This blog is based on an Evaluation Report led by Dr Jess Rodgers, Senior Research Officer. The team included Vanessa Ryan, Senior Research Officer and Regan Carr, Industry Fellow, all from the School of Justice QUT. At the time of the report’s publication I was a Professor in the School.
The blog provides a brief snapshot of an evaluation undertaken of the co-location of a domestic family violence (DFV) specialist embedded in Toowoomba Police Station. We found that this model, while not without initial challenges, strengthened the integrated approach to responding to survivors of DFV, enhanced survivors’ willingness to both report to police and to report further breaches of any orders, and was well regarded by women reporting DFV to the Station. The co-location also enhanced information sharing across policing and the DFV sector agencies in the region. By working together, QPS and DVAC have a better chance to break the cycle of violence than working alone. In the process the survivors of DFV receive an enhanced victim centred integrated response. The findings of our evaluation support the viability of replicating and even extending the co-location model – to a co-responder model in policing DFV across Australia.
Victims/survivors of domestic and family violence (DFV) are reluctant to report to police (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019: 19). Fear of not being believed or taken seriously by police is one reason (Douglas, 2019). In Queensland, there is a growing realisation that policing responses to DFV are in urgent need of reform to address this reluctance (DFV Death Review and Advisory Board 2017; Douglas 2019; Riga 2021; Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland 2015).
Police acknowledge that responding to family violence is not something they can do alone and recognise the importance of partnering with the DFV sector, as having a sole focus on criminal justice outcomes may sideline the autonomy and safety of women (Mundy and Seuffert 2021; Reuland et al. 2006). The models involving collaboration between police and other services, include high risk teams (Hamilton et al. 2021), and co-responder models where workers attend DFV call outs with police (Reuland et al. 2006). The Not Now, Not Ever taskforce recommended (no 76) the Qld Government ‘establish a model for inter-agency response to high risk cases which works within, or complements integrated responses and which is progressively established throughout the state’ (Special Taskforce 2015: 226). Our evaluation assessed how the co-location met this aim and also improved information sharing as also recommended by the Taskforce (no. 78).
In 2021, QPS established frontline co-location models in the Moreton, Gold Coast, Mt Isa, Toowoomba, and Townsville Districts (QPS 2021: 9). This is the context in which the Domestic Violence Action Centre (DVAC), Queensland Police Service (QPS) and QUT Centre for Justice collaborated to evaluate the co-location of a domestic violence specialist (DVS) worker at QPS Toowoomba. This Briefing Paper provides an overview of the findings of this evaluation.
The DVAC co-location
The DVAC QPS co-location project began 18 January 2021 and has an expected end date some time this year, being completely funded by the NGO. The social worker had extensive specialist training and expertise in trauma informed practices in how best to respond to victims/survivors of DFV (hereafter survivor). As an embedded specialist with QPS in Toowoomba Police Station, her role was to support survivors seeking police assistance with DFV matters, by providing them with information, referrals, safety plans, iphones, emergency and emotional support. The DVF specialist also supports police with survivors across these tasks. The role also involves participation in a pre-existing High Risk Panel that meets monthly to facilitate information sharing to implement safety planning for partners or ex-partners of the high risk individuals.
The evaluation examined how the co-location between DVAC and the QPS Toowoomba, met the co-location objectives for the role. We used de-identified data provided by DVAC including task notes and reflections recorded by the embedded worker. DVAC conducted surveys of clients after use of their service (n=18) as well as surveys of police following their use of the specialist worker’s services (n=19). The evaluation team also conducted interviews of police located at the station (n=5) and interviews of DVAC workers (n=4). The research was approved by QUT University Research Human Ethics Committee, and QPS Research Committee. Participants were deidentified throughout the collection, analysis and reporting of results.
The quantitative data did not collect data specifically on Indigenous clients, a group which has higher rates of DFV and lower engagement with police. However, we do know that the specialist worker did collaborate with the ATSI specialist officer when responding to Indigenous survivors of DFV during the trail. In future, data collection instruments could be better designed to capture whether there are any differences with this client group and non-Indigenous clients seeking police help.
