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Sydney Dental Hospital to pilot routine domestic violence screening

Staff to be trained to identity and respond to early signs of domestic violence.

Headshot of woman smiling at camera
SydneyConnect Image: Cecilia Correy

Cecilia Correy is driven by the words of one of her clients.

“Imagine if I hadn’t met you. I’d be in hospital or a coffin,” Suzi* told the senior social worker at Sydney Dental Hospital.

Suzi had a black eye when she arrived for her dental appointment and afterwards was introduced to Ms Correy, who is the hospital’s first on-site social worker.

“I asked her about it and she disclosed that she was in a violent relationship. She hadn’t told anyone before. She hadn’t been to a health service or GP for about three years.

“I was able to link her with domestic violence counselling, Sydney Local Health District’s Drug Health social work and nursing team, mental health support, women’s health services and rehabilitation,” Ms Correy said.

Ms Correy (pictured) is committed to identifying and responding to domestic violence and it was Suzi’s experience that prompted her move towards piloting routine domestic violence screening at Sydney Dental Hospital.

The screening involves specially trained staff asking women, when it’s safe to do so, a series of questions about violence in the home, and, if needed, to offer referrals to services, resources and support.

Today, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

It marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, a global campaign to encourage people to take a stand against domestic and family violence.

Domestic violence routine screening is already mandatory in public drug and alcohol and mental health services plus antenatal and early childhood health services in NSW.

Screening is also undertaken in Emergency Departments, when safe and appropriate.

And, the Children's Ward at RPA was the first paediatric ward in Australia to roll out the screening to mothers and female carers who are at visiting RPA Hospital while their child is on the ward.
In the District, this work is supported by the Domestic Violence Strategy Unit.

“Unfortunately, Suzi’s case is not unique. It highlights how important it is to implement routine domestic violence routine screening at Sydney Dental Hospital, as a way of offering potentially lifesaving support to our patients,” Ms Correy said.

Clinicians, dental assistants and administrative staff will participate in training facilitated by the District’s Domestic Violence Educator, to aid them in the early identification and initial response to domestic violence.

Patients who disclose may be referred to Ms Correy for a social work review or to an on-site lawyer, from the Redfern Legal Centre Health Justice Partnership, for legal advice.

They may be referred to women’s crisis services, family support services, police domestic violence officers and other case management to assist in increasing safety. If injuries are identified they can also be linked with local hospitals.

The pilot will include the use of the Violence Abuse Neglect (VAN) network’s resources to support staff in accessing and understanding referral pathways.
It has Suzi’s backing.

“Sydney Dental Hospital is a supportive place for women like me – who can’t tell anyone or don’t know what to do. I think a lot of women will get help. With my experience, I can say that,” she said.

Dr Jason Cheng, the hospital’s General Manager said the pilot is expected to start in 2022.

“We look after some of the most disadvantaged members of our community and by linking our dental patients’ needs with other vital services such as domestic violence intervention, social work and legal services, we’ve been able to make positive differences in our patients’ lives.”

* Her name has been changed to protect her identity.