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Printed: 20/03/2023
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Last updated: 12/07/2021

Working effectively with families impacted by violence

Family violence is abusive behaviour that can occur across whakapapa and generations and has complex causes. To support change, we consider restorative approaches that engage the whole whānau or family, rather than focusing on individuals or incidences.

Upcoming changes for this guidance

This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from ​Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Our practice shift

What is family violence

Family violence, domestic violence, family harm and intimate partner violence are all terms used to describe when one person in a relationship or a whānau or family hurts a whānau or family member or partner on purpose. It describes any behaviour that in any way controls or dominates a family member and causes them to fear for their own, or another family member’s, safety or wellbeing. It can include physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic abuse and any behaviour that causes tamariki or rangatahi to hear, witness or otherwise be exposed to the effects of that behaviour.

It occurs within a wide variety of close interpersonal relationships, such as between partners, parents and tamariki, siblings and in other relationships where significant others are not part of the physical household but are part of the wider whānau or family or are fulfilling the function of a whānau or family. Any violence towards a member of a whānau or hapū can be considered violence against the collective whole.

Dynamics of family violence

There are many words to describe the different dynamics in family violence. We are not required to label or diagnose but we should have regard for the types of family violence. This helps us understand the situation and adjust our engagement and intervention.

Coercively controlling violence (power and control) is controlling behaviour and psychological abuse that is often, but not always, accompanied by physical and sexual abuse. This is usually one person controlling their partner or family members through fear. This is mostly perpetrated by men, and results in harm to adult, rangatahi and tamaiti victims, and also to pets or animals.

Gender-based belief about entitlement is a consistent theme in men’s use of violence. Men who perpetrate acts of violence or control often say their partner’s failure to comply with their expectations, orders or demands is the reason for their controlling violence. Our intervention needs to adjust if we find evidence of coercively controlling violence – for example:

  • When organising a hui ā-whānau or family group conference consider how to create a safe space to focus on the needs of tamariki and rangatahi. Our intervention needs to balance the rights of both parents to have a say in what happens to their tamariki and rangatahi alongside maintaining physical, emotional and spiritual safety. This is a complex area that requires time to prepare. Utilise cultural advice and recommendations from family violence specialists alongside the views of protective whānau or family. If needed, hold a series of separate hui. Maintain a focus on the impacts on te tamaiti or rangatahi and how parents can parent safely.
  • A safety plan needs to be more than the victim and perpetrator agreeing to separate or ‘not fight’. A feature of coercive control can be the perpetrator presenting as reasonable and apologetic while the victim seems unsettled and difficult to engage. Perpetrators might need time to reflect on their attitudes influencing their power and control. They might need to address their own history of trauma. Coercively controlling behaviour requires intervention support from specialists in the family violence field. Anger management may not be helpful when considering that the violence stems from power and control.
  • The ability of victims of violence to make informed choices is compromised by the violence perpetrated on them. Sometimes addiction or mental health is identified and becomes the focus, and we do not address the underlying cause, such as living in fear due to coercive controlling violence. We are mindful that the victims are not responsible for the violence. We find ways to assist them to create communities of support and protection so they can heal and parent safely.
  • Our assessments need to consider how our interventions will support everyone into long-term safe solutions. Consider approaches that restore and heal and include supports that create safe and sustainable change. Safety and protection is the responsibility of everyone – however, stopping the violence is the responsibility of the perpetrator of the violence, with the right supports.  

Introduction to domestic abuse | 2shine.org.nz

Resistive violence involves a victim of power and control violence retaliating or using violence in self-defence. Perpetrators typically increase their violence and control when victims resist – potentially our intervention can increase risk for victims. When receiving family harm reports from the Police, consider the language used to describe the incident. Take note of language that diminishes the perpetrator’s responsibility and blames the victim – for example: “They have a volatile relationship. They both get physical. She fails to protect tamariki from witnessing violence. She chooses to stay with him.”

Our assessment needs to consider acts of resistance (fighting back or even staying in the relationship) as potential protective measures – for example, if you live with him, you can monitor his moods and try to protect the tamariki, but if you leave, you don’t know when he is going to turn up to hurt you. Building trust to impact change in these situations takes considerable time and a multi-agency team approach.

