Two domestic violence workers struggle to do work of seven in Western Sydney as staff shortages threaten to close service

Two domestic violence workers struggle to do work of seven in Western Sydney as staff shortages threaten to close service
  • PublishedJuly 10, 2024

Sue* was in an abusive, violent relationship when she walked into the Mount Druitt Family Violence Centre in 2016.

“Without their services and their help, I wouldn’t be here today. They honestly saved my life,” she said.

Less than a decade later, need has only increased, but the service she credits for keeping her alive is struggling to continue.

The service, now called the Western Sydney Nepean Blue Mountains Domestic Violence Service (WSNBMDVS) has funding for a team of seven caseworkers, but only has two.

Those two case workers are also covering a much larger area than they were a few years ago, after the postcodes they are expected to service expanded from just Mount Druitt to include the wider Blacktown and Penrith area.

The Public Service Association (PSA), which represents WSNBMDVS workers, said the service gets its staff from a pool of child protection caseworkers and the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ).

“The DCJ is so short staffed they can’t release any child protection caseworkers to work for the service, so the potential closure of this service is driven by the chronic shortage of … case workers,” PSA general secretary Stewart Little said.

This week the DCJ told staff two temporary social workers and an admin officer from a labour hire agency would be brought on as a temporary measure to keep the service afloat as they hunt for more staff.

But there are fears the service will close without an urgent, long-term funding commitment from the state government.

The DCJ and Domestic Violence Minister Jodie Harrison have been contacted for comment. 

“I look at my case worker like Superwoman, but she is only one lady,” Sue said.

“Without that service, those ladies, people like me wouldn’t be here today.”

Bags of groceries
Groceries are provided to victim-survivors, who often turn up to the centre with just the clothes on their back. (ABC News: Keana Naughton)

Domestic violence services stretched despite budget commitments 

The Mount Druitt-based service provides victim-survivors of domestic violence in Western Sydney with ongoing support to women in violent relationships even if they do not leave their violent partner and also accepts male clients.

During their initial visit, clients are given access to tinned food, hygiene products and a phone.

It is funded by the DCJ and works in partnership with NSW Health, police, corrective services and housing agencies.

The service is “one sick day away from closure”, Mr Little said. 

“Already when staff have been sick we’ve seen the service have to shut its doors temporarily,” he said. 

Mr Little said the service had been “running on vapours” since staff levels dwindled.

“But when there’s a horrific multi homicide domestic violence incident in the area we get a rushed band aid solution, not a proper comprehensive response to get this service back on its feet.”

Roofs of houses and trees in a suburban street.
The service formerly known as the Mount Druitt Family Violence Centre provides ongoing support to victim-survivors in the area.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Mount Druitt is about 20 kilometres from the scene of a house fire which claimed the lives of three young children at the weekend in Lalor Park, which is being treated as a domestic violence incident.

On Monday, a 21-year-old woman was allegedly stabbed to death by her partner in Kingswood, which is around 10 kilometres from Mount Druitt.

“This area is experiencing a domestic violence crisis,” Mr Little said. 

In the June state budget, $245 million was committed to domestic, family and sexual violence services, including $48 million for specialist workers and $45 million to improve bail laws and justice system responses.

On Tuesday, the Albanese government announced it would fund more than 700 new “safe places” for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence to live across the country.

Recruitment for more staff hampered by short-term funding

Psychologist Kathryn Ayling previously managed at the WSNBMDVS for eight years, and said workers were already stretched when a full team had just one postcode to cover. 

“We’ve stretched seven case workers, who were barely managing the Mount Druitt postcode to two very large [local government areas],” she said.

“Blacktown has a high rate of domestic violence, as does the Penrith area, the Nepean area.

“It’s hard to imagine how those caseworkers constrict themselves across all of those services, as well as being available to women, to support them at court, go to Centrelink, help them fill out all the forms, apply for financial assistance, et cetera.”

She described the funding model as “precarious” and said the service struggled to attract workers because they could only offer them short-term contracts. 

The WSNBMDVS is funded for six months at a time, which makes it difficult for staff with mortgages or other financial commitments to remain in their positions.

“It’s very precarious being in a role where you’re not sure whether you’re going to be employed in another six months’ time, or whether you’re going to have to be looking for work or moving,” Ms Ayling said. 

Staff at the Mount Druitt support service strive “to never turn anyone away”, but their dwindling resources is making that a difficult standard to maintain. 

“If you’re stretched, you can’t take in any more referrals, you’ve got no one to allocate that new case to,” Ms Ayling said. 

“We don’t want to have to say ‘no, not today’, she might never go [to another service] again.”


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