Table 1: Results and analysis
|Connection point for client referrals between DVAC and QPS in both directions||Met|
|Assistance to clients presenting at QPS counter for DFV matters||Met|
|Case consultation with QPS officers||Met|
|Risk management for high risk cases and an integrated approach in relation to this||Met|
|To improve the experience of engagement with QPS for women and individuals who experience domestic violence.||Achieved|
|To strengthen the integrated response between the host station and DVAC workers when responding to incidents of domestic and family violence||Achieved|
|2.1 Real time advice to QPS officers when engaging with aggrieved on call outs||Achieved within the limitations of the role|
|2.2 Increase QPS officers’ understanding of referral pathways and referral options for aggrieved||Achieved|
|Recommendation 76 from Not Now, Not Ever report: Integrated response to DFV.||Achieved within the limitations of the role|
|Recommendation 78 from Not Now, Not Ever report: Information sharing.||Achieved|
Improved experiences of engagement
In addition to meeting the above aims and objectives, the co-location introduced benefits for clients, DVAC and QPS. For the clients, trauma informed emotional support was the key benefit. The worker used various tools to calm anxious clients while making statements and spoke to clients before, during and after speaking to police. Data from client surveys (n=18) speak very positively of the worker’s support during this process which can be traumatising. Figure 5 shows the vast majority of clients (88.9%, n=16) reported they were Absolutely heard, understood and respected by their DVAC worker. Figure 6 shows almost three quarters of clients (72.2%, n=13) reported they Absolutely felt more comfortable speaking to Police as a result of their appointment with the specialist worker.
An open ended question asked clients, ‘Is there any feedback you would like to give to the DVAC worker?’ Below are just two examples of the appreciation expressed by clients about the additional support they received from the DVAC worker.
The support I have received from [the worker] during such a difficult time helped me immensely. Having someone that understands, is compassionate and knows what to expect at court and the police station available took a lot of the anxiety out of my experience. Also connecting me to their services such as a solicitor with experience and understanding of family separation and parenting. [CS9]
I really appreciate the help and after DV becoming such a normal and regular part of my life, it’s nice to get validation and support in trying to stop it. [CS17]
All but one of police officer and all DVAC workers interviewed, Agreed that the co-location model ‘Improved the engagement experience of survivors of DFV with QPS officers’ and all but one Strongly Agreed or Agreed that the co-location model ‘Enhanced the trust of DVAC clients with police at the host station’ (see Figure below). The police we interviewed stated it would be ‘a step backwards’ if the co-location discontinued. By working together, QPS and DVAC have a better chance to break the cycle of violence than working alone and the victims/survivors of DFV receive a better quality service that is more comforting and empathetic, as one officer explained:
Provided the aggrieved with good support and advice. Assisted while I was doing the statement, aggrieved was upset and blaming herself, DVAC (worker) provided her support to which she opened up more and which in hand helped me complete the statement. [PS8]
One measure of improved confidence in the policing of DFV is the willingness to report breaches of Domestic Violence Orders. Interviewees who had been previously hesitant to report breaches reported said they were more likely to report a breach since the presence of the DVAC worker. There was an increase in Contravention of DVO charges lodged at Toowoomba courts between the year 2020/2021 (21% increase on 2019/2020) and for 2021/2022 to date (43%) (Queensland Courts 2021). While promising, whether this data backs up this claim, is uncertain without more rigorous statistical analysis.
Strengthened integrated response
Data shows that the DVS worker was a pivotal bridge between DVAC and QPS. All police officers and DVAC workers surveyed Agreed that the co-location model ‘Strengthened the integrated response between police at the host station and DVAC workers’ (see figure below). This is also supported by referrals to DVAC via the police system which increased in 2020/2021 by 16% (n=114) on the previous year. DVAC data also shows a significant increase in police system referrals for the five-month period reported to the 29 November 2021. If the remainder of 2021/2022 continues at the current rate, this will exceed total referrals for the previous year by 47%.
Real time case consults allowed instant information exchange and swift service connection which translated into enhanced support for the victim/survivor at the point of reporting a DFV to QPS Toowoomba. In-context conversations with general duties officers on a day-to-day basis have the potential to influence police knowledge and practice. Changes in police practice potentially translate into further improved experiences for survivors, improved police legitimacy, leading to increased reporting, client safety and harm reduction, with benefits for DVAC, police and clients. Its a win win all round.
The main challenge of the co-location model occurred at the beginning when police were either shy or suspicious about a non-uniformed DFV worker sitting at a desk alongside general duties police. The initial reluctance was swiftly addressed by the embedded DFV worker who offered presentations to clarify her role in the station. Close relationships with one or two key officers aided here, and these officers’ positive view and visible use of the worker meant others then made use of her assistance.
Overall QPS officers interviewed were impressed with the general benefits of having a well-integrated complementary response to law enforcement to support victims/survivors. By working together, they have a better chance to break the cycle of violence than working alone and the victims/survivors of DFV receive a better quality service that is more comforting and empathetic.
Responding to domestic and family violence requires multi-agency integrated response that improves the quality of the system response. Combined benefits of integrated responses saves lives. Its a win win for police, the DFV sector, communities, but above all for survivors and their families.