On 1 July 2012, the Ombudsman’s Office commenced a review of family and domestic violence fatalities. Through the review the Ombudsman identified a pattern of cases in which violence restraining orders (VROs) were, or had been, in place between the person who was killed and the suspected perpetrator, or between the person who was killed or the suspected perpetrator and other parties. The Ombudsman also identified a pattern of cases in which VROs were not used, although family and domestic violence had been, or had been recorded as, occurring and state government departments and authorities had been contacted.
Accordingly, the Ombudsman decided to undertake an investigation into issues associated with VROs and their relationship with family and domestic violence fatalities, with a view to determining whether it may be appropriate to make recommendations to any state government department or authority about ways to prevent or reduce family and domestic violence fatalities.
The Ombudsman's report made 54 recommendations to WA Police, the Department of the Attorney-General and the Department for Child Protection and Family Support (DCPFS). Amongst these were a call for more information on VROs to be provided by officers when they are called to domestic violence cases, and methods to make it easier for authorities to serve the orders.
The Ombudsman has found that a range of work has been undertaken by state government departments and authorities to administer their relevant legislative responsibilities, including their responsibilities arising from the Restraining Orders Act 1997. The Ombudsman has found, however, that there is important further work that should be done. This work, detailed in the findings of the report, includes a range of important opportunities for improvement for state government departments and authorities, working individually and collectively, across all stages of the VRO process.
The Ombudsman has also found that Aboriginal Western Australians are significantly overrepresented as victims of family violence, yet underrepresented in the use of VROs. Following from this, the Ombudsman identified that a separate strategy, specifically tailored to preventing and reducing Aboriginal family violence, should be developed. The report states that this strategy should actively invite and encourage the full involvement of Aboriginal people in its development and be comprehensively informed by Aboriginal culture.
The report also refers to research literature that observes that policy implementation issues are a common factor in child death and serious case reviews. For example, reviews similar to this investigation conducted in England have found that such failures are frequently due to a failure to utilise policies, guidelines and procedures, rather than the absence of such procedural guidance. P.36
The report sites a review of child protection systems that identified that significant efforts to develop policy and procedure were not resulting in improvements in responses to children:
Considerable work has been undertaken in the development of detailed frameworks, strategies, protocols and policies over recent years, many of which will bear similarity to recommendations made by this Review. However, many have been ignored, not implemented or partially implemented with no monitoring of implementation or outcomes. This has meant that the child protection system has not seen the incremental advancement that one would expect to see… (p.36)
This finding is consistent with the Ombudsman Office’s finding that, while DCPFS has developed an extensive policy framework, this has not necessarily been fully implemented by DCPFS in its responses to family and domestic violence examined by the Office during the investigation.
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