Amy Adams’ speech to Family Violence Summit

The speech by Amy Adams, Minister of Justice and Minister for Children, to the Family Violence Summit in Wellington yesterday.


Tēnā koutou katoa me ngā tini āhuatanga o te wā. Nau mai, haere mai.

Good morning.

Thank you Prime Minister for your opening comments, and thank you Sir Wira for taking on the role of Summit Chair.

I also want to give special acknowledgement to our four keynote speakers who will help set the tone for what I hope will be some incisive discussion today.

And thank you all for being here and for the contributions you make every day to help ensure that New Zealanders are living safer and happier lives.

We live in a country that we can be immensely proud of. New Zealand leads the world in so many ways – we were the first country to give women the right to vote, we have been recognised as the least corrupt country in the world and we are regularly voted the world’s best country to live.

But for too long, New Zealand has also been a world leader when it comes to our reported rate of family violence. It is a tragedy that our rate of family violence is one of the highest in the developed world, with New Zealand Police responding to an incident somewhere in the country every five minutes.

While family violence occurs across all parts of New Zealand society, for Maori in particular far too many homes experience violence and domination as the norm. That’s not what I want any child growing up in this country to see or experience.  I refuse to accept that this is as good as it can be and I am not willing to accept any level of family violence in the future of Aotearoa.

You’ve been invited here, as government agency representatives, NGO representatives, support workers, former perpetrators and survivors of family violence, because I know you share my determination to build a better system and because you all have stories to share and ideas to contribute about how we can do better to tackle family violence.

In working on this challenge we’ve already benefitted enormously from getting on-the-ground perspectives of those who have been working on the frontline, dealing with family violence every day, many of whom are here today.

We’ve also heard from victims who made brave and personal submissions about their experiences with family violence and the devastating impact it has.

And it absolutely does have a devastating impact, not just on the victims but on our society as a whole.

Family violence is affecting us all socially and economically. It’s causing devastating outcomes for children, increasing the youth suicide rate, costing businesses in lost productivity and pushing up our prison population. But more than that it is destroying for many the one thing we should all have and that is a family within which we are cherished and loved.

We can and must do better.

The Prime Minister earlier touched on the kind of family violence system that we’re aiming to get to and I want to spend some time going into a bit more detail about that.

As we’ve delved deeper into the issue of family violence over the past couple of years, we’ve learnt that the system has tended toward ad hoc, isolated and incident-based approaches that fail to properly understand and respond to the nature of family-based violence as an ongoing pattern of behaviour that needs an integrated and holistic response.

Simply viewing family violence as a responsibility of the Police or of the criminal justice system will at best stop a perpetrator from being able to cause harm for a short period.

We also know that non-aligned responses make it difficult for people to access the help they need. There are too many doors and paths to navigate so many victims and perpetrators either don’t get the right help for their particular needs, or don’t get any help at all.

We hear a lot about the high levels of family violence that goes unreported, but in fact a 2009 report by University of Auckland researchers Janet Fanslow and Elizabeth Robinson found that almost 77 per cent of women who experienced violence at the hands of their partner had told someone about the violence.

But frequently they are telling people outside of what we traditionally think of as the family violence sector. Very often they are actually telling family and friends or counsellors and medical staff.

Around 58 per cent had only ever told family or friends, 16 per cent had told a counsellor or mental health worker and 13 per cent had told a doctor or other health worker.

Compare that to the number of women who had told someone in the ‘traditional’ family violence sector. According to the research, only 13 per cent told Police and just over 2 per cent had told a women’s refuge.

Critically, when women did disclose the violence, far too often no one tried to help or the help was inadequate. For example, of the 77 per cent of women who did tell someone about the violence they experienced, more than 40 per cent said that no one tried to help them. This means that collectively we have been missing opportunities to help and help in the right way.

So when we hear the statistic that says two thirds of family violence incidents go unreported, we should bear in mind that actually the majority of victims have talked about their experience of violence by a partner, it’s just that across our communities we don’t have the mechanisms in place to ensure that victims get the help they need.

