Increased reporting. Heightened campaigns. A commitment by the state government to combat the problem, domestic violence specialist courts, domestic violence death and homicide review board, and integrated response strategies from the key agencies involved.

These are just some of the ways that Queensland is leading the country in the fight against domestic violence. And with International Women’s Day this week, there is one woman proactively leading the changes. Dr Kathleen Baird.

A midwife by profession, Dr Baird from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland is passionate about improving identification of the issue and developing strategies to better support women experiencing domestic family violence (DFV) and raising awareness of the seriousness of the crime.

Dr Baird, also the Director of Education for Midwifery and Nursing, Women’s and Newborn Services, at the Gold Coast University Hospital, was appointed in 2015 by the Attorney-General and the Premier, to the Queensland Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council (QLD DVIC) and more recently deputy chair of the Queensland Domestic Violence Death and Homicide Review Board.

She knows the issues only too well.

“It’s obvious now to all – and especially following the recent homicide of Teresa Bradford case on the Gold Coast in January – that it essential that we continue to view domestic violence as important as any other criminal offence. It is imperative that women feel empowered and safe to report and receive support when disclosing about a history of DFV. If this results in an increased reporting of domestic violence then so be it. We do know that women are reaching out for support more than they ever did before.

Not just a minor domestic

“It’s not just a ‘minor domestic’ issue that should be kept quiet; this is a real problem that can often lead to something a lot more – even murder.

“We know that in Australia between one and two women a week continue to be murdered and within Queensland alone from 2006 to 2016, 246 women, men and children have been killed by a family member or by a person they had or have been in an intimate relationship with. Females are over-represented as victims with a ratio of 4:1 — so there is still much to be achieved.

“Only with people talking about the DFV and governments acting will we continue to see change. In Queensland, we currently have a Government committed to addressing this issue as well as promoting an integrated response,” says Dr Baird.

“I feel very honoured that I can act as an instrument for change in this area.

Currently, Dr Baird is busy putting into place some of the health recommendations that she made to the 2015 ‘Not Now Not Ever’ Report which was led by The Honourable Quentin Bryce AD CVO.

“Broadly speaking we advocated for two things in relation to midwifery: routine enquiry in every antenatal clinics which can support women in or at risk of a DFV situation and also for DFV specialist training for midwives, GPs and other professionals working within the health sector in order that they can respond effectively and safely in supporting women and their families.

“We are now at the point of ensuring these things are being implemented at the Gold Coast University Hospital with the appointment of the new Domestic Violence Specialist Worker Hospital and I am also pleased to say that Queensland Health have supported a comprehensive training package which provides both online and face to face training, as well as ‘train the trainer’ sessions for midwives and senior clinicians.

“Coming from my background as a midwife, I still believe that pregnancy is one of the optimum times that women are able to disclose any domestic violence issues in the home and that midwives are often the only professionals that a woman may feel comfortable discussing these with, especially if the midwife is working within a continuity of care model.

“That’s why we have put such a focus on training programs for the midwifery profession and this is part of our integrated response to the issue in Queensland, with midwives and health care professionals working with key community agencies. We also have the additional bonus of the new Gold Coast Specialist Domestic Violence court. ”

On the research agenda at Griffith, Dr Baird says she is still continuing her study into the issue, with a focus on women’s personal perceptions and experiences of being asked about DFV by a midwife.

“I have a feeling that there is still going to be some women who experience a certain amount of shame and embarrassment in talking about what may be happening to them, so I am quite sure that there is so much more to be done in this area to remove the stigma.”