  • A crisis response program that meets women and children at police stations and hospitals to provide an immediate service following a family violence incident
  • An enhanced after hours program that responds to police referrals following family violence incidence on weekends
  • A Safe at Home program that supports women and children to remain in their own home, where it is safe to do so, and have the perpetrator leave
  • A Place to Call Home program, which swaps transitional housing for permanent accommodation so women and children avoid yet another move

These programs have been instrumental in reducing homelessness among women and children in our region. If the NPAH is not continued after 30 June, these programs will cease to operate.

The impact of family violence on homelessness

Family violence is the overwhelming reason women seek housing assistance. Statistics show that, in 2010, one in every two women with children seeking homelessness services was escaping a violent home situation. Since that time, reported rates of family violence have increased exponentially. In 2013-2014 the increase was around 35 per cent.

Without adequate support and housing options, women and children stay or return to violent homes, entrenching a cycle of violence, homelessness and intergenerational disadvantage. This cycle can have traumatic and long-term consequences for women and their children.

This cycle is also costly – to government, to communities and to families. Women who experience violence are far more likely to engage in alcohol and other substance (mis)use as a coping mechanism, vastly increasing their risk of ill-health and disease. They report poorer general physical and mental wellbeing; are at increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and a range of gynaecological problems; are more prone to adverse pregnancy outcomes; and are more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and seek an abortion when compared to women who live free from violence.

The dislocation caused by the loss of home significantly increases the already traumatic impact of family violence, with homelessness compounded by the loss of relationships and support networks that accompany a move for safety reasons.

Family violence and homelessness also limit participation in the labour force, affecting women’s ability to generate independent financial resources to gain and sustain housing.

Our NPAH programs act at key transition points to secure safe accommodation, reduce or avoid homelessness and provide the support required to sustain housing.

Children, family violence and homelessness

Around 65 per cent of WIFVP clients have children accompanying them. Most of them have either witnessed or experienced family violence, leading to significant psychological distress, health problems, educational disruption and ongoing poverty. They are more likely to be ill, more likely to become isolated, and can become withdrawn, unsettled, angry, even suicidal.

Children who experience homelessness are also more likely to become homeless as adults. This is because the combination of disruption in schooling and other support and resilience-building networks, coupled with an increase in emotional and behavioural problems as a result of experiencing and/or witnessing family violence, can lead to school refusal and an associated cycle of intergenerational disadvantage. Women who suffer childhood abuse are also over-represented in family violence statistics, suggesting that any efforts we make to limit children’s exposure to violence will prevent future incidences of family violence and homelessness.

Reducing the number of times women and their children must move prior to securing permanent housing will reduce these problems. This is the role of our NPAH-funded programs.

We have a moral obligation to secure women’s and children’s right to live free from violence and homelessness. Funding programs that prevent further violence and homelessness is a sound economic investment in Australia’s future.

We urge you to commit to renewing this agreement.

We look forward to hearing from your office and would be pleased to provide further information.

Yours sincerely

Dr Robyn Gregory
Chief Executive Officer
Women’s Health West

Cc The Hon. Kevin Andrews, Minister for Social Services

Launch: relationship DVD and educator guide

Women’s Health West is proud to announce the launch of the Relationship Dilemmas Growing Up DVD and educator guide.

DVD-educator-guide600pxRelationship Dilemmas Growing Up is a collaboration between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development South Western Region Secondary School Nursing Program, Women’s Health West and Footscray City College.

The secondary school nursing team identified a lack of suitable Australian DVD resources addressing relationships and sexuality for Year 7 and 8 students. An opportunity arose to produce the DVD as the creative component of the Girls Talk – Guys Talk program being delivered at Footscray City College. Girls Talk – Guys Talk is Women’s Health West’s health promoting schools program developed to promote healthy relationships and sexual choices.

The project began in late 2011 and the DVD was officially launched in August 2013. The March 2014 launch includes the educator guide, a set of suggested lesson plans and activities aimed at assisting school staff to discuss and debate some of the key issues raised by the three short videos.

The new resource is available for free from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website FUSE.

Women’s Health West moves

WOMEN’S Health West will move to Braybrook this year after signing a 21-year lease with Maribyrnong City Council.

The women’s health service, which has operated in Footscray for the past 25 years, will move from its current Barkly St premises to the former Howard Kingham Lodge aged facility on Darnley St.

The council has offered Women’s Health West the site at a peppercorn rental of $104 per year for the first 10 years, and $208 per year for the remainder of the lease.

In return, Women’s Health West will invest $1.5 million to upgrade the premises.

“This is a great outcome,” councillor Nam Quach said.

“The social contribution that Women’s Health West has been making not only to our municipality but the greater West (is great).

“This is another string in the bow for our Revitalising Braybrook program.”

Cr Quach said it was apt that services like Women’s Health West and Melbourne Citymission – which moved to Braybrook last year – were gravitating to the area where people needed help the most.

Women in the City of Maribyrnong experience the poorest health in the West, according to Women’s Health West, experiencing low life expectancies, high rates of family violence and an increasing teenage pregnancy rate.

A Star report last year revealed women in the City of Maribyrnong also experience the highest burden disease rate in the western region, experiencing the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes, depression, borderline personality disorder, asthma and osteoarthritis.

By CHARLENE MACAULAY – Footscray, Yarraville, Braybrook Star News
Posted on 11 March 2014.

West women’s services at risk without funds

Vulnerable women at risk of family violence could be in greater danger without an urgent injection of funding.

Footscray-based Women’s Health West (WHW) is one of a number of domestic violence services with programs at risk because of uncertainty surrounding a homelessness funding agreement between state and federal governments that runs out in June.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) funds a range of homelessness prevention and family violence programs; in 2009, it provided $210 million funding in Victoria.

The Weekly last week revealed a 46 per cent rise in family violence reports in Maribyrnong last year compared with the previous year, and a 24 per cent jump in Hobsons Bay.

WHW chief executive Robyn Gregory has written to MPs warning the service received 2990 police referrals from July to December last year compared with 2207 for the same period the previous year – a 35.5 per cent increase.

Women’s Health West has used NPAH funds to help dozens of women improve home security and obtain court intervention orders as well as supporting families with crisis accommodation.

NPAH money also funds a weekend worker who responded to 737 referrals from Victoria Police in 2012-13.

“Without NPAH funding this program will end,” Dr Gregory said.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said family violence was the main driver of homelessness in Victoria.

Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Jenny Smith said ripping funding from homelessness services would force more women and children to sleep in cars and rooming houses or “couch hop”.

A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said the previous government did not commit to a new NPAH after the current agreement expires on June 30. “The Australian government continues to work with the sector and the states and territories on the future of homelessness funding.”

By Ben Millar, Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay Weekly
15:28:PM 11/03/2014