Minister Burch on the right track, but still a long way from the finish line | HerCanberra

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Minister Burch on the right track, but still a long way from the finish line

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The following is an opinion piece written by YWCA Canberra’s Executive Director, Frances Crimmins in response to Minister Burch’s public statement late last week, acknowledging the need for primary prevention programs in our schools to address violence against women.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been pleased to see the awareness given to addressing domestic violence in our community – but we’re concerned that the response from the government is still not hitting the mark.

When YWCA Canberra launched its Respect NOW campaign, seeking a commitment to primary prevention programs being implemented into primary schools, we were not expecting the issue to receive such strong public support.

Of course, the trigger for this renewed attention is horrific – the deaths of two young women from our community as a result of domestic violence, and the high number of fatalities across the nation this year already from violence against women.

It has been positive to see Minister Corbell engage in what we can be doing to better support victims of domestic violence, and addressing the gaps in our current legal system.

However, in Friday’s Canberra Times we heard from Canberra defence lawyer Adrian McKenna, of Ben Aulich & Associates, who called for a focus on prevention, through investing in education, counselling and support services.

Also last week, Minister Burch made a public statement acknowledging the need for primary prevention programs in our schools to address violence against women.

Minister Burch is certainly on the right track – we know that the only way to end violence in the long term is through primary prevention, and developing the skills and knowledge in young people to engage in respectful relationships in the future.

However, in her statement Minister Burch says that she wants to focus on ‘improvements to the social and emotional learning curriculum and extra training for teachers rather than programs run by external providers’.

We agree with Minister Burch that primary prevention should be ‘lived and breathed every day within our schools’ – but we need clarity from the Education and Training Directorate about what resources and funding will be provided to schools to actually deliver meaningful primary prevention initiatives.

And let’s not water down what primary prevention actually is. As the interim report from the Senate inquiry into domestic violence states, ‘A critical element of primary prevention is promoting gender equality and addressing gender stereotypes’.

Generalised content on respect in schools will not address the culture of violence against women we are seeing today. Teachers are experts in education – they are not necessarily experts in gender equality or primary prevention.

Effective primary prevention means evidence-based, best-practice programs that focus on respect, gender equality and diversity.

YWCA Canberra already has an award-winning, evidence-based, independently evaluated program with proven outcomes, ready to roll out in schools. It would be a huge oversight to not consider implementing it to start addressing this issue now – not 12 or 24 months down the track when schools are able to deliver piece-meal and diluted programs themselves.

Minister Burch does not want to engage external providers because she fears that ‘grants always run out and programs come to an end’. However, it is in her power to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Last Thursday I joined fellow community sector representatives that deliver frontline services at the extraordinary meeting of the Domestic Violence Prevention Council.

At the meeting I stressed the importance of funding primary prevention programs in addition to early intervention and emergency services for women escaping domestic violence.

Together the community sector implored the ACT Government to see this as a real window of opportunity to demonstrate courage and leadership when it comes to ending violence against women, by including consistent funding for best-practice, rigorously developed primary prevention programs.

I also urged representatives of all directorates of the ACT Government to consider how we can ensure we see positive outcomes for children today, including early intervention education programs for those most at risk, so that they can live lives free from violence in the future.

I commend Minister Burch on her commitment to this issue, and look forward to working with the Education and Training Directorate to inform the next steps.

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