Family violence

Updated: 30 November 2015

This page provides an overview of the violence in families practice resource designed to support and strengthen social work practice.

The family violence practice triggers are designed to be used by social workers across all phases of their work with a child or young person and their family.

They can be used in a range of situations - as part of case supervision, in local inter-agency response forums like FViARS, or to inform a child and family consult - whenever a social worker is thinking about what they need to focus on as part of the next steps in their case work.

These triggers are designed to prompt social work attention to some of the most critical areas in their work with children and young people living with violence.These triggers are designed to prompt social work attention to some of the most critical areas in their work with children and young people living with violence.

Expand all


Violence in families affects the lives of many children and young people in New Zealand. It is a key priority area for Government.

Family violence is a term commonly used to describe a range of behaviours that take place within the family context. The behaviour creates fear. The behaviour often uses power to control. What we know is children and young people are commonly part of that home environment and as such are affected by the violence that takes place.

The way the violence affects children and young people can be difficult to discern and well hidden. The practice resource has been developed from literature reviews and research to support social workers in strengthening their work in this area. The triggers are based on the principles of reflective practice and provide a prompt to draw social work attention to some of the most critical issues to consider when working with children, young people and their families.

The resource also includes key informations to provide additional guidance to social workers, focusing on issues such as the law, understanding a child or young person's needs within the context of violence and assessing risk. The package also contains links to other valuable resources such as papers and articles by experts in the field.

How to navigate the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Promotion of the well-being of children, young persons and their families and family groups is the object of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. In promoting well-being section 5 of the Act encourages participation, of the child, young person and their family, whānau, hāpu, iwi and any family group, in decision making wherever possible. Section 5 also encourages that the child or young person’s relationship with those groups is maintained and strengthened. The Family Group Conference (FGC) provisions also provide an entitlement for such persons to be attendees at any FGC.

In applying the provisions of the CYFPA, it is often necessary to balance the goal of participation and relationship maintenance/strengthening alongside the need to consider the emotional and physical safety needs of victims of family violence – adults and children.

The paramountcy principle in section 6 adds force to the position that safety considerations ought to be factored into decision making. Section 13(2) also guides us by reinforcing that ‘children and young people must be protected from harm and have their rights upheld’.

When working with families who have experienced family violence it is important to assess the current impact of past and/or present violence. This is important as the physical and psychological consequences are highly individualised and vary from intense and immediate, to cumulative and long lasting.

Care must also be taken to assess the perpetrator’s current level of risk. This should involve consideration of any personal safety orders that are in place i.e. protection or restraining orders, why these were made and who they cover.

Ask questions of the protected person and where possible, seek to obtain a copy of any order that is in place. Check with Legal Services if you are unsure about the continued validity of the order and it’s impact on any child or young person.

When the impacts of family violence and current risk levels are not clearly identified for all those involved, efforts to address care and protection concerns through engagement with the offending party, may lead to further trauma and revictimisation. It may also increase the risk of harm to the child and the non-offending party.

Professional judgment is required to ensure that investigation and assessment and any future interventions including FGC or whānau hui, occur in a manner that best ensures emotional and physical safely for all.

Family violence practice triggers

Using the family violence triggers


Child centred:

  • When completing our assessment, how has our focus remained on the child and how they are being affected by the violence?
  • What have we done to help the child or young person safely tell their story about the impact of family violence on their day to day life?
  • What do we understand about the impact of the violence on the child or young person's emotional well being? How have we used our understanding to inform decision making?
  • How have our assessments focused on the age and developmental stage of the child or young person?
  • In our assessment of risk, how have we considered specific times of vulnerability such as post-separation and escalation of violence?
  • Paying specific attention to cumulative harm, how have we considered the history to inform our decision making about each child's current situation?

Parent/caregiver/whānau focused:

The nature, frequency and history of the violence inform our assessment. How have we understood this and what services have previously been provided to address the violence?

Planning, implementation and review

Child centred:

  • What does safety look like to this child or young person and how have we used that in developing plans?
  • How are we ensuring the child is safe in all contact with their parents or caregivers?
  • How will the child or young person maintain their sense of identity and stay connected with their wider whānau, community and peer group?
  • In situations of repeat notifications, how are we providing a different response?

Parent/caregiver/whānau focused:

  • What work have we undertaken to engage with maternal and paternal extended family to provide enduring safety?
  • Who else knows this family and how have we included them in building safety and supporting the plan?
  • What does improvement look like and how is our response addressing the violence in the family?

Personal Safety Orders