Putting the spotlight on the health system and family violence

Image of a couple sitting apart at either corners of a sofa looking at each other confrontationally.
Family violence damages the mental and physical health of individual men, women and children. Image: Getty Images

Programs working with men who perpetrate family violence are among projects to be discussed at a University of Melbourne-led conference this week.

The Safer Families International Domestic Violence and Health Conference: Sustainable Change in the Health Sector will highlight the need to better prepare Australia’s health system to deal with those affected by family violence.

The Safer Families Centre of Research Excellence is a five-year project involving the University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and La Trobe University.

It runs programs and research within the health system aiming to prevent and deal with family violence. Many are innovative and several involve men who use violence who have volunteered to take part.

Better Man involves an online early intervention tool for engaging men who use violence to seek help and Caring Dads is evaluating a 17-week group program intervention for men who are fathers and use violence in the home.

Both programs will be discussed at the 20-21 November conference, which is the first global forum to headline early intervention in health settings. It will also hear from family violence survivors-turned-researchers.

Practitioners, survivors, carers, researchers, students, policy makers, community leaders, managers and advocates will focus on early intervention in the health sector, the dynamics and complexity of abuse and how to work with children, young people and their parents.

Joint Chair for Family Violence Prevention, the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women's Hospital, Kelsey Hegarty, said educating and connecting the health sector to the social services sector was critical in dealing with family violence.

Professor Hegarty said Australian health professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists and GPs did not generally receive family violence related training, and the system was not geared towards identifying or responding to affected families.

She said while much work was occurring on changing attitudes for prevention and integrating specialist services, it would remain difficult to reduce the incidence of family violence until health supports were better integrated and resourced.

“We’re not going to stop deaths until this health response is stronger,” Professor Hegarty said.

“It’s about enabling the health system to support these families, knowing what questions to ask to identify at an earlier stage and assist women and children on a pathway to safety and healing.”

Forum keynote panel speakers include: 

Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno, World Health Organisation (physician and global health expert)

Professor Kelsey Hegarty, University of Melbourne (Safer Families Director and family violence health expert)

Professor Cathy Humphreys, University of Melbourne (Safer Families director and family violence services expert)

Professor Gene Feder, University of Bristol (GP/perpetrators expert)

Rosie Batty, Former Australian of the Year 2015

Members of WEAVERS (Women Experiencing Abuse and Violence Researchers and Advisors), who will recount their experiences and involvement in ground breaking family violence research projects.

The conference will be held at the RACV City Club Melbourne. More details at: www.saferfamilies.org.au/idvh-2018 For a detailed program click here.

The University of Melbourne academics have also developed an online training module for health professionals to identify and respond to family violence.