Service delivery reform
4.12 The DHS is responsible for the development of service delivery policy and provides access to social, health and other payments and services. The Human Services Legislation Amendment Act 2011 (Cth) integrated the services of Medicare Australia, Centrelink and CRS Australia on 1 July 2011 into DHS.
4.13 As part of these reforms, agencies within the DHS portfolio have been integrating back-office support services, information systems, customer contact areas, and co-locating some shopfronts. A key goal of integration is to provide seamlessness for customers who access services delivered by the DHS portfolio. In addition, it is envisaged that it will allow a ‘tell us once’ approach for customers, and make it easier to update their details once, should they choose to have their information shared.
4.14 DHS’ ‘Case Coordination’ trials are aimed at providing integrated and intensive support to those who most need it—in particular, those who are homeless, long-term unemployed, living with disability, or those with alcohol and drugs dependency.
A duty to seek disclosure
4.15 In Chapter 1, the ALRC discusses the reasons many do not disclose family violence. Stakeholders have argued that, as ‘family violence is seriously under-reported’, there is a need for service delivery agencies to identify or promote disclosure of family violence-related safety concerns. For example, the Commonwealth Ombudsman argued that service delivery agencies
have an obligation to, wherever possible, actively seek information from customers about any circumstances which might affect their capacity to actively engage with government, or which might affect the type, rate or conditions of payments or services they are, or may be eligible for.
4.16 Currently DHS agencies—Centrelink, CSA and the FAO—rely on self-disclosure of family violence. For example, staff providing customer services do not ask routine questions about family violence and application or information forms for various social security payments do not include specific information about family violence.
4.17 A number of stakeholders called for DHS—Centrelink and the CSA in particular—to take measures to: screen for family violence or safety concerns; ensure customers are aware that specific provisions exist in relation to family violence; and indicate a willingness to discuss and deal with family violence-related matters.
4.18 Some stakeholders suggested that ‘screening’ via ‘direct questioning’ was the preferred and most effective method of identifying family violence related-safety concerns, rather than relying on ‘oblique invitations to self-identify’. Academic commentators have supported direct questioning as an effective method of eliciting information about family violence.
4.19 In the Discussion Paper, the ALRC proposed that CSA, FAO staff and Centrelink customer service advisers, social workers, Indigenous Service Officers and Multicultural Service Officers should, when commencing application processes with a customer, immediately after that, and at defined intervals and trigger points, screen for family violence by way of a short oral statement about family violence and the existence of support services, such as a Centrelink social worker. This should be combined with the provision of an information pack on family violence and its relevance to a person’s social security, child support and family assistance case. The ALRC considered that this was an appropriate response which would:
- allow for individual choice as to the disclosure of family violence;
- not assume that everyone is a victim of family violence; and
- be less labour-intensive for front line staff.
An information-based approach
4.20 Stakeholders were supportive of the ALRC’s proposals around ‘screening’ and promoting the disclosure of family violence. However, rather than routine and direct questioning, a number of stakeholders called for an information-based approach to promote a customer’s disclosure of family violence-related safety concerns. Throughout the Inquiry, stakeholders have argued that the lack of knowledge about the relevance of family violence presents a barrier to disclosure. For example, the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) submitted:
There is a considerable lack of awareness of entitlements, exemptions and assistance available for a person experiencing family violence. This is especially the case in relation to the area of exemptions from activity requirements and entitlements to income support payments.
4.21 Therefore, NWRN considered that an information-based approach was most appropriate, given the position of DHS as a ‘master agency’. In its view, the service delivery reforms ‘should allow for greater reach of consistent information dissemination and messaging to target audiences with the aim of improving awareness of support services’.
4.22 Similarly, the Australian Association of Social Workers (Qld) and the Welfare Rights Centre (Qld) argued that:
Routine direct inquiry is problematic and potentially risky for victims of family violence. We would advocate an approach that uses the provision of information at all aspects of client engagement which could include printed forms, brochures, posters and websites. This would serve to inform victims of family violence as well as provide them with options which may be open to them for support.
4.23 DHS agreed about the need to provide detailed information about family violence and its impact on entitlements at ‘multiple points during the life of a customer’s case, including at the initial application for registration’ and stated that it was ‘actively exploring a number of approaches to risk identification, screening and assessment for different customer interactions’.
4.24 However, DHS did not consider the provision of information to be a ‘screening’ mechanism and were cautious about requiring staff to provide detailed verbal information about family violence. While acknowledging that the ‘the most effective models of “screening” involved routine questions at key intervention points’, DHS considered that any ‘screening’ proposal must form part of a wider risk-assessment framework that considers:
Customer responses or behaviours which might indicate family or domestic violence;
Proactive risk identification questions at the point the customer first makes contact with programs where family and domestic violence may be an issue; and
Screening questions at certain key administrative events linked to greater risk of family and domestic violence.
4.25 DHS cited particular concerns that the provision of detailed verbal information about family violence by staff providing customer services would need to be considered in light of ‘the length and information level already associated with current interviews and processes’ and the ‘increase in workload’ required to incorporate verbal provision of information within customer interactions.
