The PATRICIA Project: PAthways And Research In Collaborative Inter-Agency working

Project Details


In recent years domestic violence referrals to child protection services have increased dramatically creating important interface issues between the police, family violence services and child protection. This two-year project, concluding at the end of 2016, will focus on exploring the relationship between statutory child protection, family law, and community‐based services who seek to support women and children exposed to domestic violence.

The overarching research question is: What are the elements that facilitate differential pathways and appropriate service system support for the safety and well-being of women and children living with and separating from family violence in an integrated intervention system?

Women's service pathways will be examined using NSW, Western Australian and Victorian administrative datasets. The findings, together with an international scoping review, case studies focussing on collaborative work in five states, and a 'case reading' process developed by David Mandel (as part of the Safe and Together resources) will be synthesised to strengthen the co-design of the service systems in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and WA. The research will be supported and driven by an Advisory Group with participants from government and non-government agencies who will meet over the life of the project in three major workshops.


The outcomes of this Project will be of national relevance to child protection, community-based services and family law organisations seeking strengthened integration and skills enhancement. It aims to foster the use of evidence to enhance greater cross‐sector collaboration to support women and their children and support stronger accountability for perpetrators of domestic abuse. It has the potential to foster long-term cultural change in how child protection and domestic and family violence services work with fathers and mothers to keep children with the non-offending parent; in partnering with the non-offending parent; and intervening with the perpetrator to reduce risk and harm to children.

Components and Methods

There are 5 components to the PATRICIA Project, each component with its own methodology:

1.    The State of Knowledge component used a scoping methodology to locate evaluations of models in which child protection, domestic and family violence and family law collaborate and examined ways of working together (available at

2.    The Pathways component involves analysis of child protection datasets from Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. As datasets are organised differently across the different jurisdictions, each will be analysed individually. Whilst retaining their jurisdictional specificity the following analyses will be conducted:
·    Descriptive – comparing family demographic and case characteristics with identified domestic and family violence reported to the Child Protection system with families reported without domestic and family violence identified
·    Assessing effects of triage on the system
·    Cross-jurisdictional issues (to the extent that the three datasets contain measures of comparable data). The main change - and influence on the progress of the methodology – concerns adding a third dataset (that of Western Australia) to the two original datasets (New South Wales and Victoria). This added further complexity and thus time to advancing the methodology for the expanded project, given that at the project's start, researchers only had detailed knowledge of one dataset (New South Wales).

3.    The Case Study component includes one case study site in each of five states: Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. This component focusses on current collaborative practices occurring between child protection (CP), family law (FL), and domestic/family violence (D/FV) services. Based on interviews with workers involved in an innovative collaborative initiative, observation of meetings, and analysis of project-related documents, the case studies when analysed (individually and collectively) will address the question of How will identified criteria for effective collaboration elucidate an understanding of the barriers and facilitating factors for collaborative work across CP, D/FV services, and services provided in the FL area? The case study work will be conducted by multiple investigators, in site-based teams (see Research teams across the states) but collectively investigators are serving on the same research team.

4.    The Perpetrator Accountability component of the project is comprised of two linked parts.
·    A documentary analysis of legislative policy and practice documents in each state and territory that guides the work of child protection workers. Using predetermined categories, the 8 jurisdictional approaches to working with families (including perpetrator and adult and child victims) in the context of domestic and family violence will be identified in consultation with project advisors. This work provides the background context to the project (particularly, the Case Study, Pathways and Case Reading process) and will be included in the final report.
·    A Case Reading Analysis of child protection practice within the context of collaborative work will be undertaken in the 5 participating states (Queensland, NSW, Victoria, SA and WA). It will focus on the quality of CP practice in relation to perpetrators of D/FV in specific (de-identified) cases. In each site, a team, including two senior child protection workers, specialist D/FV worker and researcher will be trained over two days and supported to conduct case readings, over two further days, of four de-identified CP files. Key questions are: What is the quality of CP screening for D/FV and What is the quality of D/FV practice in cases where it is identified at the point of referral? Training in undertaking the case reading, the resources with which to conduct the process, and ongoing support during the case reading will be provided by David Mandel & Associates, developers of the Safe and Together approach to a domestic violence informed child welfare system. Results of the case reading process will be reported as themes, trends and practices (i.e. neither as an audit of individual workers' work nor identifiable by jurisdiction).

5.    The Workshops: An action research methodology underpins the design of the project creating a strong overarching collaborative process across all of the research components as well as within each of the above-mentioned components as they progress. The 'formal' or planned aspect of the action research component involves the three workshops over the life of the project (involving the Project Advisory Group drawn from the initial three participating states' child protection agencies, specialist and peak domestic and family violence services, the Parenting Research Centre, and researchers from all five of the participating states). As each component of the project progresses, however, further (less formal or planned) action research is occurring through iterative cycles in which the 'right' interested stakeholders are brought together to plan, analyse and reflect on data and consider potential for new collaborative practice.






Chief investigator (Responsible Researcher)

Professor Cathy Humphreys,
Professor of Social Work
Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne

Chief investigator

Professor Marie Connolly,
Chair and Head of Social Work
Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne

Research Coordinator

Dr Lucy Healey,
Senior Research Fellow
Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne


Dr Debbie Kirkwood,
Senior Research Officer
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria


Ms Anna Bornemisza,
Research Assistant
Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne

South Australia

Chief investigator

Dr Fiona Buchanan,
School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia

Chief investigator

Associate Professor Sarah Wendt,
Program Director, Masters of Social Work
School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia

Western Australia

Chief investigator

Professor Donna Chung,
Head of Social Work
School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Faculty of Health Sciences Curtin University


Chief investigator

Professor Patrick O'Leary,
Professor of Social Work
School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University

Chief investigator

Dr Menka Tsantefski,
Senior Lecturer
School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University


Ms Amy Young,
Research Assistant
School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University

New South Wales

Chief investigator

Associate Professor Lesley Laing,
Associate Professor, Undergraduate and Pre-service Programs
Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Chief investigator

Dr Susan Heward-Bell,
Lecturer, Social Work & Policy Studies
Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney


Ms Cherie Toivonen,
Senior Researcher
Faculty of Education and Social Work and Sydney Law School, University of Sydney


An Advisory Group comprised of government and non‐government stakeholders supports the project. It draws together a team of academics: in the area of domestic and family violence (Professors Cathy Humphreys, Donna Chung, Patrick O'Leary, Sarah Wendt, Drs Lesley Laing, Fiona Buchanan and Lucy Healey); in the area of child protection and children's services (Professors Marie Connolly, Aron Shlonsky and Ilan Katz); alongside community sector organisations with expertise in research reviews and research implementation (Dr Michelle Macvean from the Parenting Research Centre (PRC); and a D/FV specialist (Dr Debbie Kirkwood, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria). Collaborating organisations also include peak bodies (DVVic, NTV, WA Women's Council for Domestic and Family Violence); the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency; Women's Legal Services NSW and Victoria; and representatives from statutory child protection departments in Victoria, NSW and WA.


Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) funded it on the basis of its potential to fulfil a key national research priority.

Research Group

Alliance to End Violence toward Women and Children

Faculty Research Themes

Child Health

School Research Themes

Child Health

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Social Work

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