Barriers Preventing Indigenous Women with Violence-related Head Injuries from Accessing Services in Australia

Michelle Fitts, Jennifer Cullen, Jody Barney

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious yet commonly under-recognised injury sustained by women as a direct outcome of family violence. Although healthcare and support services are critical, many women do not access support services following this injury. At present, there are few relevant qualitative studies that have elevated the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This article describes the barriers that prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from accessing hospital and support services after experiencing a TBI from family violence in one regional (Queensland) and one remote location (Northern Territory). Interviews and focus-group discussions were conducted with 28 community members and 90 service professionals. Thematic analysis identified four key factors influencing women’s access to health care: all women fear child removal; fear of escalating violence; prioritisation of other competing demands; and insufficient awareness of the signs of brain injury. Given child protection systems perpetuate cycles of discrimination based on poverty and structural inequalities that have generated fear and contributed to the reluctance of women to engage with services, child protection processes and practices need to be transformed to consider the impact of head injury on the everyday lives of women. Pathways need to be implemented to assist women to access healthcare and support services as well as strengthen families to maintain the care of their children. IMPLICATIONS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women living with a head injury experience severe trauma, coercive control, disadvantage, and poverty, which prevents them from accessing healthcare and support services. Communities should be resourced to design, implement, and evaluate TBI prevention and intervention solutions as increased awareness and insight into the long-term consequences for the brain that can result from violence, including education for school-aged children, community campaigns, and targeted education for community members. TBI should be incorporated into child protection frameworks, workforce training, and assessment tools, along with training and education for community members.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-419
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date8 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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