Executive summary

We asked Carswell Consultancy to carry out a literature review of research and evaluation reports from the previous decade on family violence and sexual violence in New Zealand.

Cover image of the Literature reviewIntroduction

The Office of the Auditor-General (the Office) has a programme of work focusing on the Government’s efforts to achieve significant and sustained reductions in family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect. The purpose of this report is to inform this programme of work by providing an overview of what is currently known about people’s and service providers’ experiences of the family violence system in Aotearoa.

The report includes a narrative literature review of research and evaluation studies conducted in Aotearoa since 2010 and an annotated bibliography of 136 studies. To identify the main publications, we began with the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Timeline – Research. We identified further relevant publications through a focused literature search. While we endeavoured to include as many relevant studies as possible, there were limitations due to time and accessibility to unpublished work.

Although there are significant issues with collecting data and measuring the extent of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect, the data that is available leaves us in no doubt that this is a severe issue for our society. The New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey (NZCVS) conducted in 2019 found adult victims (15 years and over) experienced more than 250,000 incidents of offences by family members in the previous 12 months, which equated to an incidence rate of 6 per 100 adults. Overall, the survey estimates 87,000 adults (2.2%) were victims of offences by family members in a year. Of those adults, 53,000 (1.4%) experienced offending by an intimate partner, and 37,000 (1%) experienced offending by other family members. The NZCVS (Cycle 1 2018 and Cycle 2 2019) show the vulnerability of women, gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults, young adults, disabled, and Māori who experience higher than average rates of victimisation.

In the year ending 31 March 2020, Oranga Tamariki received 83,300 reports of concerns involving 60,200 children. The over-representation of Māori tamariki in care has been investigated in reviews of Oranga Tamariki’s performance.

The annotated bibliography highlights the tremendous amount of mahi done to address family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect by communities, non-government organisations (NGOs) and government agencies. We gratefully acknowledge the authors and the participants who shared their experiences, insights and wisdom in numerous studies. Their voices and knowledge are important to informing our understanding of why violence happens. They also inform the design of effective prevention and response strategies and tell us about the best ways of supporting families and whānau to keep safe, recover from trauma and improve their wellbeing.

Although legislative definitions of ‘family violence’ have existed for decades (see the Family Violence Act 2018 and its predecessor the Domestic Violence Act 1995), there are still debates and tensions about definitions and terminology. Te Puni Kōkiri (2010a) argues that definitions of family violence for Māori need to be fully debated by Māori, including analysis of the terms ‘family violence for Māori’ and ‘whānau violence’, to provide a clear definition that will support improvements in the field. Important considerations are the different concepts of ‘family’ and ‘whānau’, and the legacy of colonialism and continued institutional racism. Developing a shared understanding is fundamental to collaboratively addressing this issue.

The eight overarching themes that follow are orientated towards the Office’s questions and areas to investigate in the next stage of their project. Many more themes could be explored, as the literature review and annotated bibliography illustrates.

Theme 1: Needs of families and whānau affected by violence

A crucial theme relates to the diversity of people’s needs and that they require different supports at different times. At times of crisis, safety is the major concern for victims (adults and children) along with ensuring that they have access to services to meet any health, safety and practical needs (e.g. attending to any physical injuries, safe housing, access to money, safely ensuring that children can access school, support with protection orders and legal matters and so forth).

Longer-term needs focus on rebuilding their and their children’s lives and meeting needs for health, education, income, stable housing, skills development and building social support networks. The impact of violence can cause severe psychological distress resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and associated symptoms of anxiety and depression that require trauma-informed counselling.

Similarly, the needs of perpetrators of violence vary, and must be considered within the context of keeping victims safe and the risk of perpetrators committing further abuse. Perpetrators require tailored support to take responsibility for their actions and to change their attitudes and behaviours to choose not to use violence. Studies have identified perpetrators may also have practical needs related to housing and income, and therapeutic needs related to mental health, addictions, and individual counselling to address historic trauma.

A study found that the level of support required for victims and perpetrators to access services and navigate the system was not just determined by their assessed risk level or by whether a case has complex multiple needs. High-risk clients with multiple needs requiring support to navigate the system were identified, as were a large proportion of low-risk clients and large numbers of clients whose needs were identified as ‘straightforward’. This indicated the importance of providing navigation and support services based on the unique needs of individuals. To meet the diverse and often complex needs of families and whānau affected by violence, many studies recommended tailored approaches based on comprehensive risk and needs assessment; case management and advocacy approaches to navigate and coordinate between services; and responsive approaches to work with unique needs of different populations.

In 2017, the Government published the Family violence risk assessment and management framework: A common approach to screening, assessing and managing risk, which it developed in consultation with providers. The aim of the framework was to provide a collective approach for responding to family violence, a shared understanding of family violence and its dynamics, and clear values that underpin good practice in risk assessment and management. More work would be required to understand the uptake and implementation of this framework.