From what we know, these findings are still relevant today although we have seen an increase in reporting as a result of heightened awareness and improved practise in the last couple of years.

What it means for us as Government, agencies, NGOs and support workers but also as parents, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbours, is that we are all responsible for taking action. The onus should not be on the victim or left as the job as any particular agency.

You’ll have no doubt heard a lot of talk from us as a Government about social investment. Put simply, this just means ensuring we are intervening early, getting the right services to the right people, to make the greatest difference. It means putting the person who needs us at the centre of designing the approach, not responding agency by agency based on some arbitrary Government department delineation of who does what. And it means making sure that what we do is underpinned by the best evidence we can find.

Bearing in mind that study I’ve just talked about, a social investment approach means we need to arrange our family violence system so that when a victim, or a perpetrator, is brave enough to disclose to someone, anyone, what’s going on, the system is able to support him or her to get the help they need to stop future violence and provide the support needed for the victims, particularly the affected children, to recover from the trauma they’ve suffered.

When I talk about the potential of a social investment approach I always say, “We’re not there yet, but we’ve come far enough that we can see what it could look like and its potential”. The same is true of a fully integrated, effective family violence system. I am certainly not saying we are there yet, but the foundational components are shaping up, thanks to the hard work of many of you, and the structure of where we are going is becoming clear. That’s what I’d like to talk more about this morning.

What I believe we want to see is a future system where there is ‘no wrong door’ – meaning that no matter who a victim talks to about their experience, that person can find the information about what they need to do to help the victim.

To keep victims and families safe, those outside what we’ve traditionally thought of as the family violence system will have access to the information and pathways to know what to do next, and those within the response system will have the processes, protocols, capacity and skills to identify and respond to family violence and work together to keep victims safe.

Key Government agencies and NGOs will identify and understand their role in responding to family violence, provide leadership and mandate to those on the frontline, and support fully integrated practice.

For example, justice sector agencies would provide training for all frontline staff, establish specialist family violence teams, and proactively target high risk perpetrators to prevent violence, while family services will have training on the family violence danger signs and be able to discuss safety strategies with their client. At the same time, housing and welfare services are likely to be fast-tracking financial support and housing for victims and considering how best to prevent a perpetrator from financially abusing their victim.

Family, friends, neighbours and colleagues also have an important part to play. We need a system where everyone is equipped with information and skills to confidently recognise family violence and respond appropriately.

A system where there is ‘no wrong door’ will mean that every victim who approaches someone about their experience is heard, believed and helped no matter where they go.

This takes population-level education and easily accessed and appropriate resources to support family and whanau, workmates and friends to know what to look for and how they can best respond if they see or hear something of concern. The system will then need to know how to respond when these informal calls for help have been made.

So as I have said, we are not yet where we want to be and I’m not naïve enough to think that getting from where we are to where we could be will be easy or quick, but there is a lot of work underway that is supporting us to get there.

The Integrated Safety Response programme (ISR) in particular is showing signs of being a real game changer. It is showing us the full extent of the unmet demand, the necessity for a new approach and some of the critical components of what our future system needs.

Some of those involved in ISR have been quite robust in telling me that starting to deal properly with the complexity of need is causing challenges as the system reconfigures to respond better.

I acknowledge the difficulties and pressures this has created, but they have also been blunt in saying to me that, having seen the difference that dealing with cases of family and whanau violence in this way makes, they can never go back to operating as they did. That tells me we have to stay on this path. It’s not perfect yet but it is teaching us and shaping the future system in ways we’ve never before been able to do.

ISR has been running in Christchurch since July 2016 and in the Waikato since October 2016.

It involves a full complement of the core agencies and NGOs teaming up to ensure that families experiencing violence get the support they need to stay safe.

They do this by getting around a table every day, sharing information, assessing risk, developing and delivering individual family safety plans targeted to people and households that they know are at risk of violence, and working effectively with perpetrators to change their behaviour.

