I wrote those words back in July last year in a piece about the human toll of domestic violence. Following White Ribbon Day and the substantial media coverage about this human toll, it’s evident to all Australians that ‘our’ crisis is not terrorism and it’s not sharks but ‘this plague’.
Since writing that article, I have become an ambassador for a specialist women’s refuge in South Western Sydney, Bonnie Support Services Ltd.
This organisation approached me because they could see, as one of the remaining fourteen specialist domestic violence services in NSW, they needed someone to put their role in the limelight in case of further changes to the Going Home Staying Home reform process.
So what is it that has my full support? Bonnie’s exists to serve women and their children, supporting them to lead the best lives they can. They provide support and/or accommodation to women and their children who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or escaping domestic and family violence.
Bonnie’s is essentially an all-female not-for-profit support service, working for more than 40 years with the women and children of South-Western Sydney. They are committed to bringing their years of experience, understanding and best practice to make a real impact.
The many media presentations recently, including Sarah Ferguson’s documentary, highlighted the cry for ‘specialist’ domestic violence services. The avalanche of reforms in the NSW housing sector recently wiped out in its path the strong specialist service base of NSW domestic violence services. The specialist service base in NSW fell from 78 services to 14 across NSW. In its place Domestic Violence services in NSW have received via government a gold plated idea of ‘generic homeless women’ which propels service delivery into institutionalised co-production of generalist services mixing homeless women and substance dependent women, or those with mental health issues with women and children escaping domestic violence.
In the words of the Executive Officer of Bonnie’s, Tracy Phillips:
At Bonnie’s we know what to serve up and to whom.
For the handful of ‘specialist’ domestic violence services left such as Bonnie’s they are struggling under the tsunami of demand now being directed to these fourteen specialist services in NSW. They are in demand.
All specialist services, including Bonnie’s, know the nature and dynamics of domestic violence. In Tracy Phillips’ experience the specialist approach, offering the right service at the right time, gets the best outcomes for women and children.
The message is loud, specialist domestic violence staff can identify and solve problems more quickly and effectively and can develop and promote best practice that can then be mainstreamed to drive change in the system more generally.
Bonnie’s Support Services is not a silo, an argument often used against specialisation in housing and support in domestic violence. “In South Western Sydney you can achieve nothing without working with others, the resources are so tight,” Tracy Phillips reiterates. “Just last Saturday my staff and I were out in the streets of Cabramatta supporting high school students doing a bucket collection for our services. We’re letting the community know we are here. I represent my service and work with many other services in regional forums, but without the staff’s specialist background the advocacy of Bonnie’s would be diminished.”
Taking away the specialist base of domestic violence services is not a step towards mainstreaming better practice. Tracy is clear that “My staff know the laws, the regulations and who can do what: they have the contacts, it’s their job to continually get the mainstream services to remain responsive.”
The maths is pretty simple here. The less specialist DV refuge workers out there, the less much-needed and broader changes will become mainstream. The existence of specialist positions in NSW police, over years of plugging away, has helped the NSW police change attitudes and get better outcomes for women. So governments already know it works. It’s hard not think that it is government itself that is not funding the ‘best practice’ while contracting mainstream community organisations to do a ‘generic’ job of providing refuges for many different complex client groups.
When a women goes looking for help and if she comes across the Bonnie Support Services web page and other material translated into many languages, she instantly receives positive messages.
This is what Bonnie’s, a specialist domestic violence service offers. If you go looking elsewhere on the web for services provided by large charities you will find them but I am yet find a generic service which is reaching out with such positive messages and practice to women. You have to reach the women first, if you want the women to reach you. The specialist expertise in Bonnie’s knows how.
Written for Bonnie’s by our Ambassador, Jane Caro