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Specialists in family violence sector unite

Women’s Refuge and the National Network for Stopping Violence Services NZ have formed a coalition to unite their voices as specialist workers in the family violence sector.

The National Coalition of Domestic Violence Specialist Service Providers will launch at a conference this month to focus on the importance and value of specialists working in family violence, and why the government needs to value and invest in these services.

The Coalition members are concerned that the government’s contracting practices in the sector have diminished the value of specialisation in favour of more generalist services. After years of these practices pitting agencies against each other in order to compete for funding, the Coalition decided to unite their voice and advance their relationships.

‘We recognise that family violence is everyone’s business but are concerned that the role of the specialists has been devalued in favour of lower-level work in a more generalist environment,’ says Merran Lawler Coalition co-founder and Kaiarahi of National Network Stopping Violence Services NZ (NNSVSNZ).

Recent funding boosts to improve NZ’s dire family violence statistics have not necessarily flowed through to specialist family violence agencies. New funding sources, like the Whānau Resilience Fund, have focused on generalist responses to family violence rather than the intensive, long-term focus of addressing trauma and behavioural change, which is the role of specialist services.

‘The result is a fragmentation rather than a consolidation of services being delivering at the frontline of family violence in New Zealand,’ Ms Lawler says. ‘In the past, the specialist family violence sector has had to compete to survive. In order to make a dent in the problem of family violence, the Coalition partners recognise we have to work with each other and not against each other.’

Ang Jury, chief executive of Women’s Refuge and Coalition co-founder says the change is long overdue.

‘The gradual erosion of the work of specialist family violence and the knowledge they hold raises potentially serious risks for the thousands of women, children and whānau that experience violence each year. While generalist services undoubtedly have a place in supporting whānau, many lack the deep understanding of risk and safety needed to keep those experiencing violence safe from further harm,’ Dr Jury says.

The Challenging Conversations and Complicated Spaces conference, held on 12-13 September in Wellington, will highlight the importance of specialist services in family and sexual violence, and the necessity of stressing the perpetrator’s role in domestic violence. The conference will be co-hosted by TOAH-NNEST – a network of agencies working to end sexual violence.

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