COVID-19 SFVS Sector FAQs

For up to date public health advice, please visit the Department of Health and Human Services website.

For further advice for the community sector, please visit the VCOSS website.

For sector briefing links, click here.  

For DHHS Service Delivery Guidelines, visit:

Contacts at DV Vic for updates and advice related to family violence and COVID-19:

This page was last updated on 27 August 2020

COVID-19 and Family Violence

How does a public health pandemic affect the occurrence of family violence?

Research demonstrates that family violence increases after emergency and natural disaster situations such as bushfires, earthquakes and hurricanes. Based on these experiences, we can anticipate that incidence of family violence will also increase during as the widespread community outbreak of COVID-19.

Family violence advocates in China have already reported that family violence incidents have tripled for the month of February this year compared to February last year. Research into other natural disasters in Australia and overseas indicates increases in family violence could increase anywhere from 30% to 100%.

Research into experiences of family violence post the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, found that family violence increased due to a tendency for people to revert to strict gender norms during times of natural disaster and uncertainty such as men being the protectors and decision makers and women being the carers. These strict gender norms reduce women’s autonomy and can put them and their children at risk. Research also found that women’s experiences of violence tend to be dismissed or excused more often during times of disaster or emergency with statements such as “He is just stressed.”

Other contributing factors that can increase the risk of family violence and are likely to be factors in the current situation with COVID-19 are increased financial insecurity, employment and housing insecurity and increased and sustained periods of time that families are together due to quarantine. Victim-survivors also may have a reduced ability to flee family violence during this time, as well as have reduced access to support and community networks if schools and community services are closed for containment reasons. In this environment, it is important that family violence services work with health services and police as key partners in identifying and responding to family violence.

In June 2020, Monash University published “Responding to the ‘shadow pandemic’: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 restrictions” which found an increase in the frequency and severity of violence against women alongside an increase in the complexity of women’s needs. Other findings examined include the emergence of new forms of intimate partner violence relating to social isolation as well as relating to the threat and risk of COVID-19 infection, practitioner recognition that for many women experiencing violence during this period there was a reduction in the ability to seek help, and the identification of numerous challenges to providing supports, undertaking effective risk assessment and carrying out safety planning during the COVID-19 restrictions phase.

It is important for anyone experiencing family violence to know that family violence is never ok, no matter the circumstances or situation.

How does COVID-19 interact with gender?

See the following news articles:

How does COVID-19 affect LGBTI+ people who experience FV? 

LGBTIQ communities are disproportionately affected by COVID 19 due to discrimination and stigma. We know they are often marginalised and invisibilised in service responses to emergencies.  COVID 19 raises new challenges for community connection and access to services and LGBTIQ people may face far greater risk of family violence from families of origin. At this time it is particularly important that services have an inclusive response to family violence.

WithRespect, the Statewide family violence and intimate partner violence service supporting LGBTIQ+ communities and their families, has a new COVID-19 and Family Violence for LGBTIQ+ people resources page.

Rainbow Health have produced a tip sheet for LGBTIQ+ inclusion for COVID-19 remote services. In April this year Rainbow Health also published a research briefing on COVID-19: Impacts for LGBTIQ communities and implications for services.

Equality Australia have recently released a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTI+ communities and building a strong response

How does COVID-19 affect people with disabilities who experience family violence?

Tailored responses for people with disabilities experiencing family violence are more important now than ever, as people with disabilities will be in isolation with abusive family members and are reliant on them for their care. Furthermore, there are additional barriers for some people with disability due to services changing service arrangements in response to COVID-19 (e.g. reduced emphasis on face-to-face appointments). Like other Victorians with disabilities, people with disabilities are concerned that the disability support workforce may be impacted by the pandemic or that there may be risks of transmission from exposure to the workforce s. COVID-19 also could impact National funded services as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as well as state government workforces like the TAC, volunteer programs and other safeguarding programs like Office of the Public Advocate’s Community Visitors. If people with disabilities cannot access their usual services, the few protective factors between them and the person using family violence against them may disappear.

For more on how COVID-19 affects people with disabilities please click here.

Commonwealth Department of Social Services have set up a Disability Information Helpline to assist people with disability and their supporters with information and referrals in relation to the impacts of COVID-19.

Women with Disabilities Australia (WDA) are regularly updating and adding to this list of resources around disability access and inclusion during the COVID-19 upheavals.  It includes practice information on access related to communication, healthcare, disability support workers, getting groceries, dealing with social inclusion, mental health as well as Easy English materials on COVID-19. People with Disability Australia also have a COVID-19 hub webpage they are regularly updating with links, resources and updates on current information as the situation changes.

