Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative: Evidence-Based Policy Award winner at the Leadership in the Public Sector Awards

23 Mar 2023
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1339"]Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative[/caption]

Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative – Department of Education and Training, Leadership in the Public Sector Awards 2020


Don’t miss the opportunity to submit a short nomination to the Leadership in the Public Sector Awards. Nominations for the current round of Leadership Awards closes on Tuesday 28 March 2023.

IPAA Victoria spoke to Malia Dewse, Department of Education, whose Branch, in collaboration with other areas and services, won the Evidence-Based Policy Award at the last IPAA Victoria Leadership in the Public Sector Awards. The award was for the ‘Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative (FVI)’.

As one of IPAA Victoria’s most prestigious award programs, the Leadership in the Public Sector Awards honour the excellence and innovation of teams and organisations within the public sector across all three levels of government in Victoria. In this article, we spoke to Malia Dewse GAICD, the then-Family Violence Principal Practitioner (FVPP) for the Department of Education (DE), whose Branch won the Evidence-Based Award for the Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative (FVI).

The FVI was a two-year project to collaboratively develop, implement and evaluate a sustainable school-based approach to identify and intervene effectively with students affected by family violence.

The FVI was very much an example of collaboration and partnership. The initiative included substantial and important work led by Malia’s Branch in a partnership which included the eight participating schools, the Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service and other local organisations, DE area staff, Child Protection, Victoria Police and the FVPPs from the then-Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services.

The Family Violence Initiative (FVI) was very much an example of collaboration and partnership.
— Malia Dewse GAICD, the then-Family Violence Principal Practitioner, Department of Education

At the conclusion of the trial, all schools remained committed to the approach and expanded the established trial practices. There was also clear evidence of increased identification, an improved range of interventions and more consistent and effective support for students.

We asked Malia Dewse the following questions.

What is the significance of the Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by FVI and how has it evolved since winning the Evidence-Based Policy Award?  

It was the first significant work to investigate and clearly establish an effective role for schools in identifying and responding to students experiencing family violence (beyond referral to child protection) and to focus on family violence practice in a mainstream service working children and young people (as distinct and separate from their family or parent). 

The process engaged with organisations at a whole-of-system level and co-designed all processes, including supporting documents and guidance. All school staff members, including Casual Relief Teachers, office staff, and for one school, the bus drivers who transported students to and from school, were trained. The FVI fully implemented and tested the process and resources with all stakeholders within education, across departments, academia, and diverse service providers – both as participants and advisors. The initial processes were continuously modified and innovated to meet schools’ and services’ needs and address unique and complex situations. 

The initiative was trialled by eight diverse schools and the relevant service providers in the Outer East area of Melbourne. Following the trial, as my FVI colleagues Kim Carter and Giang Pham have been involved in, the resources and practices were then implemented across schools in a wider region, and subsequently, many elements of the initiative have been incorporated into the state-wide implementation of the current Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management and child and family violence information sharing reforms as well as through the Respectful Relationships implementation.

What are some of the key learnings and results from the FVI?  

The FVI demonstrated that the processes could be used in any school regardless of size, sector, type, student cohort, location or resources. It also included specialist input to include current evidence on the types and impacts of family violence to ensure that the needs of diverse students and families were included in the approach.

Some of the benefits include an increase in the:

  • knowledge of related services and a greater collaboration including changes to practice in partner organisations;

  • identification of and support for students affected by family violence, and their families;

  • clarity and support for school staff in understanding their role, knowing where their responsibility lay and ended, and being able to effectively and confidently manage disclosures, resulting in better outcomes for students; and

  • awareness and increased support available for staff who had experienced family violence.

Why is it important to acknowledge and celebrate the work of the public sector?  

The public service can implement change for the benefit of the Victorian population at a size and scope unique to this sector. Many public services are driven by the values and the desire to deliver outcomes for the community and to support community members and individuals who do not have the structural power or other resources to be effectively heard or have their needs met. 

There are limited mechanisms to share and support innovative activities and new learnings to enable others to learn and use the information and practices that have been developed. Celebrating and recognising public sector work is one important opportunity to learn from each other, promote good practice across departmental and state boundaries and showcase the real difference that our work can make to individuals’ lives.

How does the Supporting Student Cohorts Affected by Family Violence Initiative (FVI) make a difference to the community?  

Education and schools provide the most significant opportunity to improve students’ chances in life. The FVI utilised the unique role that schools have in knowing and supporting students and their families beyond academic outcomes. School and education staff can identify and intervene in family violence earlier with a profound influence on the child, family and community. As a hub and safe space in their local social and service systems, schools can have a dramatic impact in their community not only by supporting student success, but by raising awareness, providing or brokering ongoing support, and sharing information effectively with other service providers to keep students safe. We know this makes a real difference to the community.

Nominations are currently open for the Leadership in the Public Sector Awards 2022. The award theme this year is Innovation, inspiration, impact. Recognising exceptional design and delivery across the Public Sector. The Evidence-Based Policy Award recognises excellence in public policymaking, with respect to the approaches taken to develop proposals for government that are informed by meaningful engagement and collaboration.

Do you know a team or organisation who has spearheaded an innovative and exceptional project or initiative that benefited the public sector and the Victorian community? If so, submit a nomination for the awards now.

Nominations close Tuesday 28 March 2023.