Debbie reflects on nearly two decades of helping people in need

(Southern Health News, September 2021)

As Team Coordinator of Flinders Medical Centre’s Emergency Department Social Work Service – specialising in trauma and domestic violence – Debbie McCarthy has experienced firsthand the power of a kind word or gesture in situations of trauma and crisis.

“One patient who survived a serious domestic violence assault rang to ask me to tell the Emergency Department staff that helped her that they were angels because they hadn’t ‘judged’ her and were so supportive,” said Debbie.

“Another patient returned to the Emergency Department to say thanks for the support we provided to her in a crisis,” Debbie recalls. “She said that now, every time she started blame herself for what was happening at home, she remembered that I said that nobody had the right to hurt her or make her afraid, and now she no longer takes responsibility for the perpetrator’s behaviour.”

SALHN staff have been commitment to early intervention and enhancing safety for people in domestic and family violence (DFV) for nearly two decades. In what was believed to be a first of its kind in Australia at the time, DFV screening was implemented in the FMC Emergency Department in 2006 – creating an important change in practice and increasing awareness of DFV both within the hospital, and throughout the wider community. The tool has since been presented at numerous national and international conferences and is now used across South Australia’s major hospitals.

SALHN’s commitment to preventing violence against women was recently recognised with White Ribbon Australia accreditation until July 2024.

Debbie works as part of the FMC Emergency Department Social Work service that runs seven days a week, 365 days a year. Its focus is on rapid response and hospital avoidance, based on a trauma informed care model and crisis intervention. The service specialises in trauma and domestic violence, but also works with a wide range of situations.

“I have often gone home and reflected on my day, knowing that we as a team have made a difference in someone’s life at a time of trauma and crisis, and have done as much as we can to enhance that person’s safety and wellbeing.

“We have achieved this through teamwork and a number of different processes by asking questions, being supportive, liaising with others and seeking information to enhance safety.”

The social work service works closely with SAPOL and DFV Gateway for emergency accommodation and referrals to Family Safety Meetings, liaises with key services, establishes safety planning and provides DFV (Domestic and Family Violence) Safety Cards prior to discharge. The cards contain important contact and referral details.

Debbie said healthcare workers were at the heart of our community and played an important role in early intervention; and improving health and wellbeing through enhanced safety.

“This can be achieved through DFV screening, assessing risk, referring to services and providing domestic violence safety care.

“By asking questions you may save someone’s life, while providing a clear message that violence never acceptable.”

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data recorded by SA Police, there was a 7% increase in assaults in 2020. Half of the assaults recorded were related to DFV with almost three quarters of victims of DFV assaults female.

“White Ribbon has an important role in increasing awareness and changing the culture within society and the workplace - with a focus on preventing violence through raising awareness and building respectful relationships,” said Debbie.