The NDIS is evolving to respond to the needs of participants in light of COVID-19 (for example they have introduced great flexibility around what plan funds can be spent on and extending plans to up to 24 months). There are two regularly updated webpages for both NDIS participants and for NDIS providers where current arrangements and updates can be found as the situations evolves.

Here are some practice resources for Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness for people with a disability. It can be used alongside Family Violence safety planning tools as a prompt for disability accessibility considerations in the context of COVID-19 (i.e. communication, personal support, decision making support, housing, transport, etc).  

How does COVID-19 affect women on temporary visas who experience family violence?

Victim-survivors of family violence who are temporary visa holders face multiple layers of disadvantage and barriers to accessing support services.  During this time, the situation is compounded as many women on temporary visas will be isolated with abusive family members and may not be eligible for government support.  For example, if a woman has lost her job as a result of COVID-19 measures and she is on a temporary visa, she currently cannot access the government support package.  Women on temporary visas may not have access to Medicare which can compromise their access to medical services.

For more information on how family violence affects women on temporary visas please click here and here.

There has been some recent media highlighting the gaps in support for survivors of family violence with temporary migration status here and here

What can my service do?

  • If you are working with a victim-survivor who is on a temporary visa, you can contact inTouch for secondary consultations regarding legal and immigration issues. 
  • If you have a query about issues related to temporary migration you can contact: Refugee LegalVLA or Department of Home Affairs
  • Contact Red Cross, who have received short-term funding to deliver emergency relief and casework support for people who are on temporary visas. 

There is information about COVID-19 in a range of languages here.

How does COVID-19 impact on access to reproductive health services?

Women will face additional barriers accessing reproductive health services including contraception and abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This comes at a time where women will be in isolation with abusive family members and the occurrence of family violence, including sexual assault and coercive behaviours which control a woman’s ability to make decisions about her reproductive health are likely to increase.

1800 My Options provides information about contraception, pregnancy options and sexual health in Victoria and can link women to information and services.

To access a situation report for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Australia produced by Marie Stopes click here.

How does COVID-19 increase the risk of violence for people who work in the sex industry? (provided by Project Respect) 

The sex industry is still operating.  However, the social distancing regulations have driven the industry further undergroundwhich is exposing sex workers to increased risk of experiencing violence as they are providing services at client’s homes, with no oversight nor ability to report if they experience violence.  

Sex industry business owners are forcing women to work, and they are potentially then subject to fines for not abiding by social distancing rules 

The continuing barriers to accessing support for people on temporary visas is forcing them into sex work and to also take greater risks to access an income.  

The economic impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions mean there is an increased risk of women experiencing sexual exploitation – exchange of sex for basic necessities including housing and food – from a range of people including intimate partnersfamily and household members, and property owners. 

The COVID-19 environment has created an environment that increases the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking in a domestic setting for people to earn an income – trafficking does not require movement across borders.  

Sex workers are moving sexual services online. This assists with physical safety, however they often don’t have broader knowledge about tech safety and potential future issues of tech facilitated abuse.  

Workforce and Industrial Issues

How can my organisation protect staff health and well-being during COVID-19?

The Victorian Government has developed a guide for community services staff to help community sector agencies protect their staff during COVID-19.

Business Victoria has developed a Creating a COVID Safe Workplace website.

In addition, see WorkSafe’s resources for working during COVID-19.

Guidance on the use and availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is rapidly changing. Please see the following websites for detailed information regarding current requirements for and availability of PPE:

The situation is rapidly evolving, so it is important to frequently check the DHHS website for updates.

Certain positions need to work onsite, how do I access worker permits for them to attend the office?

Employers can nominate employees to work on site via a Permitted Worker Permit. Please see the Department’s Permitted Worker Scheme for COVID-19 for the form and additional information.

Are there criteria to determine if a staff member can work onsite instead of from home?

Employers can issue worker permits if:

  • the organisation is on the list of permitted activities
  • the employee is working in an approved category for on-site work, and
  • the employee cannot work from home.

Family violence services are included in permitted industries under State 4 restrictions.

Please see here for more about worker eligibility to work onsite.

If a staff member’s wellbeing is suffering as a result of them working from home, can they be permitted to work onsite?

