A front-line provider of accommodation and support services for Canberra women and children escaping domestic violence faces another Christmas struggling with reduced funding and concerns that their services are under threat if the situation does not improve.
Beryl Women Inc. is Australia’s longest-running women’s domestic violence refuge but is still suffering the effects of a 32 per cent cut in funding which took effect in 2014/15 and is finding it difficult to provide the level of service needed.
The refuge – one of only two specialist domestic violence accommodation services in the ACT – is calling on the ACT Government to provide it with an extra $183,000 per year in the next budget to make up for past funding cuts and allow it to gain back the two staff positions that were lost as a consequence.
With the Christmas period being one of the most difficult times of the year for domestic violence issues, the refuge is concerned that its staff are already stretched to capacity and the situations they are helping with are increasing in complexity.
With a permanent staff of just five people and a contractor paid for with non-ongoing ACT Government grants, Beryl Women Inc. is operating on an extremely tight budget and finding it increasingly difficult to meet demand.
“At some point, if we don’t get some serious recurrent funding and prices continue to rise, we’re going to have to make a decision about if we can make another position redundant,” Beryl Women Inc. Manager Robyn Martin told The RiotACT.
While the refuge is definitely not looking at closing, it is particularly concerned about catering to the needs of its biggest client group – the children.
Children in need of tailored support
Ms Martin explained that the refuge provides a service for women with children but only has one permanent child support worker and a contracted child support worker who has been paid for with three separate one-off Government grants over the past three years. However, children coming to them have been through a crisis situation and need a lot of support.
“The crisis would be not feeling safe in the home while that violence is happening around them. Sometimes kids will try to defend Mum and get knocked around in the process,” said Ms Martin.
“When they come here there’s a level of being hyper-vigilant that tends to ease over a period of time.”
Writing in a submission to the 2018/19 ACT Budget consultation, Ms Martin said that the refuge does not receive any funding to provide specialist support for the children but they “require tailored support services and programs to meet their needs, address trauma and prevent inter-generational violence.”
The submission also states that there is a need to provide better interventions that are more child focussed.
“Given that Beryl has seen second and third generation clients, it is clear that we are not reaching children effectively and early enough.”
No funds received from Safer Families levy
One of the underlying funding issues for Beryl Women Inc. is that it is funded under the National Affordable Housing Agreement which is matched by the ACT Government.
“This funding is included into the homelessness agenda and does not take into account the complex nature of domestic/family violence,” the submission stated.
Beryl Women Inc. has also not received any funding from the Safer Families levy of $30 per year on all ACT homeowners introduced by the ACT Government in July 2016 even though this funding is meant to be targeted at addressing domestic violence issues.
“People are shocked when they find out we don’t receive any of that,” Ms Martin said.
ACT Greens support funding bid
ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur has thrown her support behind Beryl Women Inc.’s funding submission and would like to see the refuge allocated the extra $183,000 in the next budget.
“As the nation’s longest-serving specialist domestic violence women’s refuge, it’s organisations like these that step up at a time when women and children are taking enormous risks to escape family violence,” Ms Le Couteur said.
“Organisations like Beryl depend on government funding to survive.
“Despite increased demand, increased funding for Beryl over the past three years has been piecemeal at best. It has not provided certainty for the service to continue to assist women and children at this difficult time in their lives and nor is it sufficient for them to be able to provide the full range of services these women and children need.”
Need for services reach peak during festive season
Ms Le Couteur is concerned that Beryl Women Inc.’s services will be under even more strain over the holiday season.
“We know that the requirements for services reach a peak during the festive season,” she said.
Ms Le Couteur said that there is increased family stress over the Christmas period as families spend more time together and problems come to the fore. She said that issues sometimes “come to a head” and people decide they need to make a change and get out of a domestic violence situation.
“Fear of having nowhere to go can make it hard for women to leave violent relationships,” Ms Le Couteur said.
“We know that the ACT government already funds 321 crisis beds, with 84 of them specifically set aside for women with or without children.
“However, the average length of stay, including in transitional properties is 158 days. With a lack of exit points from crisis and transitional accommodation services, the bottleneck can mean that women and children fleeing violence have nowhere to go.
“Services often reach a peak during the festive season—and funding needs to be commensurate with need.”
The RiotACT approached the office of Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette Berry, for a response about Beryl Women Inc.’s call for increased funding and asked why no funding from the Safer Families levy had gone to Beryl Women Inc. However, no response had been provided at the time of publication.