All ACT public servants to be trained to identify domestic violence, frontline courses to intensify
All ACT public servants — including shop workers, office staff and bus drivers — will be trained in spotting domestic violence, including little-understood controlling and coercive behaviours, how to respond to victims and where to find them help.
- A course on family violence recognition will be rolled out to all ACT public servants from next year as part of their ‘core training’
- Frontline health workers, such as paramedics, will receive more advanced training than currently offered
- The program was first planned in 2016 after a string of domestic violence deaths in the territory
Frontline workers who come into regular contact with domestic violence victims, such as hospital social workers and midwives, will also receive more in-depth advanced training from mid-2019.
It is an expansion the ACT Ambulance Service said could save lives.
The program, described as “bold” by support services, will be rolled out to the territory’s 21,000 public servants early next year as “core training”, in a similar way to anti-bullying or workplace health and safety courses.
Plans for improved training for frontline health and justice workers were announced in 2016 after a cluster of domestic violence deaths in the territory — including Tara Costigan, who was murdered with an axe by her ex-partner while nursing their newborn.
The murder of Tara Costigan by the father of her newborn, whom she cradled as she was killed, contributed to plans for more training. (Supplied)
But in developing the program, the ACT Government decided to expand it to all public servants.
Training to consider possible risks of reporting abuse
ACT coordinator general for family safety Jo Wood said workers would be taught to recognise different types of abuse, how to discuss the issue empathetically and where to refer someone for more expert advice.
She said the training would be available face-to-face or online, and would extend to “an incredibly diverse range of roles and people”.
“That will include bus drivers, people who work in Access Canberra, teachers in schools, nurses in the hospitals, people doing policy work in the centre of government,” Ms Wood said.
“We know that one-in-four women and one-in-13 men have experienced violence from an intimate partner — and when we start to raise this issue in the workplace, including through the training, more people are going to … feel they are able to disclose it in the workplace,” she said.
But she stressed the training would ensure workers did not feel there were higher expectations to always report abuse, which in some cases could make victims unsafe.
“We don’t have a mandatory reporting regime for domestic and family violence,” she said.
“If it’s a situation where there is significant risk then that’s a point at which we would be strongly encouraging people to be referring and providing contact details for the specialist agencies in our communities.”
Frontline health responders, like paramedics, will get more extensive and more regular training. (Supplied: ACT Government)
Victims could be ‘funnelled back’ to already struggling services
Family violence support:
If an emergency, call police on 000.
If not an emergency, call:
Support groups applauded the new program, with Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) chief executive Mirjana Wilson calling it a “bold move”.
“It’s a big project. But I think it’s something that really highlights the Government’s commitment to ensure that this is an area that all people … have some capacity to respond in some way appropriately,” she said.
But she warned that as it stood, appropriate support services would struggle to cope with an expected increase in victims seeking help.
“Just raising awareness is not OK in and of itself,” she said.
“If we’re then funnelling everyone back to services of which there are few to respond to this in the territory, we really need to ensure they’re funded to do that well.”
Recognising that not everyone could get to a specialist organisation such as DVCS, Ms Wilson said she would like to see the training taken to another level, such as “to develop other workplaces to provide some more adequate responses [to domestic violence]”.
In December, workers from the Justice and Community Services directorate and emergency services were the first public servants in Canberra to trial the “foundation” training.
Regular domestic violence training ‘can save lives’
ACT Ambulance Service chief officer Howard Wren said paramedics were in line to have the more advanced training next year, and that consistent training in their field could save lives.
He highlighted how paramedics were recently taught how to look for signs of manual strangulation, an under-reported type of domestic violence.
The ACT Government initiative will be rolled out to all public servants from next year. (Supplied: ACT Government)
“There’s been a couple of cases where people, because they’re more aware of it, because they ask some additional questions and go looking for it, they’ve found something that may well have gone unreported,” Mr Wren said.
“Clearly an event like that is very violent in itself and it may well escalate, but as a result of that attack there can be quite hidden damage.”
This hidden damage could be “quite catastrophic”, he said.
“You can damage blood vessels in the neck that don’t appear to be damaged at the time — but some time later you can have very significant issues — and people can have a stroke for example.”
Mr Wren said he hoped the understanding of less obvious or delayed symptoms of family violence would only strengthen with the expanded training.