Employers are responsible for determining whether an employee can work from home.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has issued directions to limit the number of Victorians attending work premises.

See the Department’s website on current restrictions for the most up to date directions regarding “Workplace Directions” and “Permitted Worker and Childcare Permit Schemes”

Are my staff eligible for their children to attend childcare and/or school?

Children of permitted workers are eligible to attend childcare and/or kinder if there is no one at home to attend to the children. This may be in the case of a single parent household or where the other parents is working from home and unable to attend to the children.

For more information about eligibility for children of permitted workers to attend childcare or kinder see information regarding a Childcare Permit and permitted worker eligibility.

There is currently no similar scheme for school aged children of permitted workers.

What if my staff (and their families) are required to self-isolate but are in good health?

Information and guidance for employers on their responsibilities to employees and stakeholders in responding to COVID-19 is dynamic and subject to the most up to date information available from public health authorities.

The current advice from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer is anyone who has returned from overseas, been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case should remain at home for fourteen (14) days following exposure.

Fair Work Commission Advice

As at 16 March 2020, Fair Work state that in the event of self-isolation or quarantine, and the employee and family members are of good health, the Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations and it is up to the employer and employee to come to an agreement that could include taking annual, long service, unpaid leave or the provision of special purpose leave.

DHHS Guidance Note on Employment-Related Matters for the Community Services Sector

As at the 16 March 2020, DHHS published COVID-19 guidance on employment related matters relevant to the community sector. The guidance recommends employers review all industrial instruments relevant to their workplaces including its enterprise agreements, Award, NES and organisational policies and procedures.

DHHS guidance extends its provision of paid special purpose leave to cover employees in the event of self-isolation or quarantine, and the employee and family members are of good health for up to the advised 14-day period. However, if an employee or family member was to become unwell, the paid special purpose leave would cease, and the employee would access their accrued personal/carers leave.

It is recommended that the employer assess each employee on a case by case basis as working from home arrangements are also advisable in the event of self-isolation or quarantine measures.

What if my staff get sick and do not have enough sick leave?

Fair Work Commission Advice

Fair Work confirm that employees can apply and are entitled to unpaid sick and carers leave in the event that they have exhausted their sick and carer’s leave entitlements. Fair Work recommends employers consider its obligations across all relevant industrial instruments as some may provision for more generous entitlements.

DHHS Guidance Note on Employment-Related Matters for the Community Services Sector

The DHHS guidance confirms that in the instance that an employee or family member contract Coronavirus Disease, employees can access their accrued personal/carers leave.

The DHHS guidance extends its advice to cover the instances where employees may not have enough accrued paid personal/carers leave to cover their period of absence, confirming others forms of paid (annual and long service) or unpaid leave can be accessed.

DHHS guidance differs from the Fair Work Commission advice as it references the discretion of employers to grant special purpose leave in the event that an employee has contracted or is caring for a family member who has contracted Coronavirus Disease.

Boards of Management have the capacity and discretion to grant special purpose leave provisions for its workforce. It is recommended that Boards of Management discuss the service, business and financial implications of special purpose leave as a matter of priority.

Australian Service Union (ASU) and Australian Council Trades Unions (ACTU)

The ACTU and ASU have published employer COVID-19 fact sheets and guidance confirming employers’ obligations to protect the health and safety of employees within the workplace.

The ACTU and ASU are advocating for employers to grant access to 2 weeks paid special leave to any employee (permanent, fixed or casual) impacted by COVID-19 that is required to isolate or is unable to work. The ACTU reference the need for all workers to be supported to take the measures necessary to help control the spread of the virus within their communities.

The ASU guidance summaries the employer’s responsibilities related to business contingency, working from home arrangements and planning for employee health and safety within the workplace.

Please see VCOSS’s website for further resources.

Does/should my organisation pay casuals for sick leave during COVID-19?

Under the Fair Work Act casual employees can access up to 2 days unpaid carers leave per occasion.

DHHS guidance recommends employers consider the nature of the work completed by casual employees. If a casual employee has been and will continue to work in the organisation on a regular and systematic basis, DHHS recommend access to paid special leave be provided to cover any required period of self-isolation or period required to be absent from work.

Boards of Management have the capacity and discretion to grant special purpose leave provisions for its workforce inclusive of casual employees.

It is recommended that Boards of Management discuss the service, business and financial implications of special purpose leave as a matter of priority.

In line with Fair Work and DHHS advice, employers consider its obligations across all relevant industrial instruments as some may provision for more generous entitlements.