So far it has helped over 28,000 people in Christchurch and the Waikato through the development of over 9,000 family safety plans.

It is clear there have been cases where death or serious harm have been avoided as a result of the information sharing and interagency collaboration that ISR enables.

I’d like to share an example out of the Waikato pilot. An incident was reported to Police by a woman who had been assaulted by a male family member. The assaults had been occurring since the woman was young however this was the first incident that had been reported by the family.

The woman had also previously been abused by another male relative, and as a result that perpetrator was in prison. The male family member, who suffers from multiple mental health issues, had blamed the woman for the perpetrator being in prison.

The ISR team got together and held a Safety Assessment Meeting, after which an immediate referral was made to Disability Support Link. This was arranged through Oranga Tamariki and their High and Complex Needs Coordinator. A multi-agency discussion was facilitated through the Family Harm Prevention Team with DHB Mental Health, Explore and Parent to Parent support.

The male family member was enrolled in an anger management course and Explore have been making weekly visits to the family. The Police Family Harm Team also visited weekly to keep the family engaged until Mental Health took over. The ISR team reported that there have been no further incidents and the male family member is engaging well.

The difference between this response and a non-ISR response is that agencies got together around a table to share information and were able to make an assessment and develop a plan that best meet the needs of the perpetrator while keeping the victim safe. Before ISR, it would have been more difficult to share information and get an accurate picture of what was happening with the family. It is likely that without the ISR, the assaults would have continued.

Another example I’d like to share emphasises the importance of information sharing. As ACC claims are lodged by general practitioners, dentists, physiotherapists and DHB’s, they often provide a more in depth overview of accidents than DHB information. Following a family violence incident, ACC were able to share their information at the ISR table relating to a young victim.

The information provided in this instance detailed a significant claims history which painted a picture of family violence spanning the victim’s lifetime. The claim history significantly influenced the other agencies’ rating of the risk and ultimately helped produce a safety plan for this victim. It also meant that ACC was able to engage and offer support for the injuries sustained.

These are just a couple of examples of how an integrated approach should work – each agency recognising their role and working together to keep families safe. The agencies are not dealing with stand-alone issues that just happen to involve the same family – there is one family with one set of issues and each agency has a role in supporting the solution. The ISR teams in Christchurch and Waikato are making a real difference for families experiencing violence in their communities.

Because we’re committed to keeping every family in New Zealand safe, we want to see this integrated approach being used nationwide. While early signs are very promising, we know that the ISR is still evolving as we learn more every day about how to make it more effective.

That’s why we’re investing another $22.4 million through Budget 2017 to extend and expand the pilots for another two years. This will enable us to gather more information to perfect the ISR design and understand the support it requires to help ensure that a national model is successful.

In addition, ISR is a model based on responding to Police incidents and higher risk Corrections releases. The system needs more than that. Our future state also needs a pathway for self and community referrals where risks and needs can be assessed and acted on before the violence escalates to the formal justice system.

In fact, it is at that stage we have the greatest chance of making lasting changes to behaviour. The legal changes needed to fully implement these pathways are included in the Family and Whanau Violence Bill currently before the Parliament and we are working on designing pilots to test such assessment hubs now.

I mentioned earlier that for the ideal future state to be built, there are a number of critical foundational elements that are required. The Family and Whanau Violence Bill that is before Parliament is one of these and ISR is another, but there are a number of further components that the Ministerial Group on Family and Sexual Violence has been coordinating over the past two years.

No one of these elements should be viewed by itself – they are all intended to work as a whole to support, and allow us to build, a whole new way of working. Anyone looking for an announcement that by itself is the solution to this deeply ingrained, multi-generational issue is at best naïve.

What we do know is that for any future system to be successful, one of the foundations that will be needed is for there to be consistency across all the agencies, services and practitioners in the way they understand and deal with family violence risk.

One of the clear messages that has come through in our consultation with the public and practitioners in this space over the past two years is that a consistent approach to identifying and responding to risk is a critical component of building a ‘no wrong door’ model.

