The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone in every corner of our community, but it has had a more profound impact on some. For women and children facing domestic and family violence, the pandemic presented another barrier to seeking help, another layer of control to be used by perpetrators and further strain on service providers – particularly women’s shelters.

Women’s shelters provide essential emergency services to vulnerable women and children who would otherwise be trapped in abusive households or homeless. Shelters provide immediate accommodation in a crisis, however they also provide additional supports including medium term accommodation, counselling and psychological services, financial support and specialist children’s services.

In mid-2020, in response to the pandemic, emergency ‘surge funding’ from the Paul Ramsay Foundation was provided to 33 women’s shelters across Australia. Depending on the domestic and family violence needs of their communities, shelters allocated the grant across 1-4 ‘surge’ target areas.

In the absence of a peak association to provide advice, we sought to deliver the funding to those we could identify with significant need in a way which would deliver swift outcomes on the ground in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The funding provided by the Paul Ramsay Foundation was deliberately targeted to smaller not-for-profit organisations, in particular women-run, community-embedded and trauma-informed shelters that focused on women and children.

This project provided an opportunity for us to put a microscope over the sector at a time of great strain to learn from the people at the coal face about the challenges they face in undertaking the important work they do for our community.

This report seeks to convey the impact that COVID-19 has had on women’s shelters, the women and children that use them, and the staff that work within them. It highlights the current capacity and scope of these services, and where funding arrangements and constraints resulted in critical needs left unmet.

We would like to sincerely thank our partners in this project for their work under extremely difficult circumstances during the pandemic, and for investing their time in the survey which informed this report. Using the insights from this survey, the Paul Ramsay Foundation has sought to understand the learning and implications from the rise in domestic and family violence during COVID-19.

The Paul Ramsay Foundation’s mission is to break cycles of disadvantage in Australia. We work with a broad range of partners across various sectors who share this purpose. While philanthropy has an important role to play in developing new approaches and building better off-ramps from the vicious cycles of disadvantage generated by family and domestic violence, ultimately the capacity of these services needs to grow. This has clear implications for governments who remain overwhelmingly the primary funder of services. This report shines a light on the gaps in funding, the approach to supporting the sector and the real-world impact of these shortcomings.

While the focus of this project – and this report – is on women’s shelters which largely operate at the crisis end of the service spectrum, it is hard to avoid the reality that these services are often the only
services dedicated to supporting victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. While a range of other general services exist, such as public housing or mental health services, the lack of specialised,
dedicated services designed to address the longterm drivers and implications of domestic violence on women and children is a conversation which needs to be had.

A full copy of the report can be found here.