What if my organisation ‘runs out’ of staff?

DV Vic is working with the Specialist Family Violence Service Leadership Group, FSV and DHHS to develop state-wide, systemic guidelines on continuity of service, workforce sustainability and wellbeing, and scaling service delivery in response to reduced availability of staff. 

Options for creating a pool of qualified and experienced staff to provide basic cover are being explored. DV Vic is working with FSV around medium to longer-term strategies to address workforce shortages, workforce sustainability and wellbeing and access to casuals to support backfill for staff.

As a result of the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, my organisation is having to employ more casual staff while also paying for personal leave. What about our salary budget?

Managing staff resources during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be challenging. You are encouraged to reforecast your salary budget early and project any budget shortfalls so you can develop a strategy to mitigate this. Advice has been sought from FSV regarding any special funding arrangements that might be made available to SFVSs under these circumstances. DV Vic is working with FSV around medium to longer-term strategies to address workforce shortages, workforce sustainability and wellbeing and access to casuals to support backfill for staff.

Service Delivery – General

How can my organisation continue to deliver services to victim-survivors of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

As services make modifications for business continuity arrangements it is important to consider sector best practice guidance in order to adapt to new ways of enabling quality family violence service responses.

The Foundational Framework and Principles of the Code of Practice for Specialist Family Violence Services for Victim-Survivors provide a best practice compass to navigate through current complexities and maintain a commitment to intersectional feminist, inclusive and safety-focused support. For DVVic members, the principles and standards of the Code are there to support your ethical considerations for adapting business continuity. Many of the standards and indicators are already aligned with providing the type of flexible victim-centred service responses that COVID-19 demands right now.  

The Standards and their accompanying indicators can be used as a checklist for adapting responses in a way that promotes quality service provision, even though the nature of access and engagement with victim-survivors has changed temporarily. 

Services for perpetrators should refer to the Men’s Behaviour Change Minimum Standards and guidance from No to Violence. 

DHHS and FSV have released COVID-19 Family Violence and Sexual Assault Sector Guidelines (Version 1.0) to respond to COIVD-19 and develop service continuity plans.  DV Vic has had some input into these. Anna Wark is available to provide advice and guidance on implementing these in your agency.  Any feedback or advocacy issues you identify from the Guidelines can be shared with Alison Birchall or Kate Mecham.

Click here to access tools to assist with service continuity planning.

It is important that our partners in the community sector and the general public know that the specialist family violence sector is still open for business, as the incidence of family violence is likely to increase during periods of isolation. Work with your local networks and partnerships to plan for service delivery continuity and referrals across sectors. The aim is for service provision to be as close to business as usual as possible.

Please also use tools and information available on the DHHS website.

Many staff at my organisation have caring responsibilities. If schools close and when it is school holidays, their capacity to work from home will be reduced. How do we provide service continuity under those circumstances?

Managing staff resources during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be challenging.

DV Vic is working with the Specialist Family Violence Service Leadership Group and FSV to develop state-wide, systemic guidelines on continuity of service, workforce sustainability and wellbeing, and scaling service delivery in response to reduced availability of staff. 

Options for creating a pool of qualified and experienced staff to provide basic cover are being investigated. DV Vic is working with FSV around medium to longer-term strategies to address this.

Children of permitted workers are eligible to attend childcare and/or kinder if there is no one at home to attend to the children. This may be in the case of a single parent household or where the other parents is working from home and unable to attend to the children.

For more information about eligibility for children of permitted workers to attend childcare or kinder see information regarding a Childcare Permit and permitted worker eligibility.

What if my organisation does not reach our service delivery targets during the pandemic period – including seeing clients face to face, provision of training – will we be penalised?

Delivering services during this time is likely to be challenging. Family Safety Victoria has advised that it is aware that service delivery is likely to be impacted during this pandemic period and has committed to being flexible regarding targets and funding. FSV advises that it has no intention of withdrawing funding during this time or as a result of services needing to alter their service arrangements. If you are concerned about your targets, funding, or other issues impacting your service delivery contact your departmental representative.

Can we cancel or postpone RAMP meetings due to COVID-19?

RAMP meetings cannot be cancelled.

Please visit WESNET for tips and resources regarding secure online platforms for remote meetings.

Justice Connect is also offering tailored legal advice for services including information on client safety, securing data with increasingly remote workforces, and managing cancelled public events.

Please liaise with Jacky Tucker, Statewide Coordinator for RAMP if you have any particular concerns or issues.

