We Know It’s Not OK…

By Parentline, 12 July 2010

NZ’s Culture of Violence

Parentline, Hamilton’s leading agency for children, has launched a new project targeting New Zealand’s ‘culture of violence’.

It’s “LOOK UP”, a public information database available on Parentline’s website www.parentline.org.nz.

Chief executive Cathy Holland says Parentline has developed the LOOK UP service for people everywhere to see the “enormous and never-ending efforts over many decades” that have gone into protecting children and supporting families.

‘It also helps us work out what works, and what doesn’t,” she says.

“We know ‘it’s not OK’. Yet violence in the home, in schools, and in our communities continues. And it is getting worse.”

There’s evidence that costly national initiatives, and well-intentioned local efforts have failed to stop the infection at source.

Family Violence on the Increase

The latest crime statistics confirm new records for violence, family violence and youth violence, with ‘significant’ and ‘dramatic’ increases last year. For Hamilton, overall violence was up by 25percent and family violence up 40percent. The city’s increase was the second worst in New Zealand, and annual increases nationally have become a trend.

In Hamilton and the Waikato, with 1000 more domestic violence cases here than a year ago, around 40per cent of the families already have a history of Police call-outs resulting from domestic violence. Then, there’s the scale of unreported violence, with police estimating 80percent hidden or disguised.

What is also become evident is that violent behaviours are symptomatic of an increasing number of increasingly younger New Zealanders. Ministry of Education studies report increasingly violent behaviours among 5-10year olds and around 20% of children displaying serious behaviour problems

Almost a decade ago, the official 2000 review of SWIS (Social Workers in Schools) noted the success of the school-based programme in assisting families to deal with their children, reducing high risk children by 75% with noticeable improvement in their behaviour and school performance.

Meanwhile, the promotion of vicarious violence is big business. Popular entertainment, sports and recreation carry themes of violence into playtime and leisure activity in both the real and digital worlds. Even the sidelines are not safe.

Some continue to deny this vein of violence, including local and central government officials who’ve been featuring violence reduction among goals in their strategies for at least the past decade. Now Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Education’s Anne Tolley are taking a fresh look, along with other Ministers concerned to focus on effective front-line services.

Officials year after year spin the line that it’s improved recording rather than a developing culture. They refer to the latest national awareness campaign, better training and awareness education, more ‘faith in the system’, improved public services, etcetera…

The call now is to recognise that past measures have not been effective in stopping the violence. Many children continue to be at risk because of this.

Parentline supports effective front-line early intervention services, integrating health, education, & wellbeing resources, and our ‘Dream Team’ project brings local community agencies together, along with a new school-based initiative.

Today’s target must be safe children. Safe families. Safe communities.

We know it isn’t easy.

Our record

History reminds of the many attempts to bring change to benefit children and families.

The record shows that 160years ago, one of the earliest acts of New Zealand’s colonial government was an attempt to make fathers liable for their children, deserted wives and unmarried mothers (1846 Ordinance for the Support of Destitute Families and Illegitimate Children). Today almost a third of parents who have child support obligations fail to pay. Figures disclosed by Inland Revenue last year reveal that 37,700 out of 127,000 liable parents, mostly fathers, owe $1.5billion.

Some examples from the past 25 years:

  • 1987 – Roper Report, a ministerial inquiry concluding that family violence is ‘the cradle for perpetuation of violence in the community’, and the national Family Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee set up with government and community representatives.
  • 1991 – Hamilton’s HAIP was set up to create a ‘cultural shift’ to ‘a community confronting violence’ and to monitor official responses to violence and in particular the Police and Courts.
  • 1994 – Government’s first national ‘social marketing’ media campaigns ‘Family Violence is a Crime’ and ‘Not Just a Domestic’, included television advertising, documentaries, and special Police training videos, part of a five year plan but terminated in two. Hamilton’s Child Protection Studies (CPS) set up to provide education and training for community awareness. Reported violence rose 20%, male assaults female reports up 44%.
  • 1995 – Government’s 2nd national media campaign ($10million) ‘Breaking the Cycle’ (1995-97), included television advertising, aim ‘to change abusive parenting behaviours’. Tracking surveys (1997) reported ‘exciting’ results with up to 91percent of those surveyed able to recall the TV ads, 44percent contemplating behaviour change, and 16percent self reporting they had changed, and with the highest ratings among Maori and Pacific Islanders. Planning also underway for a five-year $11million mental health awareness media campaign. National Family Violence and Crime Prevention Units set up, along with the Family Violence Advisory Committee.
  • 2000 – Hamilton City Council formally adopted ‘Zero Tolerance to Family Violence’ as part of its long-term Plan, with the goal that the city would aim at 10% less domestic abuse than the national average, then five years since the council dropped its child & family policy.

The Future

The mega millions of public dollars spent on television campaigns along with ‘capacity development’ initiatives to enable public servants et al to recognise family violence when faced with it, has kept the issue on the public agenda and media mindset. However, there is ample evidence that this concept of social marketing which has captured health and social service bureaucracies over the past two decades is not effective unless it’s part of a wide-reaching and integrated programme.

What works to prevent family violence?

The considerable research already undertaken on family violence prevention provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of particular prevention/intervention efforts. While there is some agreement on the broader elements of an effective multi-faceted approach, there is less certainty on the precise detail (i.e. which specific services, programmes and other initiatives are most effective in preventing violence in families/whanau and/or which particular elements of these initiatives work well, for whom and in what circumstances). Despite this, there appears to be a high level of consistency, across information sources, on the broad elements of an effective multi-faceted approach to family violence prevention. These include:

  • preventing family violence from occurring in the first place by raising public awareness through education;
  • strengthening community action and responsiveness;
  • adopting an integrated, co-ordinated and collaborative approach;
  • preventing family violence from reoccurring by providing appropriate crisis intervention and treatment services;
  • placing greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention by identifying violence early and intervening immediately;
  • ensuring approaches are culturally relevant;
  • recognising and providing for diverse needs and circumstances;
  • developing healthy public policy aimed at fostering equality, reducing socio-economic disparities and providing adequate support for families/whanau; and
  • maintaining a high level of focus on and commitment to preventing violence in families/whanau.

(an extract from Te Rito: NZ Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2002, when family violence was identified as one of five critical social issues for New Zealand, and a framework with 18 areas of action was to be implemented over the next five years.