Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Supporting Family Services in Coffs Harbour

By Sally Townley 
Last week, Jonathon Cassell and I had an excellent meeting with Charlotte Young of the Warrina Women's and Children's Family and Domestic Violence Specialist Services Cooperative Ltd (Warrina Women and Children’s Refuge). Charlotte has worked for over 20 years assisting women and children to be free of violence in their lives.  Charlotte was recognised this year by the Coffs Harbour International Women’s Day as Woman Of The Year. 

Dr Sally Townley with Charlotte Young of Warrina Refuge

She shared with us some of the challenges that community services such as Warrina face in combatting family violence. Charlotte told us that housing is a critical part of the solution; the housing shortage in Coffs Harbour means that options for women to leave their situation are hampered by lack of long-term housing options. We talked about the possible roles Council could play in affordable housing. Recently, I assisted Councillor Mark Sultana’s proposal to remove developer contribution fees for granny flats. This means effectively around a $10,000 reduction on fees for people building a small second dwelling in their back yard. This is one positive way in which Council can stimulate the supply of small affordable homes.

The Greens have developed an affordable housing plan which you can read about here:

The plan includes proposals for tax reform as well as a blueprint for a housing finance corporation which would use superannuation funds to make housing loans. 
Apart from housing, another impediment is community attitudes and lack of ‘tools’ to support victims of family violence.  We need to break the silence and taboo which prevent people from discussing the problem openly. Charlotte spoke about an educational program in which many of her staff have been trained and they are hoping to run the program widely in Coffs Harbour, including schools and workplaces. The program is called MVP which is Mentors in Violence Prevention. It encourages young men and women to take active roles in preventing gender violence and bullying. 

Often people think that there only two options when violence is encountered; to return the violence or to do nothing. This program develops an individual’s resolve to speak out against violence by constructing and practicing viable options. The program uses a ‘bystander’ approach, where young men are not viewed as potential perpetrators but rather as empowered bystanders who can confront their peers. By giving people a range of options in how to act, bystanders become more likely to act and less likely to remain silent and passive. I would like to see Council, as one of the largest local employers,  run this program for all its staff members.

Another challenge Charlotte identified is the lack of coordination between services. While there are very many hard-working dedicated people working in this space, the Government’s changes to its funding structures have caused instability in organisations. I believe that Council could take an active role in assisting coordination of services relating to family violence. This may be by dedicating some time of a staff member in this role.
Charlotte told us that Aboriginal families are over-represented in their client group. The challenges of dealing with the complex of issues that relate to family violence, such as alcohol, drug abuse and poverty are compounded in many families. She described a range of men’s behavioural change programs and identified the need for strengthening these initiatives. Emergency housing for men is needed so that women and children don’t need to vacate the home.

Charlotte told us that the Women’s Resource and information Centre has now expanded its staff and functions to the point where they are looking at larger premises. Her dream is to have suitable office premises to house as many women’s support workers together so that they can work together to support their clients. I would like to see Council be able to assist in this role, perhaps by making community land available for a purpose-built support centre.

Hearing from Charlotte reminds us that we all have a job to do in speaking out against violence and tackling the issues that go with it. Building and committing to respectful ways of communicating with each other are foundation skills for a thriving community. 

Read about Greens’ policies for social equity, children, health, housing, women and more here