What if a client requires outreach support?

DV Vic is working with FSV and the Specialist Family Violence Leadership group to develop a resource bank on good practices in this area as victim-survivors are potentially at greater risk due to possible isolation and quarantine with people using violence against them.

Services should start to incorporate possible impact of COVID-19 into risk assessments and safety planning with clients now for possible isolation/quarantine. Services should also work with Victoria Police to coordinate services at a local level and ask for welfare checks for high risk clients known to be in isolation/quarantine. Services should also work in partnership with other local agencies that might be coming into contact with the victim-survivor/family while in isolation/quarantine (e.g. health providers).

We encourage services to think about clients facing intersecting forms of exclusion and disadvantage when undertaking their risk assessments and safety planning, such as women with disabilities, LGBTIQ clients, people in the sex industry, those from refugee and immigrant backgrounds and thinking even more about working locally with partner orgs that victims-survivors from these communities might also be in touch with.

If your service requires practice advice or has developed creative or innovation practice responses, please share them with annawark@dvvic.org.au.

How can my organisation ensure clients have the necessary food and medication they need to self-isolate when they are likely to have left with very little and these items are currently hard to come by?

DV Vic and FSV are aware of the concerns from refuges regarding food security, access to prescription medicines, and essential sanitary items including toilet paper. We will continue to explore options for securing supplies.

Victorian Emergency Services have been working with major supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths, to ensure that vulnerable members of the community have access to groceries and medication.

Emergency services recommends that services contact your local stores and notify them that you are a funded agency providing support to vulnerable members of the community and request priority assistance to access supplies needed to support your clients.

You can also contact stores centrally via their priority assistance or customer care lines: Woolworths and Coles

Are PSI contractors, specifically security firms, considered permitted workers under Stage 4 Social Restrictions to support a Safe at Home response?

The Office of Public Health has confirmed that private security firms are Permitted Services insofar as they are undertaking work for ‘listed’ Permitted Services (e.g. Family Violence agencies). Locksmiths are specifically allowed as permitted workers.

Furniture removalists are also listed as they relate to supporting Permitted Services.

Service Delivery – Refuge or Crisis Accommodation

There is a client/s at my refuge who needs to self-isolate. What do we do?

The Department has issued Q&A Guidelines specifically for family violence refuges that address what to do if a client in the refuge needs to self-isolate.

In addition, MARAM practice notes have been developed in conjunction with DV Vic regarding how to work with clients in self isolation.

Please also see official advice from the Department of Health and Human Services regarding clients who need to self-isolate.   

There is a client/s at my refuge who have tested positive for COVID-19. What do we do?

Please see the Department’s Q&A Guidelines for family violence refuges which address what to do if a client tests positive for COVID-19.

If we have a client living in refuge who has COVID-19, can we accept referrals for other clients?

The Department recommends that communal family violence refuges move to a single household model during COVID-19 to reduce transmission.

Please see the Department’s Q&A Guidelines for family violence refuges which address what to do if a client has COVID-19.

Will there be enough crisis accommodation available during the pandemic?

DV Vic continues to work with FSV to ensure that people experiencing family violence and those who need to self-isolate have access to crisis accommodation.

Funding is provided via increased Family Violence Crisis Brokerage Funding and FSPs to enable flexible service delivery that is able to purchase crisis accommodation as needed.

Please see the FSV’s Family Violence Crisis Brokerage Guidelines for more information.

Please notify DV Vic if additional advocacy is needed on this issue.

Will there be more HEF to pay for longer stays in crisis accommodation?

Specialist Family Violence Services received an increase in Family Violence Crisis Brokerage money (previously HEF) in May to support specialist family violence services to respond to increases in demand for services and crisis accommodation.

Please see the FSV’s Family Violence Crisis Brokerage Guidelines for more information.

How can my organisation ensure clients have the necessary food and medication they need to self-isolate when they are likely to have left with very little and these items are currently hard to come by?

DHHS has assured the housing and homelessness sector that there are no problems with food supply.

Priority service with large grocery retailers will be available for agencies who support vulnerable clients – including community housing and homelessness providers. The following links will enable your agency to register for priority access to orders. While some of the links read like they are targeted to individuals, we are assured that agencies should also register through this process. Retailers will respond over the phone or via the online form and fill orders as received.

My refuge has run out of sanitary items such as toilet paper. What do we do?

