Exploring Alternative Pathways out of Poverty: Making Connections between Domestic Violence and Employment Practices

Article excerpt

Introduction

In comparison to similar English-speaking countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia's neglect of the connections between services and practices in the fields of domestic violence and employment is notable (1). In the international literature the intersections of domestic violence, homelessness, poverty and employment have been examined both in research and practice. Solutions to the problems and complexities identified are being developed, trialed and discussed in the literature. In stark contrast there is a dearth of Australian literature and policy on the intersection of domestic violence and employment.

In Australian research the links between domestic violence, poverty and homelessness for women and children affected by domestic violence have been clearly established (Chung et al 2000; and Wensing et al 2003: 17). Similarly, the relationship between employment and poverty is apparent in Australian literature, with skilled employment, considered a major pathway out of poverty and homelessness (Macdonald and Siemon 2000: 215). Despite these linkages dominant approaches to domestic violence in Australian social service provision have been crisis oriented and focused on providing accommodation, welfare assistance, and emergency support services to women and children (Chung et al 2000: 2). Services have not been funded to have a role in systemic planning such as job search and training to assist providing accommodation and financial security that is more a living wage and independent of social service agencies. Further, anecdotal evidence and our professional experience suggests the reluctance of women affected by domestic violence to disclose these experiences to employment agencies means that its impact on women's ability to seek or maintain employment is likely to be underestimated.

As practitioners and researchers we were intrigued by this apparent disregard of the connections between domestic violence and employment and queried whether the research, knowledge, and practice emerging from the international literature had any relevance to the Australian context. Subsequently, we conducted an exploratory study of the intersection of these issues in Australia to examine whether the international literature had any applicability to local practice. We also intended that this approach would identify any current innovative Australian practices on the intersection of domestic violence and employment in the field. In this context the research findings we present offer a unique contribution to knowledge and practice for these two important Australian social issues.

Methodology

The methodology was two-fold: a literature review and qualitative semi-structured interviews with workers from metropolitan Adelaide. The literature surveyed the intersection of domestic violence and employment, primarily originating from the United States and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom. Although there was a paucity of Australian literature on the intersection of these issues, literature from Australia on domestic violence, employment, homelessness, poverty and welfare as separate topics was also examined to assist in understanding local nuances.

As this was a small exploratory study the collection of data was aimed at examining whether these intersections were being identified and/or addressed in local domestic violence and employment program practices. Study participants were workers recruited from four agencies: specialist domestic violence counselling service; specialist domestic violence accommodation service; job network provider; and employment service. Being an exploratory study we did not seek a representative sample in our research. Rather, we decided to approach two specialist domestic violence agencies and two specialist employment agencies that provided a small cross-section of agencies working in this area. We also deliberately selected agencies that came into contact with women at different stages in their experience of domestic violence (that is, current experience, recent separation, and historic separation). …