Indigenous women are suffering more injury and death from domestic and family-related violence, and more children are remaining separated from their families, due to a lack of appropriate accommodation, UNSW Sydney and University of Tasmania research for The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute will reveal today.

A shortage of emergency and long-term housing means Indigenous women often have no choice but to return to an unsafe home, putting their children at risk of removal by child protection authorities, particularly in remote and regional Australia.

“If women leaving a violent home cannot find long-term stable housing, generally, within a 12-month timeframe, they may lose their children permanently,” lead author and UNSW Sydney senior law lecturer Dr Kyllie Cripps says.

“All states and territories have now introduced legislation prescribing specific time limits— typically between one and two years—for children to transition from out-of-home care to permanent care.”

The research, Improving housing and service responses to domestic and family violence for Indigenous individuals and families, is being launched at the National Housing Conference in Darwin today.

It focuses on the unique needs of Indigenous women and children in remote and regional communities in Australia in the aftermath of domestic and family violence.

The research finds that the difficulty of accessing stable long-term accommodation is also a significant barrier to reunification once children have been removed.

“Given the historical and intergenerational experiences with Indigenous children being removed, Indigenous women are particularly concerned by the timeframes and are fearful of its consequences for their children, themselves and their families,” Dr Cripps says.

“This is exacerbated by the hopelessness they feel in being unable to secure long-term housing in the aftermath of domestic and family violence, through no fault of their own.”

University of Tasmania Associate Professor of Sociology, Daphne Habibis, says that given the problem of Indigenous women accessing safe accommodation and its impact on child removal, there is an urgent need for the Commonwealth and the states to address the policy shortfalls that contribute to this situation.

“One way of doing this is to develop culturally appropriate responses including Indigenous-led or co-designed projects that have been trialled and proven effective,” Dr Habibis says.

“It is also essential for housing to be brought into consideration of targets and strategies relating to Indigenous domestic and family violence within Closing the Gap Refresh."

The research also finds that in instances where men are excluded via court orders from the family home as a consequence of their violence, they too face precarious housing situations and are, in effect, made homeless. As a consequence, they usually return to the family home, making this policy largely ineffective in the Indigenous context.

There is also a consensus that sending men to jail (for breaking the DVOs when they have nowhere else to go) is not helping women in domestic and family violence situations, but rather exacerbates their distress and is likely to compromise their ongoing safety.

“What we find is that the tightly woven cultural and kinship connections of Aboriginal communities require a holistic response to domestic and family violence that caters to the housing and support needs of both men and women,” Dr Cripps says.

“In the absence of an equivalent service response for men, providing services to women and children in isolation to the men is, at best, a Band-Aid solution of limited long-term effectiveness.”

View the full report here

Diane Nazaroff