Priority service with large grocery retailers will be available for agencies who support vulnerable clients – including community housing and homelessness providers. The following links will enable your agency to register for priority access to orders. While some of the links read like they are targeted to individuals, we are assured that agencies should also register through this process. Retailers will respond over the phone or via the online form and fill orders as received.

If a client is identified as having COVID-19 and needs to be placed in a motel, does the family violence service need to disclose this to motel staff?

DV Vic is currently seeking advice from FSV, DHHS and public health officials about the process for placing clients with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in motels. While accommodating victim-survivors in motels should be an option of last resort, including for victim-survivors with COVID-19, in some cases this will unavoidable. This page will be updated regularly as more information is available.

Are children experiencing family violence in refuge considered vulnerable and able to attend school?

DV Vic and FSV are working the Department of Education and Training (DET) to clarify their policy and practice on this issue.

It is DV Vic and FSVs view that children who have or are experiencing family violence are considered vulnerable and should be eligible to attend school as vulnerable students regardless of if they are in refuge or not.

If you have children in your refuge who are being denied access to school, please contact Alison Birchall with case studies to support our advocacy to DET.

Service Delivery – Systemic, Coordinated Response

What is the police response to family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Victoria Police advise that they continue to provide responses to victim-survivors of family violencerecognising that this is a particularly high-risk time, with the added challenges that self-isolation brings for victim-survivors needing to seek help or report family violence.  

In addition to maintaining usual police responses to reports of family violence, Family Violence Investigation Units (FVIUs) have been tasked with ensuring they actively engage with their highest risk perpetrators and vulnerable AFMs and record these engagements centrally. Operation Ribbon will ensure that family violence remains a focus and priority during the COVID-19 event and there remains a strong emphasis on maintaining visibility of high-risk AFMs and appropriate control measures have been established to prioritise the safety of AFMs and keep perpetrators in view.  What this means in practice is, the specialist family violence investigators in the FVIUs will contact those perpetrators and AFMs who have been identified as at the highest risk of committing or experiencing further family violence through the L17 risk assessment and Case Prioritisation and Risk Management processes (not MARAM).  

SFVSs are urged to work at the local level with Victoria Police to coordinate with them on welfare checks for high risk clients known to be in isolation/quarantine, or for whom the context of family violence has introduced new patterns or perpetrator behaviour and/or created new barriers to victims-survivors accessing assistance that place them at high-risk.   

Police members have been issued with personal protective equipment to use if needed when responding to a call out where someone may have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Police will factor a person’s or household’s health into their risk assessment when preparing to respond to a family violence incident.  Police will continue to remove people using violence from the house and issue exclusion orders if the risk assessment indicates this.  Police are working with the whole of government response to identify pathways to crisis accommodation for perpetrators removed from the home during the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

There is information from police about family violence in a range of languages here.

What is the court response to family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A joint statement has been issued on behalf of the Victoria courts and VCAT on operational changes resulting from the Stage 4 Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

Magistrates Court

The Magistrate’s Court of Victoria (MCV) has provided the following information about changes to operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  MCV has also expanded access to the family violence online intervention order form and FVIO applications can still be made in person at the Court if that is the safest option.

All Magistrates’ Courts are open, but to reduce the number of people at court venues, people are being discouraged from attending court and services previously provided face-to-face at the court (i.e. Duty lawyers, Applicant Practitioners etc) are now being provided via phone.  The following information has been provided by the Magistrates’ Court:

  • People are permitted to leave their home to seek protection from family violence while the Victorian Government stay at home restrictions are in place. This includes attending Court if required. 
  • The Court continues to hear family violence matters, including Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO) applications.  
  • The Court is giving priority to urgent and high risk FVIO applications.  
  • All Family Violence Practitioners will continue to provide support by telephone.  
  • Second and subsequent listings will be adjourned to a new hearing date that is to be fixed on a case-by-case basis.  The Court will advise parties or their legal representatives of the new date. 
  • The Court will consider requests for abridgment of any new hearing dates on a case-by-case basis. The Court will always give priority to high-risk applications.  

DV Vic will continue to seek advice from MCV about what the changes to operations mean for how matters are handled by the court to ensure that victim-survivors remain engaged in the legal process and have access to appropriate services. 

If you are speaking with a victim-survivor, it is important to check if they have a pending court date, and if so, whether they have accessed legal information and advice.  If it is a police-initiated matter (i.e. Family Violence Safety Notice or Intervention Order), it would be useful to check whether the police have been in contact with the victim-survivor.