Situational or common-couple violence is when adults use violence (high emotions, shouting, pushing) to resolve conflicts. Violence does not result in serious physical harm and the adults involved may not be fearful or controlled. Men and women use this kind of violence equally. When considering dynamic risk factors there is no evidence of fear or coercive control and no evidence of violence escalating. Our intervention can support them to work together towards changing their behaviour and using safer strategies to resolve conflict. The adults often need information and support to understand how their violence impacts on the oranga (wellbeing) of their tamariki and rangatahi. The conflict can be frightening and upsetting for tamariki and rangatahi and can model unhealthy ways to manage their own anger, frustrations or sadness. Safety plans will require support from the community and safe whānau or family.

Different types of violence | teara.govt.nz

Aviva (a 24-hour support line) has a quiz to help people think about the quality of their relationships with others.

Are you in a healthy relationship? | avivafamilies.org.nz

Aggressive anti-social behaviour. People who are violent to everyone or violence that is a direct result of mental illness, injury or disability. We would work with the Police, mental health, disability, and violence specialists.

Child to parent violence or adolescent family violence describes violence perpetrated by tamariki or rangatahi against whānau or family members. Tamariki or rangatahi may behave in ways to dominate, threaten or coerce parents, siblings or other family members, including pets. The behaviour creates fear in the whānau or family and is not a one-off incident but a pattern of behaviour.

The cause of the violence needs to be understood:

  • Tamariki or rangatahi may have witnessed or been a victim of violence from an abusive parent or whānau or family member, and violence may be a normalised way of managing difficult situations and emotions.
  • Tamariki and rangatahi violence may be a response to their past experiences of trauma, a learnt behaviour or an indicator of unmet physical, mental and behavioural health needs.
  • The aggressive or violent behaviour can also be an indicator of the anxiety and distress te tamaiti or rangatahi are experiencing.
  • Overwhelming feelings and behavioural outbursts may be linked to mental health and neurodevelopmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The behaviour is a form of communication that needs to be understood within the context of te tamaiti and their whānau or family. Where disability and violent behaviour occur together, then specialist assessments and supports may be required. Regional disability advisors can provide advice and support to practitioners.

Whether there is a diagnosed disability or not, when tamariki or rangatahi are violent towards their whānau or family or within their community or school we need to separate the behaviour from the person. Identify key professionals and whānau or family who agree on the best way to respond to aggressive or violent behaviour. Identify a safety network of adults who agree to respond consistently to help te tamaiti or rangatahi. Tamariki or rangatahi over the age of 10 may be held accountable for very serious violent behaviour by using our youth justice process – however, tamariki under the age of 14 are more likely to be managed by a care and protection family group conference.

‘Honour’ based violence is a “collection of practices that are used to control the behaviour within families in order to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour.”

'Honour' based abuse, forced marriage and FGM | Reducing the Risk

‘Honour’ is when something or someone is held in high esteem and regarded with great respect. Families and communities from certain cultures and religions maintain these responsibilities and obligations as a source of pride and respect. Families and communities may see any breaches as disrespectful and insulting, and therefore requiring punishment. ‘Honour’ based violence can be distinguished from other forms of violence, as it is often committed with some degree of approval or collusion from family or community members.

Women and girls are predominantly (but not exclusively) the victims of ‘honour’ based violence. Men can be punished if it is perceived that they are supporting the victim or in breach of obligations – for example, if they are in a relationship that is deemed inappropriate. Relatives, including females, may collude, aid and participate in the violence.

  • To hold a hui ā-whānau safely, we first need to understand the cultural and religious responsibilities and obligations within the context of the violence and the impact on any children. This does not excuse the violence but helps us understand the complexity of the situation. A victim of honour-based violence may be reluctant to admit what is happening to them because that would mean they are speaking up against family and community-held beliefs.
  • Consult with an ethnic family violence specialist like SHAKTI for advice and guidance.

Shakti New Zealand

Female genital mutilation

Importance of assessment


Research indicates that a high percentage of family violence episodes are not reported to the Police. When assessing reports of concern, shift the focus off the incident and onto exploring patterns of harm and the cumulative impacts of violence on tamariki and whānau or family wellbeing, risk and danger experienced by whānau or family and tamariki living with violence. Explore times when conflict was managed safely by everyone so we can support them to repeat their own successes.

