Referrals to domestic violence court services rise sharply

October 14, 2015

The Sydney Morning Herald

Demand for domestic violence support at NSW courts has risen sharply recently, however no extra funding has been provided to answer the growing calls for help, advocates say.

The Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, run by Legal Aid NSW, operates 28 regional support services at 114 courts in NSW. The peak body of these services, Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW Inc, said the program is close to breaking point as victims flood their services seeking broad-ranging support.

Referrals from NSW police have risen 45 per cent in just one month, from 5794 women in July to 8428 in August.

“The increase in referrals in just one month… is a clear indication that women are seeking support in relation to domestic violence incidents, which we see as a positive. However we have no new funding to meet the demand” said Helen Brereton, executive officer of WDVCAS Inc.

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Since July, every domestic violence incident reported to police is referred to WDVCAS, who contact women within one working day to begin a safety response.

They help with court support, AVOs and referrals to other services like housing or financial support.

The new system has resulted in a deluge of referrals and Ms Brereton said women are starting to report straight to WDVCAS sites, rather than go through the police.

In the last budget, the state government provided $33 million over four years for WDVCAS but Ms Brereton said their funding has not increased since 2009.

She said funding has only been allocated to the six pilot sites for Safer Pathways, a widely-lauded state government initiative that has changed the way authorities respond to serious domestic violence.

When a woman is referred to a Safer Pathways site, run by WDVCAS, a team of police, domestic violence workers, counsellors, housing providers and other local services kick in immediately. Women at risk of being killed are added to a fortnightly meeting of senior police, domestic violence workers and service providers who come up with an action plan.

Two sites were launched in Waverley and Orange a year ago, revealing disturbingly high numbers of referrals, and four more were rolled out in Tweed Heads, Parramatta, Bankstown and Broken Hill this year. Referral processes were then changed state-wide in July.

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