Letter from interim CEO
Even though the lockdown here in Melbourne is finally over, the pandemic continues to have a huge impact on vulnerable people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Since the beginning of October when COVID-19 began spreading quickly through Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs, Wayss has had to respond to more than 50 incidents involving a couple of hundred clients and their families who had tested positive or otherwise been directly affected by COVID.
The Wayss team has responded by providing meals for individuals and families in quarantine, provided transport to get clients to secure accommodation in which to quarantine, and even on occasions finding alternative accommodation if COVID-positive clients were forced out of their hotels by management. Managing the ripple effect of clients with Covid has been a key part of the response. This is exacerbated in working with clients who refuse to isolate. We have also worked with COVID vaccinators to come to premises to provide vaccination services.
During the pandemic Wayss has placed more people into emergency accommodation like hotels, motels and rooming houses than ever before. This was a key part of our crisis response and it’s what the Victorian Government funds us to do.
We know families and individuals are impacted and often traumatised by what they experience in these situations. Hotels and motels are not set up for extended stays, and these vulnerable people have had to live in cramped spaces, isolated from their communities, stressed and facing uncertainty the whole time.
It’s a complex situation, requiring innovative solutions with organisations with specialist expertise working together. As interim CEO I’m proud to be leading an organisation that is continuing to search for ways to overcome complex problems like family violence and homelessness.
You can read below about other ways that Wayss is working innovatively and in partnerships to address family violence through the new Orange Door and our Nicholson Project pilot.
Thank you for supporting us as we do this important work.
The Orange Door: working in partnership to achieve more effective family violence outcomes
Wayss is pleased and proud to be involved as one of five partner organisations in the new Orange Door for Southern Melbourne launched by the Victorian Government last week. The Orange Door is a free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children.
As the chosen provider of family violence responses for women and children for the Southern Melbourne Orange Door, Wayss will work in partnership with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, Victoria Police, Uniting, Anglicare and Aboriginal controlled organisations VACCA (Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency) and DDACL (Dandenong & District Aborigines Cooperative Ltd) to ensure vulnerable members of our community can access the co-ordinated support they need.
This will be the largest Orange Door in the state with over 140 staff (with around 45 from Wayss staff) and three office locations. The Southern Melbourne Orange Door aims to support:
- People with someone close to them who is hurting them, controlling them or making them feel afraid – such as their partner, family member, carer, or parent(s) – The Orange Door can provide emergency accommodation and access to refuge services
- Children or young people who don’t have what they need to be OK
- People who are worried about the safety of a friend or family member
- Those who need more support with the care of children, e.g., due to money issues, illness, addiction, grief, isolation, or conflict
- Those worried about the safety of a child or young person
- People needing help to change their behaviour and stop using violence in their relationships.
People living in the the local government areas of Cardinia, Casey and Greater Dandenong can access free support from The Orange Door at 311 Lonsdale Street Dandenong. Phone: 1800 271 170
Nicholson Project: exploring innovative ways of disrupting digital abuse
Wayss has launched a report into an innovative new pilot project that aims to tackle the use of technology by perpetrators to track, stalk and control their victims.
Research suggests that 99.3% of family violence workers in Australia have clients who had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse.
“Wayss has increasingly heard from family violence victims referred to our service that they believed they are being tracked, stalked and controlled by their abuser using technology,” says Robyn Roberts, General Manager of Client Services at Wayss, who oversaw the pilot project.
“Others referred to us were unaware this often hidden form of abuse was happening to them and their children, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse.”
Intervening as early as possible to disrupt and prevent perpetrators from using technology to abuse their partners and children is not always part of the immediate response that family violence services provide to keep women and children safe. Moreover, the ever-increasing sophistication of technology and the internet is often beyond the capacity of family violence workers to address to keep their clients safe from technology-facilitated abuse.
“We needed a way to provide a skilled, targeted early intervention that assessed the digital vulnerability of family violence victims, removing the threat of technology-facilitated abuse and enabling their ongoing safety,” says Ms Roberts.
While the number of people escaping family violence receiving an assessment for technology facilitated abuse in Victoria slowly increases, this type of service has traditionally been delivered face to face. The Nicholson Project took a different approach.
