New England health workers offer compassion after violence

Offering compassion: Hunter New England Health's (HNEH) acting manager for violence, abuse and neglect, Robyn Jones. Photo: Newcastle Herald
Offering compassion: Hunter New England Health's (HNEH) acting manager for violence, abuse and neglect, Robyn Jones. Photo: Newcastle Herald

THREE extra violence, abuse and neglect social workers have been employed to tackle the workload in Armidale, Moree and Tamworth, Hunter New England Health have confirmed.

Hunter New England Health's (HNEH) acting manager for violence, abuse and neglect, Robyn Jones, said focusing on physical injuries doesn't represent the true breadth of the problem.

It's a "misconception" that hospital emergency departments are the only place where health staff respond to domestic violence.

"Domestic violence makes the biggest health impact for women aged 25 to 44 and outstrips smoking, diabetes and obesity by a long shot," Ms Jones said.

"But the idea that health services are only responding to physical assault when we talk about domestic violence is a bit of a myth.

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"What we are more likely to see is the impact of depression, anxiety and suicide risk associated with living in trauma."

Ms Jones said HNEH had recently employed an additional five violence, abuse and neglect (VAN) social workers in Taree, Armidale, Moree, Tamworth and Muswellbrook to work with people who had experienced violence, abuse or neglect.

This brings the total number of people who have received VAN training, know how to respond to disclosure without triggering patients and can provide trauma-informed care to around 180 across the district.

This includes sexual assault doctors, nurse examiners and health workers in child protection.

"It's a special skill to hear these stories, respond and know what the next steps are," she said.

"The ability to understand the dynamics that sit beyond that is really important in being able to provide compassionate care to people who have experienced violence, abuse and neglect - to have evidence based knowledge about what interventions assist and heal.

"It all comes down to a real ability to build and maintain a safe and compassionate relationship with someone who has difficulties with trust because of their experience of violence.

"We want to be able to empower our clients to make informed decisions around their own life."

She said all employees receive child protection training, which covers domestic violence.

Staff who work in child and family services, women's health, mental health and drug and alcohol services also receive additional, specific training in domestic violence.

"There are a lot of reasons why people disclose to a health service. People say 'I feel safe, I was treated with kindness and compassion, they were genuinely interested in how I am'.

"Their wellbeing is prioritised and for some people, they haven't had that very often."

Staff in antenatal services, mental health and drug and alcohol services conduct routine screening, asking women if they've been harmed in the past year and if they're safe to go home.

"Women tell us they don't mind being asked but they might not tell us the first time, it may be the second, third or fourth time, so we continue to ask."