Education and training

4.71 There was general consensus among stakeholders that any recommendation about ‘screening’ must be underpinned by appropriate, and targeted, education and training of staff.[92] DHS acknowledged that ‘an unskilled response to disclosures carries the risk of further traumatisation to the sufferer’.[93] Similarly, the AASW (Qld) and the Welfare Rights Centre cautioned against ‘secondary victimisation’ arising from inappropriate responses and argued that such risk can be minimised ‘through training, monitoring of responses, timely referral both internal and external to appropriately qualified people, and evaluation of the family violence strategy that seeks feedback from victims who have been clients’.[94]

4.72 Gippsland Community Legal Service submitted that family violence risk assessment and ‘screening’ training should ‘be compulsory for all Centrelink and Child Support Agency staff to ensure best practice responses to family violence across the organisations’.[95]

4.73 DHS preferred a model that would supplement current ‘training procedures and assist staff undertaking a range of duties at all levels’.[96] Given the wide range of staffing roles and levels within the DHS portfolio, it was suggested that a strategic approach was required, staged around four categories of need:

1) General understanding and awareness of family and domestic violence and the ability to identify risks and subsequent responses and referral approaches (targeted at customer service officers and specialised service delivery staff);

2) A deeper understanding of family and domestic violence and the ability to identify risk and subsequent responses and referral approaches (targeted at customer service officers and specialised service delivery staff, such as Case Coordination);

3) Refresher training for social workers and professional staff to maintain current knowledge and awareness of family and domestic violence issues; and

4) General understanding of family and domestic violence issues together with an appreciation of the role and capacity of the employer to support employees (targeted at team leaders and managers).[97]

4.74 DHS also indicated that it had research contemporary training content for family and domestic violence, and that it will

use the findings to enhance and expand existing family and domestic violence training resources for staff with respect to their various roles and requirements. For example, there are a number of positions within the Department that are not primarily customer facing but have a key role in raising awareness of issues and services in the community, such as Multicultural Services Officers.[98]

4.75 Other stakeholders noted a wide range of matters that education and training could cover for DHS service staff, including in relation to: definitions; mandatory reporting requirements; ethics and informed consent; referral pathways; family violence in cultural contexts; identifying and managing conflicts of interest; managing disclosures; why victims choose to leave or to seek help; and helpful and unhelpful responses to disclosures.[99]

4.76 DHS suggested that it had, to a certain extent, already considered such issues. For example, training currently finalised for delivery to the Child Support Program ‘includes risk indicators and appropriate responses options … aimed at increasing staff awareness of family and domestic violence and enhancing responsiveness where relevant customer circumstances arise’.[100]

4.77 National Legal Aid submitted that the recently released national family violence training package, Avert Family Violence: Collaborative Responses in the Family Law System, might be an appropriate component, ‘particularly given that it will be used by other government and non-government family law service providers’. It was argued that the use of shared training resources will facilitate shared understanding and language for communication around family violence. [101]

4.78 The ALRC considers that part of the package may be of particular use, especially the modules on ‘risk assessment’, ‘responding to cultural diversity’ and ‘dimensions, dynamics and impact of family violence’.[102]

4.79 DHS acknowledged that there are sections of the community who are vulnerable to family violence due to power imbalances based on ‘Indigenous status, culture, sexuality, disability or age’.[103] DHS agreed that an understanding of the nature, features and dynamics of family violence is crucial for customer service staff and that ‘this information should be included in policy documents, procedures and training materials’.[104] In relation to DHS Indigenous Specialist Officers (ISOs), it was noted that

DHS ISOs currently receive appropriate training and support to ensure that their knowledge of family violence issues is relevant within the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and peoples. DHS ISOs are supported with their knowledge of DHS payments, programs and services together with their knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service delivery and policy priority areas.[105]

4.80 It was further suggested that the training will be supported by Centrelink social workers providing their expertise, and ‘will reflect the importance of referral responsibilities and options in relation to identified trigger behaviours or self identified customers at risk’.[106]

Targeted and strategic approach

4.81 For a major service delivery agency such as DHS, training and education of a large workforce in relation to family violence ‘must be done within existing resources’ and ‘balanced against the need of other vulnerable groups’.[107] The ALRC welcomes many of the initiatives taken by DHS around training and education as part of the integration strategy, and notes that the ALRC’s recommendations are intended to complement DHS’ ongoing initiatives.

4.82 A nuanced approach to issues management will require DHS staff to be able to advise customers about how family violence is relevant to their circumstances, and make judgements as to the appropriate response in each case, after a family violence-related safety concerns are disclosed. The ALRC considers—as suggested by DHS—that a deeper understanding of family violence and the ability to identify risk and subsequent responses and referral approaches are required of customer service and specialised service delivery staff (including those working in Case Coordination). If the ALRC’s recommendations in this chapter are implemented, training to this cohort of DHS staff should be given priority.

Recommendation 4–5 The Department of Human Services should ensure that staff providing customer services, including Centrelink social workers, Indigenous Service Officers, and Multicultural Service Officers receive consistent, regular and targeted training about:

  1. advising customers on the impact of family violence on their case or claim;
  2. responding to disclosures of family violence-related safety concerns, including by referrals to Centrelink social workers and other expert service providers; and
  3. the nature, features and dynamics of family violence including the particular impact of family violence on: Indigenous peoples; those from a culturally and linguistically diverse background; those from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex communities; older persons; and people with disability.

[92] National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; DHS, Submission CFV 155; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140; Gippsland Community Legal Service, Submission CFV 114; White Ribbon, Submission CFV 112; Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal & Advocacy Service, Submission CFV 103; Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, Submission CFV 94; WEAVE, Submission CFV 84.

[93] DHS, Submission CFV 155.

[94] AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140.

[95] Gippsland Community Legal Service, Submission CFV 114.

[96] DHS, Submission CFV 155.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Indigenous Law Centre, Submission CFV 144; AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140.

[100] DHS, Submission CFV 155.

[101] National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164.

[102] See Avert Family Violence Website, <> accessed 8 November 2011.

[103] DHS, Submission CFV 155.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Ibid.