Studies have identified that groups at higher risk of victimisation from intimate partner violence include:

  • Females, especially if they have a childhood history of abuse. 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.
  • Māori. Research contextualises the breakdown of traditional Māori society via colonisation as inherently violent. Colonisation has resulted in the fragmentation of many protective factors within Māoridom. Te Puni Kōkiri gives a working definition of whānau violence as “the compromise of te ao Māori values [that] can be understood as an absence or disturbance of tikanga and transgressions against whakapapa.”
    Family violence | Te Puni Kōkiri
  • Disabled women are nearly twice as likely to be victims of violence or abuse compared with other women. Women who are the victims of assault or strangulation can suffer brain injuries which result in permanent disabilities that require ongoing support, especially when caring for tamariki.
  • Disabled tamariki. International research suggests that disabled tamariki are almost 4 times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled tamariki.
  • Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are twice as likely to experience family violence as the national average. The Ministry of Justice Crime and Victims Survey found people in the rainbow community are less likely to report violence despite suffering increased harm.

Knowing that violence is underreported, we can use information from research to assist our assessments. Reports of violence do not tell the whole story, so we need to consider what is not being said. Our assessments need to keep an eye out for indicators of family violence and find ways to break the cycle of violence.

Definition: Family violence

NZCVS resources and results | Ministry of Justice

Static, dynamic, acute and protective risk assessment

It is healthy to disagree by engaging with each other, addressing the problems and then getting back to normal. When adults demonstrate these skills, tamariki and rangatahi learn effective conflict management skills. Our assessments need to make judgements about conflict when it involves anger and hostility and identify when it becomes family violence. Gathering information requires considering the risk factors and how they interact. Risk factors and interaction of multiple risk factors inform the chances of someone experiencing or perpetrating violence.

Static risk

Static risk factors are unchangeable. These relate to historic aspects in someone’s life such as early childhood trauma, witnessing family violence as a tamaiti, early onset of abusive behaviour within relationships, nature and severity of abusive behaviour, violence across multiple relationships, etc. 

The Police advise us of all family harm investigations that include tamariki and rangatahi. These contact records on their own do not always result in assessment – however, over time, a pattern of family violence emerges and the impact of cumulative harm on tamariki or rangatahi requires an assessment. How we use the information in the contact record with whānau or family requires careful consideration because whānau or family would not always be aware that the Police have notified us. Our assessment needs to focus on what is happening for tamariki or rangatahi in this home.

Dynamic risk

Dynamic risk factors can be changed. These include attitudes and beliefs about violence as a problem-solving method, attitudes towards women and tamariki, peer relationships, emotional regulation skills, and relationships to addictive substances. Effective interventions seek to reduce the influence of these factors and replace them with more healthy and safe ways to function. 

Acute risk

Acute risk factors move quickly. These are a subgroup of dynamic risk factors and include issues such as jealousy, substance misuse and escalation in disagreements. While static and dynamic risk factors help us predict issues of severity and frequency of behaviour, anticipating acute issues is the key to reducing immediate risk of harm.

The following signs indicate an increase of danger of acute risk factors:

  • Separation – tamariki and rangatahi are particularly vulnerable when the adult victim and perpetrator separate. There is evidence that the risk of lethal violence increases in the post-separation period and contact with their tamariki can be used to continue to abuse ex-partners.
  • Escalating violence – violence can become normalised within the family, and patterns of increasing violence not recognised as serious, including cruelty to animals.
  • Pregnancy – victims of family violence are at heightened risk during pregnancy and the violence may escalate at this time. A pregnancy may be the result of sexual violence within intimate partner relationships, which can be difficult and distressing to disclose.
  • Weapons – having access to a firearm or threats to use knives and other weapons indicate a heightened risk.
  • Threatened or attempted strangulation are signs that a life is seriously at risk and constitute serious criminal behaviour. Women who have been strangled are 7 times more likely to be killed in a future attack. The impact of non-fatal strangulation can be overlooked if it is recorded as being choked or ‘being grabbed around the throat’, smothered or having a weight placed on their chest that restricts breathing. The signs and symptoms of strangulation can be subtle, internal and/or delayed and may not leave any visible signs. It can negatively impact memory, attention, reasoning and the ability to make informed decisions. If there was a loss of consciousness, they may not recall the assault, and potential brain injury can cause problems with sleep, headaches, depression and anxiety, which means victims will require support to care for their tamariki even if initially they present as fine. Assessments need to fully explore the supports they may need.
  • Stalking – intimidating behaviour like stalking signals attempts to exert more control.
  • Threats to injure or kill – threats to harm or self-harm by either the perpetrator or victim, injuries, and assaults to either tamariki or the adult or pets.

