Presenters and performers at the Grand Round

Supporting those who experience family violence

The international 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign launched at Austin Health last week to a packed Nursing Grand Round on Family Violence.

The presentation introduced new initiatives being introduced at Austin Health that have two important aims: to teach staff to recognise, respond and refer any patients experiencing family violence, and to train managers on how to support staff experiencing family violence.

Supporting our patients

"Health professionals are often the first person someone will talk to about family violence, so we need to prepare health professionals to have these conversations," says Sally Russell, coordinator of the ‘Strengthening Hospitals Responses to Family Violence' project at Austin Health.

The Grand Round introduced the concept of ‘sensitive practice' through a number of role plays that demonstrated how sensitive practice would look in three different scenarios: intimate partner abuse, elder abuse, and when providing support in the workforce.

While the role plays were confronting, Ms Russell emphasised that "you do not have to be an expert - that is not what we are asking clinicians to do. The key tasks for clinicians are to recognise when family violence may be occurring, to respond in a sensitive way, and to refer the patient, either internally or to an external service."

Attendees were also introduced to some harrowing statistics on the prevalence of family violence. "One in every four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse, and one in six physical or sexual violence, by a current or former partner," Ms Russell says.

Two new Family Violence educators will start at Austin Health in 2018, and will be provide additional Family Violence training for both clinicians, and managers.

Clinicians will also be supported by Family Violence resource officers - who will work initially in the Emergency Department and Specialist Clinics - and existing internal specialists, such as Social Work and the Northern Centre Against Sexual Assault (NCASA).

Supporting staff experiencing family violence

The aim of staff family violence support is to ensure that the workplace is a safe place for staff - for example, by putting strategies in place to protect staff from being contacted at work by a violent family member. Where the staff member is unsafe in their home environment, they can be put in contact with Austin Health's Employee Assistance Program or a specialist Family Violence service.

The first contact point for staff experiencing family violence is one of the Human Resources Family Violence Contact Officers, whose names are available on the Hub. The Contact Officers are also available to managers, to assist them in how to put strategies in place to make the workplace safe for their staff.

Project sponsor and Executive Director, Clinical Operations and Ambulatory Services, Jason Payne, said that the project has come out one of the recommendations from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, to develop a whole-of-hospital service model for responding to family violence in public hospitals. 

"We know that family violence affects too many families in Victoria, which is why this project focuses on supporting both patients and staff," Mr Payne said.

"Hospitals are well placed to identify and provide support to people affected by family violence before it gets to crisis stage where police and other authorities are involved. An early intervention response can prevent serious harm and death. Early intervention can also mean less hospital presentations."


Where to learn more

• There are a lot of resources available on the Hub for those who want to develop a greater depth of understanding. Start from the Family Violence Hub page.

• Further to last week's presentation, a special Medical Grand Round on Family Violence will be held this Wednesday. ‘I wish they had joined the dots for me' will introduce social worker, lecturer, researcher and family violence survivor Christine Craik, her research into the impacts of family violence on women's health, and the critical role of health professionals in being able to identify, educate and respond.

The Family Violence Medical Grand Round will be held in the John Lindell Lecture Theatre at Austin Hospital this Wednesday 29 November at 12.30pm.

• If you would like to do something active to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women, consider downloading and trying these '16 actions for 16 days'.