ATTENTION: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Knowledge gaps about domestic violence leaving children at risk

By Dan Moss, Workforce Development Manager, Emerging Minds 7 May 2020

 

Concerns that COVID-19 social distancing requirements will exacerbate domestic violence reinforce the need to bridge critical knowledge gaps amongst front-line community and health workers, so they can recognise and respond to domestic violence to address children’s safety and mental health.

Concerns that COVID-19 social distancing requirements will exacerbate domestic violence reinforce the need to bridge critical knowledge gaps amongst front-line community and health workers, so they can recognise and respond to domestic violence to address children’s safety and mental health.

 

An online training program launched by the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health aims to ensure this is possible, by focusing on how children are affected by family and domestic violence.

When violence, abuse, fear, and control are present in a household, it has a number of flow on impacts to children including long term impacts on their development, mental and physical health, education and community participation.

Both men and women impacted by family and domestic violence are seeking support – as witnessed by the dramatic increase in Google searches for domestic violence support[1] since the outbreak of coronavirus in Australia – but if practitioners don’t ask questions, then those affected don’t have the confidence to disclose the violence and make plans to improve their children’s safety.

With one in four Australian women affected by family and domestic violence[2], Flinders University Professor of Social Work, Dr Sarah Wendt says the current knowledge gaps are limiting how ‘first-to-know’ workers can support those impacted by family and domestic violence.

Professor Wendt says every practitioner in Australia needs a specialist understanding of how to recognise the signs of family and domestic violence, so they can address the issue with a parent and find support for the entire family.

Professor Wendt’s call to fill gaps in practitioners’ knowledge is backed by Mission Australia’s Out of the Shadows report, which recommended that all staff working with families receive training and information to better support women and children at risk of family and domestic violence, along with homelessness.

The Emerging Minds e-learning courses, The Impact of FDV on the Child: An Introduction and FDV and Child-Aware Practice: Principles and Practice highlight how  a child’s relationships, physical and mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing are affected, and how to respond to prevent immediate and long-term consequences for children’s mental health.

The courses were developed with input and support from Professor Wendt, specialist violence services, women’s safety services, general adult and child services, child mental health experts and mothers with lived experience of family and domestic violence.

Those who have experienced family and domestic violence and received mixed support from service providers agree that building frontline workers’ ability to discuss the issue will help.

Mothers Kirsty and Vanita (full names withheld) have helped develop the Emerging Minds program and say frontline support services can play a substantial role in identifying violence and abuse and providing early intervention.

For many years, Kirsty turned to numerous community-based services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to deal with her former partner’s drug and alcohol use and resulting violent behaviour.

“It has been a significant and traumatic journey for my family, engaging with so many services as we continue to recover and heal,” she said. “Most devastating for me is that my children still need to engage with therapeutic supports for the trauma and will most likely continue to need to into their adult lives.

“If practitioners suspect domestic violence, give the client or patient a chance or insist they be allowed to speak in private; it may be the only chance they have to speak about it. You could be the only person who can identify what she’s living with, and the only person who can assist or inform her of how to engage supports crucial to her and her children’s safety and wellbeing. You can give her an opportunity to gain the right assistance so she can one day leave. Encourage, support and guide her rather than judge. You could be saving a life.”

Vanita was subjected to physical and sexual abuse as a child. After parents of friends helped her recognise her home was unsafe, she left at the age of 12. In adulthood she sought help from a myriad of services for her daughter who struggled with “what she saw and heard” of her violent father’s behaviour.

Vanita says she had some ‘horrible experiences’ with individuals and services.

“Some of the feedback or advice I was given nearly broke me. Going to someone for help when you are vulnerable and feeling worse afterwards … can make you want to disengage with all support services, putting all involved at greater risk,” she said.

She says frontline workers should strive to support parents to understand how they can look after themselves and how important they are to their kids, encouraging them to build their strength.

“Listening is key – finding out what the family already has in place and what they think they need,” she said. “My GP is fantastic, providing support and information. She never judged me and always told me she expected me to come and see her again soon. Her support for all my children has been second to none.

“I made it through with the support of a few good workers who were honest about the journey.”

Those impacted by sexual assault, family and domestic violence can obtain advice and referrals from 1800RESPECT - phone 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

For further information on how Relationships Australia can assist you, contact our team by ringing 1300 364 277.


[1] https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/reports-75-per-cent-spike-in-searches-for-help-with-domestic/12101690

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017

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