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Shocking Impact Of Lockdown On Vulnerable Children And Families Revealed

Shocking data released today reveal the dramatic impact the Covid-19 lockdowns had on vulnerable children and families in New Zealand.

For the first time, statistics from the Family Court in Auckland, and the Police and Oranga Tamariki nationwide, have been brought together to give a true picture of what happened while the country was in lockdown.

The information has been compiled by K3 Legal Director and specialist family law practitioner Toni Brown, who has more than 20 years’ experience working with children and families, and well-known QC Kate Davenport, the former president of the NZ Bar Association.

Toni Brown, K3 Legal partner
Kate Davenport, QC

Their research shows the issuing of protection orders by the Family Court and reports to Oranga Tamariki were much lower during the lockdowns compared to the previous year, yet family violence reports to the Police were much higher. 

Key findings include:

  • The highest daily reports of family violence – 645 – occurred the day after Level 4 was announced in March. That’s second only to New Year’s Day, which is traditionally a high incident date in any year
  • Protection orders issued in the Auckland region during Level 4 (26 March to 27 April) were down 29% on the previous year, due to the reduced operation of the Family Courts and the initial difficulties victims had accessing lawyers
  • Oranga Tamariki nationally saw a 24% decrease in reports of concern during Levels 3 and 4. This is similar to the school holidays when reporting goes down because community eyes are not upon vulnerable children
  • However, family violence reports to the Police were significantly higher during Level 4 down to Level 2 than in 2019
  • The total number of family harm incidents reported from level 4 to level 2 was 31,805. They ranged from 345 to 645 a day, compared to between 271 and 478 in the same period in 2019

“These figures clearly show family violence increased dramatically during the lockdowns but, at the same time, there was a decrease in the reporting of harm, particularly to children,” says Brown, who managed to get a victim out of their house on the first day of lockdown and quickly got a protection order approved by the Family Court.

“While it was good the Family Court responded quickly, with legislation changed to allow people to file affidavits unsworn, the real problem was the lack of community eyes on children.

“Harm to victims wasn’t being reported because no one was seeing it. The biggest impact was on children because the teachers, the doctors, the other external agencies were not able to provide that community oversight. The families involved certainly weren’t reporting it,” says Brown.

She was surprised by the huge spike in family violence reports on the first day of Level 4. “It wasn’t even a week in, when you think tension between family members would be higher. I think that big jump occurred because people were frightened.”

Brown and Davenport say their research is the first time statistics from all three agencies have been brought together in this way. “The information is there but it can be hard to find. We ended up doing an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Justice to get the Family Court information for the Auckland region.”

Brown says as New Zealand continues to grapple with the ongoing impact of Covid-19, much work will need to be done on how to minimise harm for vulnerable children. “The closing down of society – schools, easy access to medical care, access to social workers – has clearly disproportionately affected the most vulnerable in society. Time will tell whether this impact has long-term adverse effects but we can see that the corresponding economic downturn is also impacting the same people...

“If the ultimate outcome for children is not to be poor, thought needs to be given as to how to protect them from the worst impact of the shutdowns. They need access to schools, doctors, food and continuing care. If we cannot provide this, then New Zealand society will be the worse for this.”

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