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Embedding a specialist family violence social worker in an Emergency Department: Sustaining knowledge to improve the early identification and health response to victim/survivors

Family violence has serious, long lasting health impacts and accounts for substantial repeat health presentations (Cowan et al., 2020). Healthcare practitioners play a vital role in identifying and responding to victim survivors of family violence. There is compelling evidence that training alone is insufficient in producing a holistic healthcare response to family violence (Hegarty et al., 2020).

In response to the increased frequency, complexity, and severity of family violence presentations, Canberra Health Services (CHS) Strengthening Health Responses to Family Violence (SHRFV) program implemented the Clinical Lead – Family Violence initiative embedded in the Emergency Department (ED). This role, held by a skilled senior Social Worker, is designed to nurture a skilled and confident workforce in ED and respond to family violence as a health issue. The Clinical Lead is a clinical support role providing advice, consultation, training, and reflective practice to staff to implement a sustained practice change.

The aim of this study is to determine whether, and in what ways the embedded Clinical Lead – Family Violence position has assisted ED staff to:

  • embed a shared understanding of family violence in practice
  • change practice behaviours to adopt Sensitive Practice/sensitive enquiry in their response to suspected family violence presentation, including knowledge/confidence of referral pathways.

This grant will fund time and resources for Principal Researcher, Renata Kiss and the Co-Principal Researchers Fiona Holihan, Anna McLeod, and Dr. Amelia Wheeler to undertake qualitative interviews with ED staff and community agencies and undertake data extraction and analysis from the program documentation.

Principal Researcher:

Renata Kiss, Clinical Lead – Family Violence, Strengthening Health Responses to Family Violence, Canberra Health Services


Co-Principal Researcher:

Anna McLeod, Manager – Strengthening Health Responses to Family Violence, Canberra Health Services


Co-Principal Researcher:

Fiona Holihan, Senior Manager – Child Health Targeted Support Services, Canberra Health Services


Co-Principal Researcher / Research Mentor:

Dr. Amelia Wheeler, Lecturer in Social Work, Australian Catholic University


AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers