Family and domestic violence (FDV) is a significant public health issue and a key determinant of women’s and children’s health in Australia. Rural and remote areas experience higher rates of violence and the Western Australian Centre for Rural Health (WACRH) successfully applied for an intervention research grant from the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) for the primary prevention of family violence in Geraldton.
In late 2019, WACRH conducted the Local Community Attitudes and Exposure to Violence Survey (LCAEVS), designed as a surveillance and monitoring tool to inform and measure the effectiveness of a regional FDV primary prevention strategy. The local survey was adapted from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety 2017 National Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women Survey. The LCAEVS showed high rates of FDV behaviour reportedly present in the community, including physical violence (36.6 per cent having ever been slapped, punched or hit) and non-physical violence (for example over 40 per cent having experienced repeated criticism).
At the same time, a University of Western Australia (UWA) Teaching and Learning Community of Practice, involving academic and professional staff from different disciplines, identified the need for a teaching resource to be used in a wide range of university courses where students learn about family violence – courses such as population health, medicine, social work, education and law.
Concurrently, in the small town of Mullewa, 100 km from Geraldton, WACRH was supporting a group of local women to use creative processes to explore their experiences of loss, grief, violence and other adversities. The Healing Project was coordinated by Lisa Lockyer, an experienced mental health trained Aboriginal health practitioner living and working in Mullewa.
A small grant through the City of Greater Geraldton, which stakeholders agreed could be used for a family violence prevention project in Mullewa, brought together the LCAEVS survey results, the Community of Practice and the Healing Project.
The women in the Healing Project recognised that the intergenerational nature of family violence had normalised violence in Mullewa. Their project to interrupt the normalisation of violence through community education resulted in the adaption of an existing animated video to explain the impact of violence and trauma on children’s developing brains, developed and led by Lisa Lockyer and Poche Research Fellow Heath Greville.
Some women from the Healing Project acted as advisers on the project, giving feedback on the script and meeting by Zoom with Philip Pepper, the animator, to comment on the video’s graphic design.
Members of the UWA Community of Practice also gave advice on the script. The result is an eight-and-a-half-minute video suitable for community and professional education. Within a week of the video launch, organisations in Geraldton and elsewhere were using it to promote discussions about trauma-informed practice and upskill people working in schools, health and justice settings.
The video – Learning Brain and Survival Brain: How experience shapes behaviour – draws heavily on an existing resource developed by Dr Jacob Ham from Mt Sinai Hospital in New York. We acknowledge Dr Ham’s generosity in allowing us to adapt his concepts and script for Australian audiences. Dr Ham commented on the WACRH video and script, ‘I love what you’ve done with it. Certainly a huge improvement to what I had made.’
The video has been warmly endorsed by the Blue Knot Foundation. ‘I can’t recommend this short clip too highly. It is a clear critical representation of the ways in which different early traumas can affect a child’s ability to learn. Importantly it also explores what we can all do to change things,’ said Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President, Blue Knot Foundation – National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma.