Philanthropy strategies when funding family violence during COVID
31 August 2020 at 4:59 pm
Many philanthropists recognise that family violence is an area of intense need right now, but they often have limited understanding as to how to effectively respond, writes Teresa Zolnierkiewicz, who talks to Loretta Mannix-Fell to unpack the range of responses needed.
If the most severe pandemic measures imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have given us shared insight, it is that there exists a unique family claustrophobia and stress in lockdown. In strong families, this is benign. In vulnerable families, experts in family violence have forewarned of the threat that lockdown creates and its potential to escalate in these settings, particularly if mental illness and substance abuse are present. The first lockdown in Victoria in March/April 2020 saw a 28 per cent increase in police referrals compared with 2019, according to statistics provided by Berry Street. Also reported in the period was a significant increase in first time families presenting.
Philanthropists have been touched by the importance of addressing the issue, but may be unsure of the most effective way for philanthropy to make a difference. Prior to COVID-19, statistics were already confronting. In Australia, on average, one woman a week was murdered by her current or former partner and two children were killed by a parent every month.
As inaugural CEO of The Luke Batty Foundation, Loretta Mannix-Fell says that her immersive experience taught her two significant things about family violence. Firstly, that it does not discriminate by socio-economic group or culture or other family characteristics, whereas, external forces like unstable housing, lack of education, unemployment and social isolation mean that some groups are more at risk, particularly young women. Secondly, that when children are present they are significant victims of family violence, often vicariously, from witnessing, absorbing and then carrying trauma, even when physical violence has not been experienced.
“While a family violence response necessitates ensuring the physical safety of women and children, in fact there are a range of interventions needed to prevent, protect and heal,” she asserts.
It is this spectrum of work in the family violence area that Mannix-Fell believes is not well understood. Her background as a grant maker and a philanthropic manager gives her a unique position to understand the logic of funders as well as service providers. She highlights several key spheres of investment in the family violence response:
- Crisis and exit – protection and refuge, safe housing etc;
- Stabilisation – legal and policing supports, housing and living supports, child and family services, child protection etc; and
- Recovery – drug and alcohol services, mental health, child health, recovery from trauma, child and family services, etc.
There is another vital area that Mannix-Fell believes needs to be appreciated – that is the early intervention which comes before all of the above.
“Working with families to strengthen them, to change the trajectory; investing in vulnerable groups such as young girls with disadvantaged backgrounds who become pregnant; and healing the trauma of children in care who have family violence in their backgrounds in order to break that intergenerational cycle. We have evidence that this can be achieved, and achieved consistently,” she says.
Family violence takes many forms. It is defined as the “exercise (of) power and control over another person… involves coercive and abusive behaviours that intimidate, humiliate, undermine and isolate, resulting in fear and insecurity… covers a wide spectrum of behaviours including physical and sexual abuse, as well as psychological, emotional, cultural, spiritual and financial abuse.”
Violence therefore can be understood as the systematic destruction of a person’s self-worth, a process currently highlighted and explored in all its nuances in the Netflix true crime series, Dirty John: the Betty Broderick Story. “Yes I have watched it,” Mannix-Fell says, “and I watched with a growing concern and horror and kept wondering – what about the children? Their trauma was palpable.”
She says coming to Berry Street and focusing on children and families, was a logical next step for her.
“The Luke Batty Foundation had been developing a partnership with Berry Street, and both Rosie and I were very impressed,” Mannix-Fell says. “I’ve been here just over four years now. Berry Street’s transition to early intervention, delivering intensive therapeutic support to families at an early stage of need and vulnerability, and its courageous advocacy to government on the investment that early intervention needs and the economic savings it delivers, is inspiring to me.”
It is this early intervention that Mannix-Fell sees as the hopeful aspect for children who are caught up in such a family.
“Maybe to some it’s counter-intuitive, but why wait until a crisis to offer an at-risk family a chance to strengthen, connect and function positively?” she says. “Early intervention is a considerable commitment, but a truly worthwhile investment, especially for the children. The evidence shows it works.”
In working with a group of committed and loyal philanthropic donors at Berry Street she focuses on listening, paying attention and understanding what the donor really wants to change.
“I engage them in a fact-based dialogue about where the biggest difference can be made as well as where the government is not yet investing,” Mannix-Fell says.
“Working upstream with early intervention is something that only impact-focused donors have the patience for.
“By intervening to stop the trajectory of escalation, crisis, shattered and separated families, we can transform families and prevent trauma and despair. True impact is when the cycle is broken, not the family.”
About the author: Teresa Zolnierkiewicz is co-founder of filantropia, an independent advisory firm specialising in philanthropy since 2017. Filantropia gives strategic advice and guidance to philanthropists to deliver satisfaction and impact, as well as companies seeking to engage with them.
NOTE: filantropia has consulted to Berry Street 2019-20 and developed a philanthropy strategy and supported its implementation.