Meet Katherine Dowson, the new Director of SECASA

In somewhat of a coup, the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA), has managed to secure the services of a social worker and strategic leader who has extensive experience implementing the State’s model to strengthen hospitals’ responses to family violence.

Katherine Dowson is the new Director of SECASA, filling the role vacated by Carolyn Worth after 27 years at the helm. Three weeks into the role, she’s established that her new team has great experience, knowledge and value they can add to the wider Monash Health approach ending violence in our community

Katherine led Eastern Health’s response to family violence from 2016. She directed organisational reform within Eastern Health and the broader community, gaining sector-wide recognition in 2017 when Eastern Health was shortlisted in the Public Health Care Awards for leadership in Family Violence strategy and implementation.

She’s ready to take on her next challenge and says it’s a wonderful time to be working in this field.

How long have you been working in family violence?

“Over 20 years as a social worker, I’ve predominantly worked within the women’s and children’s space and family violence and sexual assault has been a huge issue my whole career.

“What a wonderful time to be working in this field. There is so much opportunity to make change. There is a significant focus from government and the community to make sustained changes.

“From managing social work at Eastern Health it was a natural progression following the Royal Commission to take up the role to head up the SHRFV team at Eastern.”

Whilst a credential social worker, Katherine also holds a Master of Public Health with a major in Women’s Health and Health Management. She is also currently a board member of Eastern Community Legal Centre.

Tell us a few of your career highlights:

Katherine’s journey to the SECASA role has some other interesting and relevant professional stints, which have no doubt added a broad perspective to how she approaches her work.

“As a Senior Child Protection Practitioner I worked closely with SOCIT (Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team) with Victoria Police and within the Melbourne’s Children’s Court.

“I also had a couple of really interesting roles with MS Australia. I managed community services for MS Victoria, at a time of great upheaval in the funding space. It was an amazing challenge to redesign a service system in line with this, additionally I worked as the Project Lead for My Future, My Choice, and addressing inappropriate entry of young people into Residential Age Care Facilities.

“I  then job shared as the National Quality Manager, responsible for developing the organisation’s quality system and I learnt a lot under some very good mentors.”

What were you most proud of in Eastern Health’s SHRFV work?

“We put in place a really great workplace support program and partnered with EDVOS (Eastern Domestic Violence Service), who provided a worker just for our staff. It was really great to see the impact of this.

“We also established two health justice partnerships. One within the Eastern Health maternity service and one within our aged care rehabilitation services. I think it is an amazing demonstration of the need for family violence support across the lifespan.

“There was a great culture at Eastern Health. I have worked there twice in my life and this time left after five years. I loved working there. But what a role the Director of SECASA is! It is a great opportunity to continue and expand the work throughout my career and work with a highly specialised workforce. I am really looking forward to the challenge,” Katherine said.

What are the priorities for SECASA over the next 12 months?

Following in the footsteps of someone who has broken new ground and been in a role for 27 years is never easy, but Katherine is eager to take on the task.

When General Manager of Monash Health Community, Julia Oxley, announced Katherine was taking up the role, she talked about partnership and collaboration and Katherine takes up that theme.

“SECASA has a great reputation as a leader in sexual assault and family violence, providing Monash Health with significant credibility and expertise. The team provides expert clinical knowledge in trauma-informed practice which is crucial when working with individuals who may have or are experiencing violence.

“So much wisdom sits within the SECASA team and it is important that SECASA clinicians are empowered to lead the organisation in this respect. It will be wonderful to work with our colleagues within the broader Monash Health, particularly the social work and psychology programs in this space, to support the SHRFV rollout and more broadly the embedding of an organisational response to family violence.”

Katherine knows how challenging it can be to roll out the SHRFV model and make family violence work business as usual in a large health service.

“We will be working with our Monash Health teams to make sure we are asking the right questions, at the right time, in the right way. We want our community to know that we are here, we can help, and we will work with our partners to end violence of all forms within our society.”