By: Professor Cathy Humphreys and Deb Nicholson, University of Melbourne

The MAT demonstrated better management for intake and intervention for children affected by family violence, via collaborative multi-agency triage, risk assessment and referral using the Safe & Together Model. 

The University of Melbourne project team recently delivered the Final Report of their two-year pilot Family Violence Multi Agency Triage project (MAT), at the first Asia Pacific Safe & Together Symposium on 7-8 February 2018.

From December 2015 to December 2017 the MAT delivered daily collaborative multi-agency triaging of all police family violence reports (called L17s) in the north-eastern region of Melbourne. The MAT project was also the Victorian Demonstration site for the national PATRICIA Project.

An important part of the MAT story, told in the final report is the operational and strategic collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Victoria’s statutory child protection services, community-based child and family services, Aboriginal family violence services, the men’s referral service and the specialist family violence service. The involvement of the University of Melbourne was key, in that, a project manager was appointed for the two years, to lead the action research and help coordinate of development of partnerships and processes. This was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services northern regional office. The Department also funded each agency to provide additional personnel and facilities to establish a “triage room”. These inputs enabled the project to achieve its aims to:

  1. Model a “single door approach” where all police reports enter a central point in order that multi-agency representatives collaborate to undertake risk assessments, triage and referral
  2. Model a “differential response” where all women who are the subjects of police family violence reports, and who have children are not referred automatically to statutory Child Protection if they do not meet the threshold for further child protection investigation
  3. Adapt the Safe & Together Model for use in a front-end triage process
  4. Collaborate effectively at operational and strategic governance levels

The MAT project explored and developed a different way of managing and responding to police referrals of family violence incidents and what happened as a result. Those results can be examined in brief in the Executive Summary or in detail in the Final Report, although the key outcomes are worth noting here:

  • 3224 police reports with children were triaged by the MAT team
  • Of the 3224 police reports with children, there were 7342 children including unborn infants identified on police reports or by partner agencies at the MAT as part of the collaborative investigation process
  • Of the 3224 police reports, only 275 were referred to Child Protection from MAT for protective investigation. This represents just over 10% of police reports triaged
  • Therefore, a differential response of 90% was achieved, that is 90% of family violence reports that are usually automatically referred to statutory child protection, were diverted to more appropriate service responses

The report also highlights how the multi-agency triage process was informed by the Safe & Together principles at the “front-end” of intake and triage and how this can influence the whole case progression. This was done in a deliberate and action research oriented way, with the development of a Safe & Together informed practice tool to guide the triage facilitation, reflective practice, in-room coaching by the project manager (“what would David Mandel say about this?”), professional development for the MAT team that included the opportunity to undertake the two Safe & Together online modules and hear from guest experts. The Safe & Together modules were provided in a group format over two half days of training, facilitated by the project manager. MAT team members also undertook the online modules individually in order to receive their certificates.

This structured application of Safe and Together as part of the collaborative multi agency triage process, including the development and use of the Practice Tool ensured the focus pivoted to and remained on the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour.

This Practice Tool was designed to be used by the Multi-Agency Triage Facilitator in the triage room when undertaking multi-agency risk assessments and referrals. The aim of the Tool is to keep the partner agencies undertaking collaborative risk assessment (of police family violence incident reports) focused on the perpetrator’s role in causing the family violence, and the impact on the mother and children.

The Practice Tool was originally called the “aide memoire” and was been adapted over time with input from the multi-agency MAT practitioners. The first question in the Practice Tool is “What perpetrator behaviours led to the police family violence report?” This question establishes the focus for a line of questioning that pivots to the perpetrator. MAT practitioners have found this to be very useful in helping
to understand from the outset (at triage of the police report) how to assess risk and make appropriate referrals for the mother and children, that acknowledge her efforts in protecting her children, rather than blaming her for failing to do so.

Another key question in the Practice Tool is “What don’t we know?” This question encourages the practitioner to acknowledge early when they don’t know the perpetrator’s whereabouts, his mental health status, his use of alcohol or other drugs, any history of family violence (or other violence), for example. Before this question was added, it was common for practitioners to fill the “unknown” space with speculation about the perpetrator, or tellingly, further discussion and speculation about the mother. This ensured that the father/perpetrator was invisible or less visible in the risk assessment process. Including this question also led to triage practice decisions such as finding out more about the perpetrator from police or the men’s service.

The Practice Tool empowered practitioners to find a consistent language to focus on the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour and the ways he is able to remain invisible (“what don’t we know?”. Whilst the MAT practitioners were observed to be quite “woman/mother supportive”, where there was an absence of information about the perpetrator/father it was noticeable how the Practice Tool was able to remind them to focus on the perpetrator.

The Practice Tool established a structured framework for practitioners working at the front end of intake and triage that helped them to remain vigilant about keeping the perpetrator visible, and in the experience of MAT workers, the lessons applied at the very outset of the case could be carried through to the end of the case, back at the “home agency”. This is anecdotal at the moment, but further research is being considered in this area. The Practice Tool is freely available for adaptation, and we can see further developments are necessary to make it more inclusive of various relationship iterations, however we consider the tool to be one of the MAT project’s biggest success stories – along with that 90% differential response.

The Safe & Together Model provides a framework that is critical to good outcomes and we need to ensure that the guiding principles are embedded in practice from the point of triage and assessment and then throughout the life of the case. (Operations Group member)

Read the Executive Summary

Get the Practice Tool

Read the Implementation Final Report