Family Court

The Family Court of Australia has issued a statement about Parenting Orders and COVID-19.  This is general guidance and if victim-survivors have current or future family court hearings, it is important that they contact legal services for advice.

The Covid-19 List

  • The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) have each established a court list dedicated to dealing exclusively with urgent family law disputes that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • If a matter is eligible for the COVID-19 list, it will be heard within 72 hours.  More information on the COVID-19 list can be found here.  A matter is eligible for the COVID-19 list if it meets all the following criteria:
    • The application has been filed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic (this includes where there has been an increase in risk due to family violence);
    • The matter is urgent;
    • The application is accompanied by an Affidavit (using the COVID-19 template affidavit) that addresses all of the criteria;
    • If safe to do so, you have made reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute, but you were unsuccessful;
    • The matter can be dealt with using electronic means (e.g.: using telephone or videoconferencing).
  • Women’s Legal Service Victoria provide an On-Call advice line for practitioners which provides preliminary advice and referrals for clients in areas of family law, family violence law, child protection and VOCAT. Practitioners can contact this service during business hours by calling 8622 0600.

Children’s Court

The Children’s Court has issued a Public Notice about COVID-19 measures. Please click here.

How can victim-survivors access legal advice?

Access to legal advice is essential for victim-survivors of family violence to ensure that they can make informed decisions about their safety.  Changes have been made to how legal services are providing advice and assistance to clients with most legal services, including Duty lawyer services at courts, now being provided by phone or other conferencing facilities rather than face-to-face.

Given that people are being discouraged from attending court, victim-survivors may not be aware that they can access free legal advice and assistance, or ask to speak to a Duty lawyer on the day of the hearing.  Therefore, it is important that if you are speaking to a victim-survivor they are aware of legal services that can assist them and if possible, they access these services prior to a court hearing.

  • For changes to services provided by Community Legal Centres and contact details for the CLC in your area please click here.
  • For changes to services provided by Victoria Legal Aid and contact details please click here. VLA have a Legal Help service that clients can contact by telephone on 1300 792 387 and webchat at http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/. If staff are available, a chat window will appear at the bottom of the website.  This service is available 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday, is available in different languages and for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.
  • For changes to services provided by Women’s Legal Service Victoria and contact details please click here.

Operational and Administration Issues

My organisation is not set up for remote working – what do we do?

Organisations should immediately start exploring the logistics required for them to continue service delivery through staff working from home or remotely. We recommend that this includes an audit of ICT equipment available for staff to work from home including assessing your organisation’s data security and privacy measures.

Please visit WESNET for tips and resources regarding secure online platforms for remote meetings between staff and with clients.

Justice Connect is also offering tailored legal advice for services including information on client safety, securing data with increasingly remote workforces, and managing cancelled public events.

Organisations should also review and update staff well-being and vicarious trauma mitigation strategies to ensure these are responsive to staff working from home for prolonged periods, and ensure staff know what support is available and going to be provided to them while they are working from home and in greater isolation from the normal team environment.

How can my organisation ensure confidentiality, data security, and privacy?

Organisations are encouraged as a priority to audit and address their data safety & privacy resources and take immediate steps to ensure staff working from home have access to service delivery data in secure environment.

WESNET has developed resources to assist family violence organisations to set up for working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. WESNET also provides the following resources:

Many of WESNET’s resources draw on those developed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) in the United States. NNEDV also provide a Digital Services Toolkit.

Please Note: DV Vic has been advised by data security experts that organisations will see an increase in cyber/ransomware attacks as many workforces transition to working from home arrangements. Attackers will take advantage of COVID-19 so it is recommended that agencies verify anything coming from a known/unknown email address and/or hyperlinks.

Can staff working from home use personal devices for service delivery?

It is recommended that staff do not use personal devices for service delivery as this compromises client privacy and data protection. Please see WESNET’s resource for Best practices when using Mobile Devices for service delivery.

What type of insurance coverage does my agency require to cover remote service delivery? 

The Victorian Managed Insurance Association has issued general guidance, which is available on their website.  

How can my organisation access the Federal Government’s Economic Stimulus Package for Not for Profit Organisations?

On 22 March 2020, the Federal Government announced a second economic stimulus package inclusive of measures aimed at boosting cash flow for small/medium businesses and not for profit organisations.

The criteria for not for profit organisations to receive payments of between $20,000 and up to $100,000 is to be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) with an annual turnover of up to $50 million.

