Mothers and children with disability using early intervention services: Identifying and sharing promising practice

Project summary - RP.17.08

Disability in mothers and/or children is a particular feature in families’ lives which makes it harder for domestic violence early intervention initiatives to effectively support them. Services which support people with disability often have very limited capacity in responding to risks of family violence, while services focused on violence prevention are often not skilled in identifying and addressing disability support needs. This results in risks for these families of either unmet need or of inappropriate response, such as entry into the child protection system, due to lack of available alternative support.

Despite these challenges, innovative and responsive practices are occurring to support families where disability features. However, little is known about the ways that early intervention services respond to women and their children to meet their needs and preferences, and build their resources and capacity, organisationally and at wider social levels.

This project aims to document and improve practice for mainstream early intervention domestic and family violence services to better engage families with a child or parent with disability. In particular, it aims to develop an understanding of facilitators and barriers to early intervention support for families where: (a) domestic and family violence is a risk; and (b) disability in parents and/or children within the family impacts the support received. 

Barriers and facilitators will be explored from multiple perspectives, including children (ages 8-18) with disability, mothers with disability, and staff in four Family Referral Services sites. Family Referral Services (FRS) are intended to assist children, young people, and families who do not meet the statutory threshold for child protection intervention, but would benefit from accessing specific services to address current problems, prevent escalation, and foster a protective and nurturing environment.

At a local practice level, this research will identify promising and effective practices in service delivery, disseminate information on these practices to a practice, policy and research audience, and contextualise those practices in relation to the established evidence base. At a programmatic and policy level, it will provide new knowledge on the circumstances in which women with disability, and women who are the mothers of children with disability, seek and are provided with effective support. At a conceptual level, it will advance understandings of the nature and prevention of violence experienced by women and children with disability, and the circumstances in which safer environments can be facilitated.


Project lead

A/Prof kylie valentine, University of New South Wales

Research expertise

  1. Dr Sally Robinson, Southern Cross University, NSW
  2. Dr BJ Newton, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Practice expertise

  1. Southern NSW Family Referral Service (MacKillop)
  2. Western NSW Family Referral Service (Uniting)
  3. Western Sydney Family Referral Service (Relationships Australia NSW)
  4. Northern NSW Family Referral Service (Social Futures)

Priority populations

Women with disability, women who live in rural and remote areas (as explicit topic).

Project length

2+ years