News & Events

Complex cases are on the rise

June 19, 2021

Five years after Victoria’s landmark Royal Commission into Family Violence, reports to police are at an all-time high, women are being hospitalised because of family violence and more women than ever are seeking assistance from services like Emerge.

In the year to December 31, 2020, incidents rose by 9.4 per cent from 84,543 to 92,521. Police are called to family incidents every six minutes and an average of 253 incidents are attended each day.

But, according to Executive Officer Paula Westhead, it is not just a case of an increase in demand.

“What we have seen over the past year is that women coming to us have far more complex cases than ever before, needing more help on an already strained budget,” Executive Officer Paula Westhead said.

“It is easy to dismiss this as a consequence of lockdown. Lockdown may have contributed to the severity of cases, but the reality is that we have a huge problem with family violence in society today,” she said.

The evidence of more complex and traumatic cases confronts the Emerge team each time a woman and her family arrive at the refuge. The team has to fill in a complex case form to assess the needs of the family. These are divided into simple (five or less needs of support), medium (five to nine support needs) and high (ten and more).

“More and more often, we are addressing very high needs and especially from women who have no permanent residency visa and therefore cannot get access to Centrelink, Medicare and other essential support,” Paula said.

A typical example of a family in the complex case category has well over ten needs ranging from legal services such as affidavit help and getting an intervention order, visa assistance, mental health care, medical attention, culturally specific support such as sourcing halal meat or attending a local mosque or synagogue, child protection, and education liaison.

“One woman we are currently helping had 39 support needs which are gradually being sorted,” Paula said.

Fortunately for the women, Emerge has an exceptionally strong network of partners in the community. These range from the local GP and maternal child health service, through to Refugee Legal, Life Without Barriers, Good Samaritan Inn , In Touch and Star Health.

“We could not do what we do without these partners, it is as simple as that,” Paula said.

Nor could Emerge do without its volunteers who work in a multitude of ways to support the committed team of staff.

Typically, volunteers are involved in different ways from delivering English lessons, driving women and children to court, tutoring children, through to accessing culturally appropriate meals and food.

Case workers are assigned to individual families with the single purpose of linking women with services, providing safety plans each day to every family member, organising flexible support packages, finding accommodation for families to move into once their time in refuge has ended and helping with enrolment of children into school.

“In effect our team becomes each family’s carer, whether it is providing help physically, emotionally or practically,” Paula said.

“It is not an easy job, and it shows every sign of becoming more difficult. But every day starts and ends in the knowledge that somewhere along the way, a family’s life has been made easier. That makes a world of difference.”

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