Important changes to family violence information sharing

Morgan Liotta

10/05/2022 2:48:56 PM

The RACGP has updated its White Book in response to new requirements regarding the way information is shared across services and organisations.

Woman having counselling session
The new chapter was developed to provide Victorian GPs with practical ‘when, how, and why’ advice.

‘I came in thinking family violence was uncommon and now I have learned that it is common.’
‘I feel more like it is my duty of care to ask and integrate family violence issues into my consultation.’
‘I feel more confident to assess and support a patient who is being abused.’
These are testimonials from some of the GPs participating in the Safer Families Centre Readiness Program, a training program which helps primary care providers to better recognise and respond to family and domestic abuse and violence.
Already an RACGP CPD-accredited activity, the program is now complemented by a new supplementary chapter of the college’s White Book.
The new chapter provides an overview of recent Victorian family violence policy reforms, which aim to increase the safety of victim-survivors of family violence, hold perpetrators of violence to account, and promote the wellbeing and safety of children.
Last year, the Victorian Government’s Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS) and Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) expanded to include primary care services as Information Sharing Entities (ISEs). Only services who are prescribed as an ISE are able to share information under FVISS and CISS.
The new chapter of the White book outlines the responsibilities of GPs and primary care nurses under these information sharing schemes, underpinned by the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework.
Together, these three reforms enable primary care workers to collaborate with other service providers to form a shared understanding of family violence risk and implement changes into practice.
Professor Kelsey Hegarty, White Book clinical editor and Safer Families Centre Director, told newsGP the chapter is an important update to support Victorian GPs.
‘The chapter outlines how to undertake a risk assessment, how to respond to requests for information sharing, and how to share information in a way that ensures safety for survivors and their children,’ she said. 
‘It was developed by the Safer Familes Centre to provide practical advice to GPs and primary care nurses about when, how, and why they need to use the new legislation.
‘Further, the Pathways to Safety program – which is where a GP facilitator and a family violence worker engages with a practice to enhance the skills of all staff to identify and respond to family violence – is also available for clinics.’
Complementing the seven online learning modules in the Readiness Program, the new chapter, written by Dr Jenny Neil, was developed from one of those modules – ‘Supporting primary care to implement family violence information sharing’.
Together with Professor Hegarty, Dr Magdalena Simonis is co-author of that module, which helped to develop the supplementary White Book chapter, which she said is a ‘quick-access’ version of the Victorian information sharing schemes.
‘It gives a snapshot, uses the same figures and guides, and is an excellent, user-friendly summary,’ Dr Simonis told newsGP.
‘Taking into account the fact that GPs are often time poor, it provides the key points in a clear manner.’  
According to Dr Simonis, the supplementary chapter aims to support Victorian GPs to comply with the 10 recommendations included in the four pillars of the MARAM Framework:

  • Shared understanding of family violence
  • Participation in consistent and collaborative practice – including risk assessments and information sharing
  • Understanding level of responsibilities for risk assessment and management
  • Undertake systems, outcomes and continuous improvements at an organisational level
‘The chapter will help GPs by simplifying the MARAM, which at first glance looks quite complicated,’ Dr Simonis said.
‘It also acknowledges that GPs play an important role in supporting women and families who experience family violence.’
A key barrier reported by GPs when attempting to address family violence is a lack of access to existing training resources, resulting in a lack of knowledge around how to respond to, manage and refer these patients.
In addition to the updated Victorian schemes, the new chapter provides risk-assessment summaries, safety planning, management and referral pathways, which are then described in further detail in the online module.
‘It explains the process of consent, how this differs with respect to the perpetrator, how to respond to requests for information from other ISEs or RAEs [risk-assessment entities], and offers practical tips,’ Dr Simonis said.
Under the FVISS, some ISEs are also prescribed as risk-assessment entities (RAEs) – a special type of ISE – that can request information for undertaking comprehensive risk assessments, including establishing risk where the presence of violence or the identity of the perpetrator is unknown.
Updating the White Book in response to the new requirements also helps to support a multi-agency approach, which is ‘vital’ for enhancing safety of victim-survivors and children, and holding the user of violence to account – according to the Readiness Program.
Dr Simonis said this aligns clearly with GPs’ important and ongoing role.
‘We are now required to identify, respond to and provide a safety, risk and management plan for family violence survivors, as well as to collaborate with other service providers over time,’ she said.
The supplementary chapter for primary care providers in Victoria is available on the White Book web page.
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