Theme 2: What kinds of services and supports are available to meet needs?

A strong theme in the literature is the need for more focus on the prevention of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect. Preventing violence requires a societal change in attitudes, behaviour, and tolerance of these types of abuses. Although successive governments have recognised the need for prevention in their response frameworks and prevention or early intervention initiatives, the literature we have reviewed from the last decade has repeatedly identified that prevention strategies are significantly under-resourced. Addressing the longer-term recovery from trauma also needs more attention, given the multiple negative effects of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect over a lifetime.

The diverse range of needs of families and whānau affected by violence requires a collective input from services and communities. A range of statutory, specialist and general services support families and whānau affected by violence. The Family Violence Act 2018 defines a family violence agency as a specified government agency and any NGO that receives funding from the government to provide services to protect and help victims of family violence and/or to help people stop inflicting family violence. The definition includes school boards and licensed early childhood services. The Act specifies 10 government agencies, along with district health boards and registered community housing providers.

The historical development of services related to family violence (primarily Intimate Partner Violence - IPV), sexual violence and child protection is still largely reflected in separate responses from government and community organisations. Several initiatives have endeavoured to develop a more integrated and coordinated response between government and NGO providers, mainly in response to family violence crisis. For example, Family Violence Interagency Response System, Integrated Safety Response, Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke, Family Safety Teams and so forth.

Although many studies reviewed report ‘service gaps’ related to their areas of focus and specific geographical locations, we are not aware of any comprehensive, current national overview of services. Creating such an overview would require a stocktake of services and supports for family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect to indicate the mix, spread and availability of services throughout the country. The most recent stocktake we found was of sexual violence services conducted in 2013.

A significant issue for family violence service providers is the way their services are commissioned and funded by government. Consultation and research with providers highlighted a range of problems which ultimately impacts on their service provision. The Ministry of Social Development has recognised this and recently begun a new commissioning and funding strategy with service providers.

Resource issues and short-term contracts also impact on service providers’ ability to recruit and retain a suitably qualified workforce. Some studies identified workforce capacity and capability issues as a critical area which requires more focus. The Government published the Family violence, sexual violence and violence within whānau: Workforce capability framework in 2017 to guide a ‘consistent, integrated and effective response to family violence and sexual violence’. The framework recognises the importance of building the capability of the wider workforce, so victims and perpetrators get an appropriate response and there is a more integrated approach between organisations. The framework informs the New Zealand Health and Wellbeing diploma in Family Violence, Sexual Violence and Violence within Whānau (Level 5). There are a range of specialist training providers, however there is limited tertiary education options that specialise in this area. There are also a number of good practice guidelines for specialist services and to guide working with different population groups. At the time of writing this report, we did not come across a national strategy or monitoring of how workforce capacity and capability issues are being addressed.

Theme 3: Enablers and barriers to accessing and engaging with services

Most people experiencing or using violence do not access services. The NZCVS found that most family violence victims (more than 90%) are aware of support organisations but that only about a quarter (23%) of those aware of support organisations contacted them. An important finding is that more than half of family violence victims asked for help from family, whānau or friends. This strengthens calls for more resourcing of prevention and early intervention initiatives to support informal networks of family, friends and work colleagues to know how to safely ‘recognise, respond and refer’ to requests for help.

The literature we reviewed identifies commonly occurring factors that can act as enablers or barriers to accessing and engaging with services. Using a broad concept of access, these factors can be grouped as the approachability, acceptability, availability, accessibility and affordability of services. Services may find it difficult to implement practices that enable people to access their services more easily because of issues with organisational and workforce capability and capacity, resourcing, cultural capability, service design and delivery models.

Systemic factors can determine who has access to what, such as the way referral pathways are designed and implemented, the entry criteria for services and whether legal and statutory obligations are activated so that the parties have free access to services (e.g. access to free Ministry of Justice-funded safety programmes, non-violence programmes and children’s programmes).

Theme 4: Māori whānau experiences

Whānau experiences of current services and the system were that they were fragmented, difficult to navigate, culturally inaccessible and punitive, and that it did not account for the multidimensional and broader social, cultural, political and historical context of Māori and the causes and impacts of family violence on them. Whānau, in particular, spoke of shame and fear of engaging in the system, disparaging attitudes, racism, victim blaming, punitive sanctions, inconsistent and inequitable treatment when engaging with agencies and services or the frustration they felt of having to repeat (or defend) their story to multiple agencies and services.

Wāhine Māori and their tamariki were identified in the literature as particularly vulnerable to family violence and sexual violence, and also as more likely to carry the burden of whānau alone. This vulnerability is compounded by structural disadvantages (i.e. institutional racism) that mean that the state system is likely to retraumatise wāhine Māori. Because of this, strengthening the whānau structure alongside programmes and interventions that build whānau capability and capacity to better support each other are seen as crucial.