4.26 There was stakeholder support for the proposal that ‘screening’ should take into consideration a customer’s cultural and linguistic background, as well as a person’s capacity to understand, such as due to cognitive disability. For example, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services NQ Inc submitted that
an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman should be given choices as to who she speaks to in the screening process. Not every woman wants to speak to a person from her own culture about the problem, but she should have the option if this makes disclosure easier and support services more accessible.
4.27 The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Advocacy Service argued that ‘screening’ via a short statement may not be culturally appropriate for Indigenous women, and that ‘screening should always be performed in private by an Indigenous woman’. However, the Indigenous Law Centre cautioned that, given the interconnectedness in Indigenous communities,
it may be inappropriate to call in an Indigenous service officer to screen or interview an Indigenous client when family violence is suspected, particularly, if a kinship connection to the client or the client’s partner exists which could present as a conflict of interest.
4.28 The Centre recommended that ‘screening’ should directly seek information about family violence via ‘a question, or series of question about family violence’ on application forms, correspondence and telephone prompts.
Proactive risk identification
4.29 In its submission, DHS advised that a Child Support Family Violence Risk Identification Pilot was being trialled in two sites. The pilot focuses on ‘proactive family violence risk identification’. As part of the pilot, a small sample of Customer Service Officers asked customers brief questions at key points—initial registration and requests for change of assessment—preceded by a short introductory statement about family violence. DHS noted that
the question were designed to be as inclusive as possible and simple enough to avoid re-traumatisation or prompt detailed responses which might lead to needing to re-tell the story again later, and also vicarious traumatisation of staff.
4.30 Where customers responded positively to concerns about safety, they were offered ‘warm transfers’ to appropriate family violence and similar services, which can provide further assessment and support. Where a customer declined the warm transfer, they were offered contact information about relevant services. If particular concerns about family violence were indicated, a ‘sensitive issues indicator’ for family violence is activated on their electronic record.
4.31 This appears to be a hybrid approach in which ‘screening’—by way of direct questioning—is combined with the provision of verbal information to customers. Importantly, the disclosure of family violence-related safety concerns triggers an issues management response, which involves both referral to appropriate services and information sharing by way of the ‘sensitive issues indicator’.
4.32 The Commonwealth Ombudsman considered this a ‘very important initiative’ and noted positively that ‘Child Support has reported a high proportion of customers in the pilot have identified safety concerns and have accepted referrals to an external organisation for assistance or advice’.
A multi-faceted response
4.33 The ALRC recommends that DHS provide allcustomers with information about how family violence may be relevant to the child support, family assistance, social security and Job Services Australia systems. The information should be presented in a range of formats, including: electronic and paper claim forms, posters and brochures, websites, telephone prompts and publications. Information should be provided at, or immediately following, the application process and at defined intervention points.
4.34 Information dissemination can be reinforced by a short verbal statement to the same effect from DHS staff providing customer services. This is a necessary and practical step in promoting the disclosure of family violence, as it communicates a message to customers that DHS is willing to engage with customers on family violence-related issues. This may improve trust and empathetic engagement with customers that may allow for the disclosure of family violence.
4.35 The provision of information to promote the disclosure of family violence-related safety concerns by a customer is consistent with a major theme of this Inquiry—that of self-agency. As stakeholders have argued, it is important that customers should have the right to choose whether, and how, they disclose family violence. In the ALRC’s view, that right is best promoted by service agencies fostering an environment in which customers are well informed about how family violence may be relevant to their circumstances and can be assured that, once family violence-related safety concerns are disclosed, an appropriate and empathetic issues management response will be triggered.
4.36 The ALRC considers that such goals are achievable within DHS’ service delivery reforms. For example, training staff to give a statement about the relevance of family violence could be fed into current training procedures.
Targeting recommendations: policy or procedure?
4.37 The majority of stakeholders supported the ALRC’s proposal that information about ‘screening’ for family violence be included in the Child Support Guide, the Family Assistance Guide and the Guide to Social Security Law. The ALRC considers that providing guidance about the provision of information and the making of a verbal statement about the relevance of family violence in these Guidelines is of particular importance.
4.38 Significant information about the relevance of family violence should be contained in publicly-articulated policy guides, rather than contained in non-publicly accessible instructions. Including information in the Guides should improve transparency and may also enhance consistency and accountability. Importantly, it should also improve general awareness, among customers and their advocates, about measures in place to protect the safety of victims of violence, and may help in promoting disclosure.
Expansion of the Child Support Family Violence pilot
4.39 The Child Support Family Violence pilot provides potential for robust ‘screening’ procedures—revolved around asking questions at identified intervention points—to be utilised in identifying family violence-related safety concerns. However, a wider policy around ‘screening’ would require consideration of a number of issues, including resourcing. For example, a robust ‘screening’ model requires a highly skilled workforce, and the ALRC recognises that this may require significant outlays towards education and training of DHS staff. As DHS submitted:
DHS is not in a position to commit to specific servicing of customers impacted by family violence until resourcing issues are fully understood, costed and priorities and negotiated with partner agencies and Government. Resourcing pressures include staff time, training and systems and procedural support.
