AFTER three months laying the groundwork for the Staying Home Leaving Violence Pilot in the Bega Valley Shire, co-ordinator Ludo McFerran says she could not be happier with the response.
"Ten years ago we started questioning why it was the women and children, the victims of domestic violence, who were being forced to leave their homes.
"Back then there was a feeling that it was not right to put men out of their homes, but that has changed, and I have been delighted with the support this pilot has received.
"I have talked with the local police, the magistrate and his court staff, the housing department, Centrelink, health services, Aboriginal agencies, real estate agents, bank managers... they all very supportive and willing to make this work.
"I think most people are particularly affected by the plight of the children who lose their home, often contact with friends and school, and suffer because of the emotional and financial effects of becoming homeless."
The pilot has generated much local media interest and has been reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and as part of a panel discussion on Life Matters, Radio National.
"A lot of people are watching to see how we go in the Bega Valley Shire.
"With luck, this won't be another pilot but will lead to broader change in the way we respond to domestic violence".
One of the major concerns has been what will happen to partners removed from the home.
Unlike other states, NSW has not developed extensive programs to work with men wanting to change their violent behavior, but some support is available. Temporary accommodation can be provided by the Department of Housing; financial assistance can be sought at Centrelink who can now make a crisis payment to people who are homeless as a result of their domestic violence, and negotiations are under way to bring an anger management counselling program to the area.
Improved home security will be a major aspect of the support provided to women and children in their homes.
"We have learnt a lot from programs in other States where the use of alarm phones, which quickly alert local police and support services if there is a crisis, have been very successful.
"Indeed, they are rarely activated.
"They seem to work as a real deterrent and to give the women a huge confidence boost".
Ms McFerran is working closely with Sergeant Greg Wilson from Bega Police to develop protocols for attending domestic violence incidents together.
According to Sergeant Wilson "The lesson from other States is that when communities give violent partners a clear and united message that she and the kids will stay safely in their homes, it works.
"They have seen a real reduction in the number of repeat offences, and overwhelmingly women are staying in their homes".
In order to better inform local service providers and community members about the issues, a Forum on Staying Home Leaving Violence is being held on February 9 at the RSL from 9.30.
The speakers include people who are running programs in Victoria and the ACT, researcher Robyn Edwards from Sydney, whose report into who stays at home led to this pilot, and Reg Mahoney, assistant commissioner of NSW Police.
The forum will be thrown open to a community discussion about how to adapt the model to our local needs.
There is no charge and is open to anyone interested.
Registration is not necessary, but indications of attendance would be appreciated as lunch is being provided.
On the previous night, Magistrate David Heilpern will address a forum dinner on his perspective on staying home leaving violence.
The dinner is at the Central Hotel from 7pm, costs $25 and bookings are essential.
Ms McFerran is also happy to speak to any service club, sporting group or association about the issues this pilot raises.
Her contact number is 0428136196.