A remote and timely assessment was provided that screened for the presence of, or vulnerability to, technology facilitated abuse: intervening as early as practicable to disrupt tech abuse and eliminate vulnerabilities in technology use to provide victims with increased safety and protection from abuse, as well as the confidence to manage the safety of their technology use.
The pilot project threw up a number of key learnings, including:
- Cultural implications including language barriers, can create difficulties in facilitating remote tech checks so interpreters and information in language need to be made available.
- All devices to be checked need to be fully charged and any information about the accounts that were being used needs to be prepared before the assessment occurs. On occasions the sheer number of devices to be checked during the assessment was only discovered at the time of the assessment.
- Many victims wrongly do not believe they are experiencing technology facilitated-abuse so we need to encourage all victims of family violence, even those who do not believe they are impacted by technology facilitated abuse, to take the assessment.
- Accompanying children and young people are victims too and may be used as proxy abusers by the perpetrator, so we need to include the devices and (where possible) social media use and settings used by the victim’s children as part of the remote assessment.
“We found that participants felt more confident that they were not being tracked and abused via technology as well as in their knowledge and ability to manage their use of technology and online platforms,” says Ms Roberts.
“Wayss intends to expand upon the learnings from this pilot project to provide early access to remote digital assessment for more victims impacted by family violence. The ability to deliver the service remotely in the first instance provides huge potential to scale this up to make this kind of support available to more victims of family violence across Victoria and Australia.”
The Nicholson Project was generously funded by Dr Fleur Nicholson.
Protective Group provided their expertise in in-person risk and safety assessments for family violence victims.
Aranya came to Australia from her home in South East Asia expecting to live a long and happy life with the Australian man she had met. However things did not turn out the way she expected or hoped.
The man she married and had a son with was extremely controlling and sometimes violent. He would not let Aranya make any decisions about her life – where she went, people she spent time with and how she used her money.
“I couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone,” she says. “He always kept an eye on me, and we would argue about it.”
Whenever Aranya tried to stand up to her husband he would threaten and intimidate her, often resorting to actual violence when he felt she was defying him.
All Aranya wanted was a peaceful, happy life. So when the violence towards her and their son became too much, she waited for the right time and left. When they came to Wayss Aranya was desperate: she had nowhere to live, no job and no money. With no visa or firm residency status she also feared being deported.
Wayss placed Aranya and her young child in one of our safe and secure family violence refuges. We started helping her to apply for the necessary visas, to access support payments and to manage her mental health. Just as Aranya felt she was making progress she found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and told she needed a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment to survive.
Wayss was able to apply for a grant to cover Aranya’s $30,000 medical expenses. We also paid for Aranya’s son to attend a local child care centre. After eight months a place at one of the other homes we manage became available and Aranya and her son moved in. Aranya’s case will be heard in court soon. Although she does not know exactly what the future holds, she feels it is looking much brighter now.
“I feel like I can be more myself,” she says. “Like if I want to do something, I don’t need to be scared or looking over my shoulder. And I don’t feel like I am alone anymore, I feel like Wayss is my family now.”
“I came to Wayss with just a broken heart and a bag. I’m leaving strong.”
Children and family violence
In 2020, almost half of all family violence incidents that led to families coming to Wayss for support involved children. The impact of this violence on children can be devastating and long-lasting, largely because children grow up thinking this is normal behaviour in families.
“What is shocking is that these children think that is what family life is,” says Veronika, Children’s Case Managerin the Family Violence team at Wayss. “Helping these families to recover is about working with children and their mothers to help them understand that violence and intimidation in families in not normal or healthy.”
In her nine years at Wayss Veronika has seen a great many children impacted and families devastated by family violence. Children who have experienced violence can be anxious, withdrawn, depressed or angry, or a combination of these. Many children struggle to build friendships, have behavioural difficulties and struggle at school.
Veronika’s role is to help children recover and learn skills to succeed at school and in life, and help family members rebuild the bonds that in many cases have been broken by the violence.
“Children need their parents and the family to be a safe place,” says Veronika. “If they see their mum scared or being threatened that shakes their world. And if dad is dominant or violent they won’t feel safe or connected to them. Rebuilding those connections can only really happen once mum and the children have moved away from the violence and she can have some time and emotional space to give them.”
This is particularly hard in short term accommodation like refuges, hotels and motels. But Veronika and Wayss will continue this complex work with families to help them recover from violence and rebuild their lives.