Talk but little action on domestic violence in New Zealand

The Government has delivered on fewer than half its promises to tackle family violence, independent research has revealed.

A thesis, written by Wellington strategy consultant Ruth Herbert which received an A+ grading from Victoria University, examined the three family violence strategies released by the government since 2002.

Herbert, who has previously been involved in planning and implementation in the health sector, found that fewer than 50% of the actions outlined in the three strategies had been fully implemented six months after the stated completion date, and that there were several major areas in which little or nothing had been done.

It is a claim the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families rejects. Chairman Peter Hughes said that although he welcomed Herbert’s research, milestones had been met on each of the 76 actions outlined in the taskforce’s first programme of action. The taskforce was established in June 2005 and is charged with eliminating family violence in New Zealand.

Hughes said the taskforce had achieved “significant momentum”, awareness of family violence issues was “arguably the highest it has ever been”, and more and more New Zealanders were speaking out against it. But he added family violence was a complex issue that would take a concerted effort over many years to eliminate.

It is a point Herbert agrees with. She commended the government for taking a “great first step” in making a concerted effort to tackle a complex issue and said it had done the best it could with the knowledge available.

“There is limited evidence to say what will work. Without adequate evidence we have to take what appears to be the most appropriate action and learn as we go. This is about the government saying it has taken the first step, but acknowledging it has not done as well as it is saying it has done.”

The key findings in Herbert’s thesis included:
* No national system to co-ordinate government activities addressing family violence.
* Little or no formal planning for implementation for most of the 54 actions set out in the taskforce.
* The taskforce programmes of action are not really strategies, but a compilation of often unrelated family violence actions.
* Responsibility for implementation often assigned to agencies and individuals without the resources, skills and experience to do the work.
* Greatest failure in the strategies for Maori who continued to be over-represented in the statistics. There were 11 action areas in the three strategies that related directly to Maori – all except two had either not been completed or no action had been taken.

She cautioned that there was a risk that if National became the government it would do even less. “The real question for everybody is what sort of society do New Zealanders want to live in, and what do we want the government to do about it?”

In her thesis Herbert says the majority of actions that have not been completed centre around a breakdown in implementation. Responsibility for implementation “has often been assigned to personnel who are poorly equipped to do the job, and who are given little or no training, specific briefings, or implementation support”.

For instance, Herbert said the $11.5 million “It’s Not OK” mass media campaign to raise awareness of family violence which is fronted by high-profile New Zealanders was expected to increase demand for family violence services. But she said most services were stretched to the limit before it was introduced. As a result there was a risk that women and children might not be kept safe if they left a violent situation.

Hughes said a recent survey showed the It’s Not OK campaign was remembered by 89% of people, with nearly one in five saying they had taken some action. That was an “extremely positive” response.

He was confident the taskforce could deliver on its action plan but “like any major policy and service programme needs to evolve as we learn our way forward”.

Herbert said the taskforce was a good model for the overall governance of the family violence programmes, but commented in her research “it is as though the taskforce is in a hot air balloon with only thin threads linking them to the reality of what is happening on the ground”.

The Strategies

The government’s three family violence strategies released since 2002 are:
1. February 2002 – Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy.
2. February 2003 – The Care and Protection Blueprint.
3. July 2006 – The First Report of the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families established in 2005 to advise the family violence ministerial team on how to make improvements to the way family violence is addressed. Help is at hand

* If you feel you are a victim of domestic violence call Preventing Violence in the Homes national helpline 0508 DVHELP (0508 384357).
* If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 111.

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