New course links all agencies dealing with domestic abuse

DkIT initiative created to help frontline staff recognise and respond to violence in home

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) has introduced the country's first accredited course for frontline staff on how to recognise and respond to domestic abuse.

It was developed to meet the needs of all the agencies that can become involved in responding to domestic violence, such as social workers, nurses, midwives, gardaí, teachers and GPs.

Significantly, a survey was undertaken of those same frontline workers, and the 140 responses revealed a significant need, and interest, in further educational support on domestic violence.

Ninety-one per cent of respondents had no accredited qualification in domestic abuse; 61 per cent had not attended continual professional development training on domestic abuse; and 69 per cent were interested in doing an accredited programme on it.


Dr Edel Healy, head of the school of health and science at DkIT, says the genesis of the course development was with the Louth Children's Services Committee, which has representatives from the same frontline services on it including Drogheda Women's and Children's Refugee and Dundalk Women's Aid.

A sub-group of the committee looked at how domestic violence was covered in education.

“The aim was to see how it was covered in undergraduate degrees. We have midwifery, nursing and social care [courses in DkIT], and we figured out that there was no accredited programme, no CPD [Continuing professional development] programme in this space, nationally,” says Healy. “There is on-the-job training, but nothing accredited, so we thought it would be a good idea to develop a short certificate programme. It is unique as it is the first accredited one, and the development was an interagency approach,” Healy says.

Ad hoc basis

Until now training has been on an ad-hoc basis, according to

Theresa Wood

, education and training officer from Drogheda Women’s Refuge.

“We have been providing education programmes in the college, such as in the midwifery and nursing school, for 15 years now, but it has been on an invitation basis, an ad-hoc basis of tutors inviting us in to do particular pieces,” she says.

“We come in to do specific pieces for nurses, midwives, social care workers, childcare workers in different groups, but we could see from that that no matter what area people were going to work in, domestic violence was part of it.”

It was decided that the children’s services committee could, with DkIT, put together a formalised accredited programme for delivery, not just to students in DkIT, but also to professionals, gardaí, probation service staff and staff in refuges.

A key element is learning to understand what Wood says is “the dynamics of abusive relationships, because that is the actual key”.

“There are lots of different elements to the programme, but the most important element is understanding the dynamics of abusive relationships, because once they understand that, then everything else makes sense. Without that initial understanding, people will be wondering why don’t they just leave [the relationship]. Once they understand that, everything else flows on.”

Domestic abuse can begin during pregnancy or it may escalate during this time, and Wood refers to an anonymous survey carried out in the Rotunda Hospital, where women on the antenatal programme were asked if they were in an abusive relationship. One in eight said they were. “You can only guess how many didn’t say yes, but were,” she adds.

“When anybody goes to an antenatal appointment they always have their blood pressure checked, as well as their urine checked for gestational diabetes, but in actual fact domestic violence is more common in pregnancy than both of those put together,” she explains.

Bernie McCamley, social worker in the A&E department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, agrees. "We see quite an increase in young women presenting in early pregnancy or in the early stages of a relationship presenting with domestic violence, with quite significant injuries," she says.

Safe environment

DkIT head of midwifery

Jill Atkinson

says the challenge with maternity care is getting the woman on her own in the clinic in a safe environment to ask her about her relationship, as it would be good practice to do.

"Even to identify that challenge and to strategise around that, that is where the learning has been about being proactive in asking questions. This is going to give the participants on this course confidence about asking and that it is 'okay' to ask," says Lisa Marmion from Dundalk Women's Aid.

What stops people asking the question from her experience about the occurrence of domestic violence, Wood says, is that “they are afraid of the answer and what to do next”.

“With domestic violence, people can sometimes recognise it, but they don’t have the confidence to respond to it in the correct way, using the correct channels. They are not sure who to go to or what to do next.

“This certificate programme will give them very clear guidelines and referral paths for what they do see in their own work. It means there will be more referrals.”

Course participants will make strong links with each other and also learn the limitations of their own organisation and field. Marmion emphasises the importance of this element.

“Institutional empathy can mean really excellent working relationships continuing . . . we are so much bigger than the individual services. As a domestic violence service, there is only part of the response that you can do . . . you rely so heavily on everybody else.”

Women's Aid director Margaret Martin agrees. "The course is a welcome development and it was great to see the collaboration between all the key stakeholders in the area: domestic violence specialist support services, health and social care professionals, as well as probation and the gardaí.

“As a centre of excellence for training and development for professional and organisational responses to women and children experiencing domestic violence, we believe it is vital to build a critical mass of good practice, and our experience is that the training participants we work with really benefit from a multidisciplinary approach and want to develop practical skills to ensure the safety of domestic violence victims,” she adds.

The 13-week programme, which includes blended learning, begins next month. For more information, go to Women's Aid has a dedicated training and development department that provides support to local and national organisations throughout Ireland, promoting best practice responses to woman and children experiencing domestic violence.