St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) has embarked on a groundbreaking training program to help key staff identify and support vulnerable people who present to its hospitals who have been trafficked. The Advocates for Change initiative is part of a wider anti-trafficking project that SVHA began in 2017 in partnership with ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) which has worked to combat slavery for the past 16 years.
St Vincent’s Health Australia has recruited its first team of eight Advocates for Change from some of its 32 sites around Australia, including St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney, and St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Toowoomba. The Advocates will also create awareness and opportunities for education among their colleagues at their sites.
The Advocates for Change training covers all forms of slavery including forced marriage, forced labour and supply chains. It is estimated, that more than 40 million people globally, including in Australia, are trapped in slavery or slavery-like conditions. SVHA’s Advocates volunteered to take on the human trafficking work as part of their existing roles because they identified it as a major social justice issue.
Advocate for Change Sarah Iser, an ED Care Coordinator at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, said the training was both inspiring and confronting as participants realised the very real presence of trafficked people in Australia and how they might present to SVHA hospitals.
“I think a lot of us, when we look back with the knowledge we now have, recall someone who might have triggered some concerns,” Sarah said. “Some staff know I’m one of the people doing the training and have come to me to raise concerns about potentially trafficked patients they’ve seen in the past, as well as asking for tips on how to identify if a person is in this situation and how to support them. ACRATH has developed great tools to use to help us identify people who may have been trafficked and the pathways for supporting them.”
Advocate Mali Newman-Plant, a Social Worker at St Vincent’s Sydney’s Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Service, is now exploring opportunities to create greater awareness among her colleagues around how people who have been trafficked might present at St Vincent’s facilities.
“I don’t think human trafficking is on our radar as much as it should be and this project is going to change that, it’s wonderful,” Mali said. “It has the potential to make a real difference if we can equip clinicians with the necessary information and skills and I’m excited to be a part of it. Health workers regularly assess and screen clients for family violence. People who are trafficked endure similar problems such as coercion, threats and fear of reprisals if they disclose their situation.”
SVHA’s Samantha Corrie – who is coordinating the training across the organisation – said justice was a core value for the organisation and working to eradicate human trafficking was something staff were keen to understand and combat.
“The advocates are very proud that our organisation is working to eradicate human trafficking, particularly in the area of procurement of goods and services. But this is an opportunity for them to work at a more clinical level to influence change,” Sam said. “It’s so encouraging to be working with these people who are passionate about eradicating human trafficking and who have support from the organisation and the encouragement of their colleagues.”
ACRATH’s Liz Payne said SVHA was spearheading anti-trafficking work in the health sector and she was confident other health providers would follow. She said SVHA embarked on the anti-trafficking project, including examining supply chains, before the Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2018 because they want to help eradicate slavery.
“It’s a real privilege working with this incredibly committed team of Advocates who come from a range of clinical, management and administration backgrounds. They are passionate about making life better for people who have been trafficked or who are at risk of being trafficked,” Liz said.
With thanks to ACRATH.