So today I am launching the Risk and Assessment Management Framework (RAMF) which establishes a common approach to screening, assessing and managing family violence risk. Minister Tolley will be launching another of these critical foundational elements in her speech to this Summit later today.

Although many of you working in family violence have your own risk assessment and management methods, we have never had a common approach nationally. Without this, the system is unable to begin to operate with a truly integrated approach. This Framework aims to achieve a level of consistency and best practice that will better support victims to recover and perpetrators to take responsibility.

It supports the ‘no wrong door’ model by helping to ensure that when people seek help for family violence, whatever path they take, they are supported with consistent, professional services that meet their needs.

The RAMF has been developed over the last 18 months with the help and input of a wide range of family violence practitioners, and can I say to all those who have taken part in this process that your detailed involvement has been critical to the RAMF being of the standard necessary to fulfil the important role it has and to ensure that it properly reflects the New Zealand cultural context.

A critical issue is that currently family violence often isn’t picked up until it’s entrenched. Or, if the early signs are recognised, the system is too slow to respond or responds inadequately, causing people seeking help to disengage. We cannot allow victims to be left to flounder on their own or go without support because they couldn’t navigate the system.

The RAMF will establish a more consistent, integrated and proactive approach where victims, perpetrators and their families are well supported through the complex network of agencies, services and practitioners towards a better outcome.

It provides practice values and expected generic practice approaches, including outlining a common understanding of family violence, for:

Generalist service providers – who may encounter victims or perpetrators of family violence as part of their work, but family violence isn’t their core business. This includes doctors, nurses, midwives  and teachers Statutory service providers – these are agencies and individuals whose core or sole business isn’t family violence but that provide statutory or legal responses to victims or perpetrators as part of their work, like Police, court staff, probation officers and some social workers Specialist service providers – these are the service providers whose core mandate is to respond to family violence and practitioners have specialist knowledge and skills, like Women’s Refuge and perpetrator behaviour change services.

Some agencies and practitioners, like the Police or child protection workers, will still develop their own risk assessment tools and approaches tailored to their own practices, but the RAMF will outline broad, high-level expectations to guide this process.

Over the next year, practice guidelines and associated tools and training will be developed for those groups working within the system on a daily basis.

The RAMF is now available for agencies, services and practitioners to review and consider what its expectations mean for how their current approach to family violence may need to adapt.

This is the chance to test the implementation of the RAMF with early adopters so that we can be sure it is fit for purpose, with the aim of rolling it out nationally from next year.

There will be a copy for everyone at the back of the room.

So ladies and gentlemen, we are under no illusions that there is a quick or easy fix that will solve our country’s horrific rate of family violence. It won’t happen quickly and none of us can do it alone.

But changes and better outcomes are absolutely possible and are the responsibility of us all.

If we are to truly change people’s lives and ensure that all children are able to grow up in homes where they feel safe and loved, we need to think differently and we need to work together.

That’s my challenge to you as you go away into today’s sessions and I look forward to hearing about the discussions which take place.

I am certainly acknowledging the parts of the system that Government needs to do and think about differently through funding, legislation, frontline response of agencies and by providing system leadership. I have committed to making this my number one priority for as long as I have the privilege of holding the role that I do.

I began this work with Minister Tolley two and a half years ago as we set up the Ministerial Group on Family and Sexual violence, bringing together colleagues representing 16 different portfolios who all were equally committed to building a better system.

Today is a chance to reflect on the learnings since then, the progress that has been made, and check in on the direction of future travel.

Nō reira, kia kaha, kia maia, kia toa tātau ki te tautoko, te whakapakari a tātou whānau.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

3 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  June 8, 2017

    Wish there was a video, that’s lot to read when I could otherwise listen while doing chores.

  2. Bill Brown

     /  June 8, 2017

    All from a women with no clue

    • Gezza

       /  June 8, 2017

      Bet she knows how to spell the singular of ‘women’ though. Did you go to the same school as me mate Corky, by any chance? 🤔