The Family Violence Prevention Foundation of Australia


8 August 2014

Summary of the Violence Free Families submission

This submission focuses on the use of men’s behaviour change programs as a key tool for protecting the welfare of women and children who are the subject of family violence. These programs aim to improve the behaviour of men in affected relationships by providing group psycho-educational interventions over 13 or more weeks of two-hour interactive sessions with trained facilitators. The submission primarily addresses items (c) and (e) of the Committee’s terms of reference.

Violence Free Families argues for a systemic view of behaviour change programs in government policy, seeing them as a central element of a matrix of related interventions and supporting programs. Abusive men typically have higher levels of mental illness, substance abuse and more frequent histories of being abused of neglected as children than the wider community. They are also more likely to be violent outside the home: in the workplace, streets and social settings. These problems do not fit neatly into the prevailing gendered analysis of the determinants of family violence and are not systemically addressed under present policy.

Men’s behaviour change programs are an effective tool, but the concept has the potential for much greater development. Programs need to be delivered in a setting that provides for a range of supporting services and the programs themselves need to be improved through evidence-based research. There is a need for innovative extensions of the concept, including induction and after-programs, indigenous and CALD-specific versions and flexible delivery over the Internet. Violence Free Families has addressed this last need, as well as the need to improve the evidence base through research.

Finally, a national view should be taken of sector regulation, including better training, multiple accreditation paths for program facilitators, better quality control and minimum program standards for all Federally funded programs.

Government policy for men’s behaviour change programs should recognise and fund:

  1. service delivery
  2. research and innovation
  3. training and sector regulation

as separate but related activities.


Violence Free Families continued its focus on developing new and better men’s behaviour change programs. These are small-group programs that run for a minimum of 26 contact hours under the guidance of trained facilitators. They are considered to be the most effective way of helping families by improving men’s behaviour.

Significant progress was made this year in developing a world-first online/multi-media behaviour change program for violent men. In addition, our established research program with Monash University into the long term results of conventional men’s behaviour change programs continued with data collection and early analysis.

The Online Behavior Change Program

This project progressed from contract awards in August through development of materials to the completion of the first 14-week field trial in June. The project consortium including Gippsland TAFE (for e-learning expertise and experience in online suicide prevention programs) and Trusted Impact Pty Ltd (for information security services) worked with dedication and enthusiasm. The University of Melbourne is evaluating it on an ongoing basis. The first field trail was completed in June and a second trial will commence in August.  The initial results, while too early to be statistically significant, have been most encouraging and the concept shows considerable potential.


Agencies in three States are participating in this research, giving us an opportunity to compare the different types of program used in different States. The study will continue for several more years, as we follow up men who have completed programs to see whether the impact is durable. While the numbers are a little below expectations, information from the early analysis, if confirmed, indicate a need for significant changes to established programs.

Funding and Community Support

Once again, we record our grateful thanks to the Rotary movement for its support and high-level endorsement of our programs. Representatives of Violence Free Families addressed numerous Rotary Clubs and conferences throughout the year. We also shared a promotional stand with Women in Rotary at the 25,000-delegate Rotary International Convention in Sydney, attracting a high degree of interest from both Australian and foreign delegates.

Funding from Rotary, philanthropic institutions and concerned individuals has made our work possible and we are most grateful for their contributions.

Dr David Smyth


Violence Free Families works for the elimination of all forms of family violence. We believe that Research, Innovation and Education can help improve the lives of vulnerable children and women, and help curb the incidence of family violence.