The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) is calling for respectful relationships education in all Victorian schools as part of a package to reduce the impact of domestic violence on young people. 

A submission lodged today by YACVic to the Royal Commission into Family Violence highlights how young people are often innocent and overlooked victims.

The submission calls for early intervention through the education system, justice system and youth services sector.

YACVic CEO Georgie Ferrari said early intervention and education could change behaviours and attitudes before they become established patterns.

“Research about the attitudes of young people towards violence shows there’s a ripe field for changing some of those attitudes,” Ms Ferrari said.

“Due to their early stage of life, at which attitudes and behaviours are still being formed, young people can be seen as an especially important cohort for primary prevention which seeks to prevent violence before it occurs and early intervention which targets individuals who show early signs of perpetrating, or being subject to, violence.” 

YACVic has recommended respectful relationships education be provided in all Victorian secondary schools as a specific curriculum subject and as a whole-of-school approach.

“A central coordinating body should be resourced to support teachers, principals and community partners to implement the model, and to broker strong relationships between schools and relevant community services,” the submission states.

YACVic is calling for teachers to be trained in identifying and responding to disclosures of violence.

The submission calls for all secondary schools to be resourced to employ adequate numbers of school counsellors, psychologists and student wellbeing staff skilled in identifying and addressing family violence.

It also calls for regular state-wide training for the youth services sector in assessing risks, and establishing more and strengthening youth-specific family violence interventions.

YACVic recommends improving access for young people with disabilities to housing in the community with appropriate individualised supports, rather than clustered or institutional housing, establishing a rapid rehousing program to assist women and children escaping family violence, and extending support to young people leaving out-of-home care until at least the age of 21.

It also highlights concerns about Aboriginal young people and the high rates of family violence in rural areas.

Ms Ferrari said that as the state’s peak body for young people aged 12-25, YACVic welcomed the establishment of the Royal Commission and its emphasis on prevention, early intervention, supporting victims of violence, and promoting effective coordination between agencies and services.

However, she said YACVic was disappointed the Commission’s terms of reference identified a number of groups at risk of violence but did not mention young people.

“YACVic argues that young people are a significant cohort affected by family violence and are very vulnerable to relationship violence,” she said.

“We understand the impetus for the Royal Commission was that one woman per week was being killed by her violent partner, but we are disappointed young people weren’t mentioned as a specific cohort. They are often the innocent victims who have witnessed violence for a number of years and through no fault of their own are caught in a system that doesn’t respond very well to their needs.

“Young people are disproportionately vulnerable to violence but historically have not been well served by policies and service systems which simply absorb them into settings meant for older or younger groups.”

Ms Ferrari said there was a link between family violence and young people’s involvement in the justice system and violence was recognised as a major cause of homelessness in Australia.

She said young people are more likely than the rest of the population to be poorly-informed about family violence and relationship violence, and to have been influenced by beliefs that encourage or excuse violence.

“This makes the need for better coordinated education programs in schools even more critical.” 

For further comment: Georgie Ferrari, CEO Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, 03 9267 6799