The literature we reviewed highlighted several common themes for Māori, including the need for:

  • genuine partnership between Māori and the government based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi);
  • understanding family violence (and sexual violence) for Māori within the broader socio-political context, including the causal risk factors that increase Māori exposure and/or vulnerability to violence, the impacts of colonisation and institutional racism;
  • reorientation to a service system (i.e. ecosystem) that supports holistic, whānau-centred and equitable responses to violence;
  • a focus on primary prevention, with stronger investment in a ‘service continuum’ that builds social and cultural capital (i.e. Whānau Ora) alongside education, therapy and rehabilitative supports, programmes and services;
  • increased resourcing for supports, services and programmes based on tikanga and kaupapa Māori; and
  • the devolution of decision-making and investment to whānau, hapū, iwi and communities impacted by violence and that account for diversity and tailored solutions relevant to Māori needs, aspirations and rangatiratanga (i.e. Māori-led solutions for Māori).

Theme 5: Experiences of different population groups

There is a general lack of New Zealand-focused research and evaluation about the experience of the family violence service system by specific populations – Pacific peoples, those of other ethnicities, male victims/survivors, LGBTQIA+/Rainbow community, people with disabilities and older people.

A limited number of research studies have been conducted that identify barriers to accessing services, particularly when perpetrators of abuse are restricting contact and mobility and coercing and intimidating victims. These barriers are further exacerbated when victims have disabilities, are elderly, have no or limited English, are subject to community censorship and cultures of silence, do not fit the gender/sex binary framework mainstream services operate within and so on. The implications are that services and strategies need tailored approaches to overcome these specific barriers. It would be beneficial to know more about what strategies and innovations services currently implement to overcome these barriers for different populations.

Theme 6: Government stewardship role – what should it look like and implications for power sharing with Iwi and communities

Several reports have examined the government’s role in stewardship and facilitating an enabling environment for systemic change. This role includes legislation, policy, resourcing, workforce development, infrastructure and so forth. Some authors note that the collective accountability of government agencies is a mechanism for ensuring that the government performs this role effectively. However, other authors comment:

Governments come and go and have different priorities and different means of addressing them. A systems approach to reduce experiences of IPV and CAN in New Zealand is a long-term project and cross-party support over time would be a challenge to achieve and maintain but will be a necessary part of forward progress. (Carne et al., 2019, p 27).

Family violence, sexual violence and child maltreatment are complex issues that need a long-term focus and cross-party agreement.

From the literature, the extent of collaboration and power sharing between the government, communities and iwi has varied over time and been skewed towards the Government’s favour. New models are emerging and there is currently more focus on how genuine partnerships can be developed to address these complex issues of family violence, sexual violence and child maltreatment. Critical analysis of the varied national coordination and strategic forums that have arisen over the last 40 years could provide insight into operationalising genuine collaborative partnerships at national, regional, and local levels.

Theme 7: Lack of systems analysis and long-term strategic approaches

Many of the studies reviewed in this report agree that the complexities of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect need a sophisticated approach because no one intervention, agency, initiative or piece of legislation can solve this ‘wicked’ problem. Furthermore, the interconnections between types of violence mean they need to be addressed together. During the last six years, there have been strong calls to use systems thinking approaches to inform the design and monitoring of the ‘family violence system’ at a national level – for example, the Family Violence Death Review Committee, the Glenn Inquiry, the Impact Collective and the New Zealand Productivity Commission.

Authors note that, although there has been some progress in understanding the effectiveness of certain programmes and interventions, there is a lack of capability within government agencies to engage and use system approaches. (Foote et al., 2015, p 4). A related challenge is the need for a strategy of continuous improvement that measures system effectiveness using systems thinking tools and an overarching research and evaluation programme to inform system and service development. How outputs and outcomes for families and whānau are recorded and analysed also needs attention.

Theme 8: Need for more systematic approach to building our collective knowledge and utilising what we learn in policies and practice

Our scan of the literature highlights a lack of national coordination of government-commissioned research. This lack has resulted in the considerable gaps in knowledge that we identify in the review. The way research and evaluation projects are currently commissioned generally reflects the focus of individual government agencies, rather than the family violence, sexual violence, and child maltreatment sector as a whole. Some studies are not published, which limits the development of the broader knowledge base. A further limitation is the affordability of evaluation and who decides what gets evaluated. There are numerous local initiatives that NGOs cannot afford to have evaluated but that might provide valuable insights and benefit other communities.

Related to this is the way that knowledge is disseminated. Authors have noted that research findings could be better tailored for different audiences and communicated more effectively.

It is not clear to what extent government agencies consider research and evaluation findings and recommendations, and act on them. Many of the process evaluations we reviewed demonstrate just how difficult it can be to transfer knowledge into practice and for government and non-government services to consistently deliver those practices to families and whānau.