Families escaping domestic and family violence need a destination

New research examines challenges in housing support for vulnerable families

14 Oct 2020

While crisis accommodation and other emergency responses are generally effective in helping women and children escape domestic and family violence in the short term, finding safe and affordable long term housing is much more difficult, new AHURI research has highlighted.

The final research report, ‘Inquiry into integrated housing support for vulnerable families’, undertaken for AHURI by researchers from UNSW Sydney and the University of Tasmania, investigated how housing support for vulnerable families experiencing domestic and family violence can be best integrated with other types of support to enhance safety and wellbeing.

A key finding is that the housing and other needs of vulnerable families cannot be met by one sector alone and that there is a need for improved responses in emergency accommodation, social housing and private rental housing.

‘While crisis accommodation is generally effective in major urban areas, in remote and regional areas across Australia there are acute shortages in housing support,’ said lead author Associate Professor kylie valentine from UNSW Sydney.

‘In particular, Indigenous women and children have poor access to culturally safe services. We also found that refuges and shelters provide relatively short-term accommodation, and are often full. As a result, support agencies are often only able to provide short-term motel accommodation. In smaller towns this temporary accommodation can be problematic, especially if the perpetrator lives in the same town.’

There are also differences in the quality of service provided to some vulnerable families, which are based on systemic discrimination and views of ‘deservingness’. In some cases, crisis accommodation providers have exclusion criteria that prevent women receiving support, such as:

  • boys over the age of 12 are often excluded from women's shelters. Finding safety for the woman may mean separating from her older, male children, and risking their care to another family member, or strangers, at a time of severe family stress
  • bans on the use of alcohol and other drugs
  • failure to follow the accommodation rules, and clashing with other residents or workers
  • family pets are excluded from some shelters and transitional accommodation. Some services offer boarding at discounted rates, but take-up of this service is low because costs are still too high for most people.

‘Our research also found that rents in the private market are too high for many for women and children affected by domestic and family violence, most obviously because they have very low incomes and constraints on employment,’ said Associate Professor valentine. ‘Because there isn’t enough social housing, many women are unable to fully escape from family violence as they have nowhere safe to live longer term.

The Inquiry has identified a wide range of policy development options that could help to improve support for Indigenous and other vulnerable families, including adopting ‘the best interests of the child’ as the paramount factor in decisions about tenancy termination affecting children; more effective service integration between housing and child protection practices, so that children are not removed or remain in out-of-home care unnecessarily; and building the capacity of specific Indigenous landlord organisations, housing officers in mainstream providers, support workers and tenant advocates.


Join AHURI on Thursday 29 October 2020 at 11:00am AEDT for our FREE webinar which will present findings from a new AHURI research project - Inquiry into integrated housing support for vulnerable families - Associate Professor kylie valentine, University of New South Wales.