Not for profits will receive two payments equal to 100 per cent of the total withheld tax of its employees’ salary and wages amount, with a minimum payment of $10,000 and up to a maximum payment of $50,000.

Payments will be paid as a credit through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) activity statement system. The first payment will be made to organisations between late April-July and the second will be delivered in equal instalments in the June – September activity statements, in line with organisations’ monthly or quarterly Business Activity Statement reporting schedule.

If you or a member of your team would be interested in receiving further information please contact Claire Bauska.

Practice with Victim-Survivors who are Isolated and/or in Quarantine

For advice on using the Code of Practice for Specialist Family Violence Services Working with Victim-Survivors, please see the Service Delivery – General section above.

DV Vic continues to work with Specialist Family Violence Services to ensure they are able to deliver services and responses to victim-survivors. The Foundational Framework and Principles of the Code provide a best practice compass to navigate through current complexities and maintain a commitment to intersectional feminist, inclusive and safety-focused support. DV Vic has maintained a register of practice challenges and has developed tailored practice advice for Specialist Family Violence Services during this time.

If your service requires practice advice or has developed creative or innovation practice responses, please share them with annawark@dvvic.org.au.

Risk Assessment and Safety Planning

Services should incorporate the impact of COVID-19, restrictions and quarantine into risk assessments and safety planning with victim-survivors (as directed in the Practice Note below).  Where a victim survivor is in isolation or quarantine this should be considered a high-risk factor.  Consider these cases for referral to RAMP following the standard procedures.  Where clients are in RAMP, use RAMP panels to develop action plans.

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Practice Note – Minimum Response

Family Safety Victoria in consultation with DV Vic has developed a minimum response guide under the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework. This practice note outlines the steps specialist family violence workers must take to re-assess risk and review safety plans during the COVID-19 quarantine and isolation periods. 

Key message:
A victim-survivor can leave their home to escape family violence, including during Stage Four Restrictions (Melbourne and Mitchell Shire) and Stage Three Restrictions (rest of Victoria).

It is recommended that all clients have a revised risk assessment and updated safety plan in response to COVID-19 related quarantine or increased government imposed physical distancing and travel restriction measures. Where possible, services are expected to prioritise accordingly:

  • RAMP Clients – current and referred
  • Clients identified at serious risk especially if the perpetrator is on remand (and release is imminent)
  • Clients: who are pregnant; with children (esp. under 3 years); who require an interpreter; with complex needs (including children with complex needs, such as disability or medical condition); who are over 60 years; who are in hotel accommodation 
  • All clients

Strengthening coordinated and collaborative practice during COVID-19

During COVID-19, there is recognition that there may be further reduced capacity for some victim survivors to communicate or engage directly with specialist family violence services due to their choice, circumstances, risk or fear, such as monitoring and controlling behaviours from a perpetrator.

In these circumstances, there is increased need to work collaboratively with other sectors who are directly engaged with victim-survivors to provide specialist expertise and guidance for risk assessment and risk management. It is important to ensure secondary consultations are provided to other agencies in a timely manner and to enable inclusive and culturally safe responses.

During the COVID-19 period, it is important for specialist family violence services to lead coordinated responses to support victim-survivor safety and wellbeing, identify and respond to risk, and collaborate across sectors, including through information sharing, providing secondary consultation, and collaborative action plans.

Based on assessed risk and need, you may be able to facilitate access to brokerage funds for victim-survivors and perpetrators that are not otherwise directly engaged with your service. Where risk assessment, safety planning, coordinated action plans or brokerage is facilitated through other sectors (e.g. mental health, AOD), the supported perpetrator or adult and child victim-survivor are considered clients during the service support period.

How do practitioners reach victim-survivors who are self-isolated with people using family violence against them?

DV Vic and others are developing resources targeting other professionals, family & friends, and the general community, raising their awareness of the risks associated with family violence during a public health crisis and highlighting the role they can play in keeping victims-survivors who are in self-isolation or quarantine safe. Please consider the wider network of victims-survivors when you are doing safety planning.

Safe communication: Think about secure ways to communicate, such as using Whatsapp, Webchat, Signal etc.  Discuss these with victim-survivors and agree on what method is most appropriate or safe.

Working collaboratively: As is outlined above, strengthening coordinated and collaborative practice can support service responses to victim-survivors. A victim-survivor may be able to safely engage with a health service or AOD service, where a perpetrator is preventing access to a specialist family violence service.  with services that have contact with the victim-survivor: