McAuley’s CEO gives evidence to Royal Commission

Keeping a job and access to money are vital to women being able to leave violent relationships; the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence has been advised. Jocelyn Bignold, CEO of McAuley Community Services for Women, gave evidence about financial abuse and its role in family violence to the Royal Commission in July.

The Commissioners’ reaction to the results achieved through McAuley Works, the organisation’s employment program, were summarised by Deputy Commission Tony Nicholson: “The results that you achieved are really quite remarkable and far superior, as far as I am aware, of anything that the Commonwealth Government's employment services have achieved for similar cohorts. So it's very, very significant.”

McAuley Works, established in 2010 and currently inactive due to lack of funding, came under the microscope. Commissioners were told it was set up because women were asking for assistance to gain employment.

At the end of the 2013/14 financial year, there had been 201 referrals and, of those 201 referrals, 134 women had found jobs, 90 of those women were still in jobs, and that 88 women had accessed vocational education and training programs and 45 women were no longer, although they had previously been, receiving Centrelink payments. It meant $1 million of taxpayers money was saved because the women were no longer receiving Centrelink benefits.

Ms Bignold lauded the efforts of philanthropy in supporting pilot programs and innovation, but said that programs such as McAuley Works needed ongoing funding.

“The difficulty for the program is that, job services are a Federal Government responsibility, and the Federal Government believes that the current services should be able to meet the needs of the women we work with. State Governments will not fund services that do not fall within their area of responsibility."

“The real challenge is how to take the successful components of our model, such as it’s intensive case management and outreach approach and apply it to an office based, interview process which is the federal system.,” said Ms Bignold.

Ms Bignold called for genuine dialogue with government about how to design a system that takes into consideration the vulnerability of the women that McAuley Community Services for Women works with. There is a great deal that we can do together to get women into work and to prevent women leaving the workforce.

Ms Bignold outlined the importance of the Engage to Change program, established to help employers recognise family violence in the workplace and to be able to resource and refer women to appropriate help.

“What we know from studies from the USA and Australia, that between 10 and 30 per cent of workplaces have employees who are experiencing family violence in that current year. That figure tells us that employers are experiencing the impacts of family violence in their workplace and perhaps not realising it,” said Ms Bignold.

“One of the main reasons we are engaging with employers is to improve their awareness so that women don't lose their jobs in circumstances where a more understanding employer would not performance manage them out,” she said.

Engage to Change is a much earlier intervention program which, if successful, could reduce the impact of family violence and mean that women would not end up in homelessness services.

The Royal Commission heard that while employers understand the need for policies and many have been adopting them - they don't always know how to have a conversation about family violence.

“That’s where Engage to Change is so important: to help employers know how to have that conversation.”

Read the McAuley Community Services for Women submission in full.