Protective factors

Assessment includes identifying protective factors which can act as a buffer to the static, dynamic and acute risk issues. These include attitudes of respect, problem-solving skills, emotional regulation, cognitive coping, distress management and lifestyle management:

  • Look for the presence of a loving, safe and supportive adult or caregiver, including other whānau or family with significant responsibilities for tamariki. Even if tamariki are exposed to violence and conflict, can we identify protective people in their whānau or family who can help them heal and who are responsive to their needs?
  • Look for the presence of a supportive community. Are there resources within the community that foster and support safety? Engaging the violent adult with the right supports is an important aspect of holding them accountable for the wellbeing and safety of their tamariki and changing their behaviour.

Te ao huri huri — Tuituia domain

Dynamic risk factors 

Engagement considerations

Our visits with whānau or family usually happen after the violence has occurred. Disclosing or discussing family violence can arouse strong emotions such as shame, guilt and humiliation, especially if they feel they have moved on. Separate the behaviour from the person and focus on their hopes and dreams for their tamariki and rangatahi, and how they would like to model managing conflict. Explore times in the whānau or family when conflict was managed without violence escalating.

Talk to tamariki and rangatahi directly. Tamariki living with family violence won’t always freely talk about what is happening. They might feel protective of their whānau or family so our approach is to honour their relationships with their parents and strengthen the safety within these relationships. After building rapport, be curious about their life and how they experience their world. Consider how you might find out:

  • the kinds of values that are instilled in them, especially attitudes towards gender and role divisions within their home
  • how connected they are to their community, school, neighbourhood or extended family and friends – the more isolated they are, there is reduced likelihood of family violence being detected.

Consider asking tamariki and rangatahi direct questions – for example, if the police report states they were present, ask them how they felt, and explore times when people got upset but it didn’t result in violence or the Police being called.

We need to approach the perpetrator with the same expectations of the importance of their role in the life of their tamariki, which includes provision of safe and loving parenting. This includes a definition of being a good parent that explicitly includes respectful treatment of the other parent. Being inclusive shapes our assessments, family engagement strategies, case planning and documentation.

The nature of family violence can have the effect of ‘frightening’ people from getting involved. This can result in holding the victim responsible and accountable for the partner’s violent actions. Some whānau or family may need support to engage in a restorative process before change can occur.  

Kaimahi need to actively maintain supervision and seek support and advice from specialists in the family violence field to ensure we:

  • support the perpetrator to explore how they think their violent behaviour impacts on their tamariki – assist them to get help because this change process will take time and practice
  • don't blame the mother or primary caregiver for ‘failing to protect’ their tamariki when they are the victims of violence
  • carefully manage and consider safety issues when calling whānau hui or family group conferences – if there are protection orders or bail conditions in place, we adhere to them by consulting with the Police or probations along with whānau or family
  • support both the perpetrator of violence and their victims, including tamariki, to rebuild safe relationships (if this is what is wanted) and recover from the impacts of family harm.

Family violence practice triggers provide questions to consider during assessment, planning, implementation and review and can be helpful prompts during supervision or case discussions.

Family violence practice triggers

Whole of government approach

Responding effectively to address family violence and sexual violence requires a whole of government approach. Sites need to work closely with other government departments as well as the community to ensure a joined-up approach. 

Research has shown western approaches to responding to violence have not been effective for Māori or Pacific communities. Understanding the difference between whānau and family is critical when working with whānau Māori and Pacific families, as protective factors will often exist within the wider whānau, hapū and iwi. Work with our partner agencies needs to be more responsive to the needs of whānau and tamariki. Specialist violence services are predominantly set up to respond to men’s violence towards women, which is an added barrier for people who do not fit within these two genders. Consider referrals to services that can respond to the diverse needs identified. 

The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse provides information and links to organisations focused on family violence.

Links | New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse

Te Puna Aonui


There is key legislation that supports our practice when responding to family violence that includes Police Safety Orders and Protection Orders.  

Family Violence Act 2018 and Family Violence (Amendments) Act 2018

Integrated Safety Response (ISR)

Canterbury and Waikato use the ISR model to address and respond to family violence and sexual violence. It brings together Police, Department of Corrections, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, District Health Boards, Accident Compensation Corporation, local iwi, specialist family violence non-government organisations and Kaupapa Māori services to support victims and their families. 

Integrated Safety Response (ISR) | New Zealand Police

Family Violence Interagency Response System (FVIARS)

Sites appoint a supervisor to manage FVIARS and have an agreed interagency process with the Police to respond to family violence and sexual violence. 

Evaluation of the Family Violence Interagency Response System (FVIARS) Summary Report | Ministry of Social Development