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Culturally safe and sensitive care when life’s journey ends

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27th September, 2022

First Nations people are over-represented in the coronial system and NSW Health Pathology’s Forensic Medicine Service is working in partnership with the Aboriginal community to ensure all deceased persons are given the respect, dignity and care they deserve.

The Foren­sic Med­i­cine ser­vice is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing cul­tur­al­ly safe and sen­si­tive sup­port for Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander fam­i­lies whose loved ones have been referred to the Coro­ner fol­low­ing an unex­pect­ed or unex­plained death.

Recent­ly, the ser­vice wel­comed Abo­rig­i­nal Liai­son Offi­cers from Local Health Dis­tricts across NSW to its New­cas­tle facil­i­ty for an after­noon of lis­ten­ing and sharing.

Senior Foren­sic Med­i­cine Social Work­er Dan­ny Nugus said it was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to show how the ser­vice oper­ates and its com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing the Indige­nous community.

“The Foren­sic Med­i­cine ser­vice is acute­ly aware of the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of First Nations peo­ple in the coro­nial sys­tem as a result of the impacts of coloni­sa­tion and inter­gen­er­a­tional grief, loss and trau­ma,” said Mr Nugus.

“Dis­tress­ing­ly, many of these fam­i­lies encounter the coro­nial process and our ser­vice mul­ti­ple times.

“Much is mis­un­der­stood about the coro­nial refer­ral and post-mortem process, par­tic­u­lar­ly in region­al areas.

“Work­ing in part­ner­ship with com­mu­ni­ty and part­ner agen­cies can help demys­ti­fy the work of the Foren­sic Med­i­cine Ser­vice and the organ­i­sa­tion wel­comes oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk about how respect, dig­ni­ty and care for deceased per­sons, and their fam­i­lies, is cen­tral to every­thing that they do at Foren­sic Medicine.

“Cul­tur­al­ly com­pe­tent prac­tice and build­ing rela­tion­ships is at the heart of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and that there can nev­er be a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.

“By ask­ing peo­ple what their needs are – indi­vid­u­al­ly, cul­tur­al­ly, spir­i­tu­al­ly, as a fam­i­ly, and as a com­mu­ni­ty – we can do their best to be responsive.

“For exam­ple, we will sup­port a family’s request for a view­ing, mem­o­ry col­la­tion such as hand prints, a smok­ing cer­e­mo­ny, or oth­er cul­tur­al rit­u­als includ­ing paint­ing,” he said.

The ser­vice also sup­ports the leav­ing of arte­facts such as pho­tographs, ani­mal skins, clap sticks or gum leaves with a deceased per­son who is in the care of Foren­sic Medicine.

Dur­ing the recent vis­it, staff were hum­bled to hear one of the Abo­rig­i­nal Liai­son Offi­cer col­leagues say, ‘I’m going to tell my fam­i­lies they don’t need to be afraid. Every­one here is kind and will take good care of your loved ones’.


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