The family violence sector is increasing its focus on men's behaviour change, with a greater understanding it is the most effective way to keep women and children safe.
Child and Family Services (Cafs) provides family violence services for men in Ballarat and the surrounding regions.
Cafs manager family violence and child well-being Kellie Dunn said the organisation had restructured and worked to prepare for the 'tsunami' to come, as the sector pivoted towards addressing men's behaviours.
"The whole sector is moving towards one of the only truest ways we can keep women and children safe from family violence, to help perpetrators address their overwhelming desire to use power and control in their relationships," she said.
Ms Dunn said Cafs had been delivering family violence programs for men for 30 years, but the landscape was changing, particularly the number of referrals coming through.
"The police and other organisations like the Magistrates' Court are getting better at understanding family violence and referring in more timely and more appropriate ways," she said.
We have to make sure men who are in our program are ready to take some form of responsibility for their violence.Kellie Dunn, Cafs
Ms Dunn said the opening of the Orange Door in October, a centralised service point for family violence, meant there were thorough referrals from the men's practitioners team.
"We are finding across the whole sector we are all getting better at understanding the complexity of family violence and the referrals are thorough, which means we can respond to men's use of violence in more meaningful ways," she said.
Men can be referred to access family violence services, including the men's behaviour change program and case management, by police, the court or the Orange Door.
Cafs staff assess the risk to the affected family member and the man's suitability for the behaviour change program.
The man must be able to recognise his use of violence as problematic to participate in the program successfully.
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"We have men who are in the program who still cannot say their use of violence is the reason they are in the program," Ms Dunn said.
"There is a concept called the othering, when someone blames everyone else for a behaviour that is theirs: 'it was her fault I hit the kids', or 'I wasn't aiming for her because she got in the way'.
"We have to make sure men who are in our program are ready to take some form of responsibility for their violence."
Cafs is currently recruiting to fill positions within the new family violence team structure, but Ms Dunn said there was a skills shortage in the family violence sector.
"We are finding there are not enough skilled workers out there to meet the need of service delivery which is a problem across all of Victoria," she said.
"We are working really hard to have a good look at how we develop the workforce to be able to meet that demand."
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The number of family violence incidents increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with Crime Statistics Agency revealing there was a 67.5 per cent increase in incidents reported to police in Ballarat (per 100,000 population) during the first lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.
Cafs staff are currently working with about 170 men as part of the family violence program and are in the process of starting behaviour change groups in Ararat, Hepburn and Bacchus Marsh.
"We are definitely having referrals for men who have never used our services before, but we were also seeing men who had used our services before being referred back in. Both areas increased," Ms Dunn said.
A Crime Statistics Agency report released in December revealed half of the perpetrators in the report study had previously been recorded as the perpetrator of a family violence incident.
Ms Dunn said some men would cycle through a number of family violence programs, including men's behaviour change and a program called Dad's Toolbox for fathers who used violence.
She said alcohol and other drugs and mental health issues could be barriers for some men engaging in the programs.
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Cafs is receiving funding to run a new pilot program through the Magistrates' Court focusing on case management for men experiencing issues with alcohol, drugs and mental health.
Ms Dunn said the Integrated Counselling and Case Management pilot was focused on royal commission recommendations.
"Victim survivors were telling us as a system, we have to get better at not letting alcohol and other drugs and mental health be an excuse for men to use family violence," she said.
"We are understanding the complexities a lot better. Alcohol is not a reason to commit family violence, but certainly is a compounding risk factor."
The only true way we can stop men's use of violence is to work with the men on their use of violence.Kellie Dunn, Cafs
A man will be referred to the pilot program through the Magistrates' Court if alcohol, drugs or mental health issues are identified as a barrier for behaviour change.
"If someone has a mental illness that is not being treated or managed it is absolutely impossible for them to sit in a men's behaviour change program and look at a 20 week program based on their use of violence when they are struggling to comprehend the world around them," Ms Dunn said.
"The program is designed to work with mental health and alcohol and drug use services around the Central Highlands to provide specific support and help without losing that family violence lens."
The program will be the first of the kind in the state.
Ms Dunn said these interventions with a focus on behaviour change were critical to breaking the cycle of violence.
"If a man is referred into our program the message we aim to get across to the men and their family members is that help is there," she said.
"We know for a lot of the men who are using family violence this is not something they want to willingly keep doing but they just don't know how to break the cycle.
"The only true way we can stop men's use of violence is to work with the men on their use of violence."
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