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Stopping family violence – what does the evidence tell us?

How can family violence, and its impact on criminal activity, be prevented?

A new report “Every 4 minutes: A discussion paper on preventing family violence in New Zealandby Justice sector Chief Science Advisor, Dr Ian Lambie, discusses the evidence and asks us, as a community, to get involved.

Family violence includes child maltreatment, abuse and neglect, and violence between adults (intimate-partner violence). It used to be called domestic violence.

Dr Lambie says family violence is widespread and goes on behind closed doors in all suburbs, affects the childhoods of many New Zealanders, and disturbs adult and family relationships.

“Family violence and child maltreatment cause enduring physical and mental harm,” he says. “It is also linked to criminal offending, with most young offenders (80%) having experienced family violence in their childhoods.”

The report is the latest in a series on the criminal-justice system that Dr Lambie has written for the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. The title refers to the fact that there were 121,747 family harm investigations by New Zealand Police in 2017, which equates to one every 4 minutes.

“Preventing family violence is both very simple and very complicated,” he says. “Day-to-day, it’s about not ignoring the way your friend’s partner treats them, or not judging the disruptive child at school and just wanting them kicked out.”

“But it’s also about reflecting on our beliefs about relationships; who is responsible for family wellbeing in our communities and how public and private resources should be applied.”

Research shows that the cost of early intervention and breaking the cycle of family violence is far less than the cost of putting adults into prison, or treating the physical and mental health effects of violence.

“It should be simple to take action,” Dr Lambie says. ”Start with the needs of children and families at the centre, and work out how to meet them. But New Zealand is poorly served when social services are not supported to work well together, nor to ensure that there are enough trained staff that can work across sectors and diverse communities.”

“Talking about the wellbeing of babies seems a long way from arguments about the prison muster, but that is where the evidence says we must begin,” Dr Lambie says.


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