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New UNSW Sydney research will interview workers in the domestic and family violence (DFV) area to better understand Australia’s responses in the context of COVID-19.

Researchers want to hear from those working with clients and families impacted by DFV, whether employed in health care, specialist DFV services or other sectors, such as legal services, to help shape policies now and in the long-term. 

The DFV research is part of a cross-disciplinary collaboration, COVID-19: Understanding the sex and gender dimensions on women’s health and wellbeing, which is among 13 funded from UNSW’s Rapid Response Research program.

The cross-faculty project, led by Australian Human Rights Institute director Scientia Professor Louise Chappell, includes researchers from The George Institute for Global Health, UNSW Medicine and UNSW Arts and Social Sciences, including the Gendered Violence Research Network.

The DFV study’s chief investigator Dr Patricia Cullen, of UNSW Medicine, said DFV was a key issue to examine in light of the pandemic. 

“COVID-19 raised significant concerns around increases in violence against women and children,” Dr Cullen said.

“Frontline services and their staff have made huge adaptations to the way they work, including working remotely, using telehealth and online support services to address DFV, however, this presents a number of challenges during periods of social isolation and social distancing.

“For example, telehealth relies on referral pathways into community-based frontline services, such as shelters, advocacy services and women’s health centres. 

“These services have had to adapt and respond quickly in the face of social isolation measures to continue to support clients and families – so, we want to understand how they have adapted and what has worked well during this time.”

Support services impacted 

Dr Cullen said the pandemic’s social isolation measures have affected the way that services and the workforce support clients impacted by DFV.

“However, the impact of the pandemic on the DFV workforce and service capacity are not being systematically tracked, which could prevent coordinated and effective responses,” she said.

“So, we expect our research to identify the impact of social isolation measures and provide insight into how frontline services have adapted to continue to support clients affected by DFV.” 

Researchers also hope their study will improve the working lives of people on the frontline.

“We want to understand the experiences of the DFV support workforce and identify strategies that can better support them in the important work they undertake,” Dr Cullen said. 

“Ultimately, we want to help inform changes to policy and practice that will ensure equitable and better health outcomes for people impacted by DFV.”

A healthcare worker offers assistance

New UNSW research will map how domestic and family violence services are adapting to help vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo: Shutterstock

Share your insight as a support worker

Researchers aim to interview 40 to 50 participants in the next few months, who can share their experiences supporting clients impacted by DFV. 

Dr Cullen said anyone working in a position where they support people impacted by DFV is welcome to get in touch. 

“We really want to hear from a broad cross-section of people, no matter the type of service or sector,” she said.

“For example, frontline workers in health, community, legal or other settings, and workers in the DFV sector in other capacities, such as domestic violence prevention, service management, coordination or policy.”

Dr Cullen said interviews would take about 20 to 30 minutes via telephone or web conferencing. 

“We will ask questions about people’s experiences and perceptions of what has been most effective in DFV responses during the pandemic, including models of care, programs and service innovations,” she said. 

“We expect to release our findings toward the end of the year.”

Collaborators study men’s and women’s experiences

The other studies in the cross-discipline collaboration are:

How to participate in the DFV study

The deadline for expressions of interest is 30 September 2020, via email to chief investigator Dr Patricia Cullen or via email to co-investigator Rachel Baffsky


If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.