4.40 The ALRC notes that, if the pilot is successful in achieving high disclosures of family violence-related safety concerns, DHS may wish to consider expanding the pilot program to other areas beyond the CSA. The success or otherwise of the pilot may indicate whether further reforms towards a more robust ‘screening’ model are necessary.
Recommendation 4–1 The Child Support Guide, Family Assistance Guide and the Guide to Social Security Law should indicate that staff providing customer services, including Centrelink social workers, Indigenous Service Officers, and Multicultural Service Officers should identify family violence-related safety concerns through screening, risk identification, or other methods. Identification of such concerns should occur at, or immediately following, the application process, and at defined intervention points (including as set out in Recommendations 12–1 and 12–3).
Recommendation 4–2 The Department of Human Services should provide information to customers about how family violence may be relevant to their child support, family assistance and social security matters. This should be provided in a variety of formats and should include relevant information about:
- privacy and information protection;
- support and services provided by the Child Support Agency, the Family Assistance Office and Centrelink;
- referrals to Centrelink social workers and expert service providers; and
- income management.
 T Plibersek, The Human Services Portfolio <http://www.mhs.gov.au/the_human_services_portfolio.
php> at 22 July 2011. DHS was created on 26 October 2004 as part of the Finance and Administration portfolio.
 DHS Website < www.humanservices.gov.au/corporate/about-us/> at14 December 2011.
 Revised Explanatory Memorandum, Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (Cth).
 DHS, Additional Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee Inquiry of the Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (2011).
 DHS, Budget 2011-12: Increased Support for People Needing Assistance (2011).
 Ibid. Case coordination trials are being planned for 19 sites in 2011–12, with a total of 44 sites by
 Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 44. The issue of under-reporting of family violence is discussed in Ch 1.
 Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 62.
 For example, application forms do not explain how family violence may form the basis for an exemption from participation, activity or Employment Pathway Plan requirements, or from providing original proof of identity or tax file numbers.
 Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 62; Joint submission from Domestic Violence Victoria and others, Submission CFV 59; Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Vic), Submission CFV 55; M Winter, Submission CFV 51; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 44.
 Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Vic), Submission CFV 55; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 44.
 Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 62; Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Vic), Submission CFV 55; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 44.
 Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Vic), Submission CFV 55; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 45; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 44.
 ADFVC, Submission CFV 53. See also WEAVE, Submission CFV 58; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 57.
 M Bonner, L Campillo and G Cosier, ‘I Have Learnt How to Ask Questions: Implementing Screening for Domestic Violence’ (Paper presented at Expanding our Horizons Conference, Sydney, 18–22 February); Attorney-General’s Department, Screening and Assessment in the Family Relationship Centres and the Family Relationships Advice Line: Practice Framework and Guidelines (2006).
 In this Report, the ALRC prefers the term ‘intervention points’ as being consistent with the language used by DHS.
 Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws, Discussion Paper 76 (2011), Proposal 4–2.
 Ibid, Proposal 4–3.
 Ibid, 132.
 Confidential, Submission CFV 165; National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; FaHCSIA, Submission CFV 162; DHS, Submission CFV 155; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; Indigenous Law Centre, Submission CFV 144; NSW Women’s Refuge Movement Working Party, Submission CFV 120; Gippsland Community Legal Service, Submission CFV 114; ADFVC, Submission CFV 102; Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, Submission CFV 93; WEAVE, Submission
 National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140; Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal & Advocacy Service, Submission CFV 103.
 See Ch 1 for a more in depth discussion of the barriers to the disclosure of family violence.
 National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150.
 AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140.
 DHS, Submission CFV 155.
 DHS, Submission CFV 155.
 National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 140; ADFVC, Submission CFV 102; Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, Submission CFV 93; WEAVE, Submission CFV 84.
 Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service North Queensland, Submission CFV 99.
 Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal & Advocacy Service, Submission CFV 103.
 Indigenous Law Centre, Submission CFV 144.
 DHS, Submission CFV 155.
 Ibid. The questions are asked of both paying and receiving parents of both genders.
 Ibid. A ‘warm transfer’ to be the ability to transfer a customer’s call directly from the Child Support program to the service provider without the customer having to end the call—in effect, the customer is able to speak to the service provider as part of the same call he or she made to the Child Support program.
 The sensitive issues indicator is discussed below in the context of privacy and information sharing.
 Commonwealth Ombudsman, Correspondence, 28 October 2011.
 In particular, intervention points are discussed in Ch 12 (in relation to child assessment claims and change of assessment) and Ch 5 (in relation to social security payments).
 See eg, National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150.
 National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service North Queensland, Submission CFV 99; ADFVC, Submission CFV 102; Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, Submission CFV 93; WEAVE, Submission CFV 84.
 DHS, Submission CFV 155.