Victim Support on distribution of funds for mosque victims
A message from Kevin Tso, Chief Executive, Victim Support NZ
[5 May 2019]
For the past 30 years our sole purpose has been to bring emotional, financial and physical support to victims. We are committed to this service 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Victim Support is an independent charitable organisation which offers free practical and emotional support to victims of crime and trauma throughout New Zealand.
We have 600 highly trained volunteer and 27 paid support workers throughout the country.
We support victims for as long as they need us – for some, this is just on the day of the incident, for others it can be for several years as they deal with the criminal justice system.
We were overwhelmed with the public’s response through the pledge fund and we are ensuring the donators’ intentions are met with all money going to the victims of these events.
This is a unique experience providing many opportunities and challenges. We were the first to deposit money directly into known victims’ bank accounts within two days of the shootings and we have worked hard to try to replicate this in a fair and transparent way as we continue to use all of our resources to help victims as soon as they need it.
As we enter our seventh week, my priority and that of my team must continue to be on the victims, however, I understand your need for more information so please see my answers to your questions below. I will be back to you with more information as soon as I can.
Where has the money gone?
We cannot comment on other funds raised. Victim Support’s Givealittle page has raised around $10m. So far around $3.2 million has been distributed to bereaved families, physically injured and other victims at the mosques at the time of the attacks, including some of their immediate family. After the attacks, two tranches of cash payments have been made to the deceased next of kin and the physically injured.
1. Why are you holding onto the money?
We are not interested in holding these funds back. However, there are many things we have had to consider to transfer funds in a consistent, transparent and responsible way.
Once pledges were receipted and there was cash to distribute we made the first payment within two days of the events. A second payment then followed four weeks later and we are planning for a third payment soon.
Before and after each payment our support workers personally check with victims that the bank accounts are correct, and that the money is expected. This is so that we can ensure full accurate distribution takes place and that we have taken into account the following:
• We can complete the distribution of all the pledge funds knowing we have kept our commitment that every cent has gone to the victims and that all victims have come forward.
• Our pledge fund distribution list is accurate to ensure fair and consistent distribution to victims, including any new victims who have come forward between payments.
• Ensure all victims have their own bank accounts. In the last two payments it has been necessary for us to drive some victims to their bank of choice to open accounts so they can receive the funds or they have requested a bank account change. Some payments can take longer to reach their international bank accounts.
• All victims are supported in a fair and transparent way
• We are observing the cultural needs of the community.
2. Why are you paying so slowly?
• Each week new victims come forward and we are checking our confidential database against the Justice list. We are working closely with the NZ Police to ensure we have an accurate list of victims for the purposes of distributing the funds. This is the only way we can know that each payment tranche includes new victims who have come forward.
• Our commitment to victims’ rights and privacy is critical, which does make checking a lengthy and controlled task.
• Our experience of how victims react to trauma shows that some who have been hurt or injured may have convalesced at home without asking for help until some point in the future.
• Our approach above means that any final distribution of our pledge fund will support all those who have yet to come forward and are on the police Justice List with statements made. We will also have advised other funds about our plan so that they can consider victims’ needs outside of our existing support packages.
3. Can you guarantee the money is going to the victims?
Every day we are working with the victims and their families, Police, hospitals, and the Muslim community and the public to bring forward victims who may be reluctant or unaware of the support. We consult with Muslim leaders and community representatives to agree on the payment timing and amounts, whilst escalating support in emergency situations. Cultural sensitivities, mobility and getting access to funds needed to be considered e.g. some victims have needed our help to open bank accounts and to get support to manage their money.
4. How much have people received individually in lump sum cash payments?
Following consultation with the community and individual victims, the bereaved families have received two payments of $15,000, including $5,000 from the Ministry of Justice victim assistance scheme. Victims physically injured have also received two payments, of $5,000 and $8,000.
The second payments have just been made and we have been working hard to ensure everyone is aware of this, however we would encourage people to check their bank accounts if they haven’t done so already.
There have also been grants for immediate expenses resulting from the incident, including funeral expenses, headstones, a contribution towards loss of income, food, rent, travel, driving lessons, medical bills, fuel vouchers, English lessons, childcare, ambulance costs, emergency accommodation and other related expenses for victims and their families. Each is assessed on a case-by-case needs basis.
Long-term funding post the Givealittle fund distributions from Victim Support includes:
• Counselling (from the Ministry of Justice Victim Assistance Scheme via its usual criteria)
• Court trials (from the Ministry of Justice Victim Assistance Scheme via its criteria)
5. Is that it or will they receive more of the Givealittle money?
There are still more remaining Givealittle funds and we are looking to distribute this fully in a fair and equitable way as soon as possible. We are working with victims and representative groups and being overseen by the Department of Internal Affairs to ensure the funds are managed carefully. We will also continue to work with other fund holders to support the victims, where and when appropriate.
6. What are the criteria for receiving the money and who is eligible?
All donations will be used to provide support and resources for people directly affected by the shootings and their family members. The victims have many needs, some financial, some for other forms of support, and it is important there is enough flexibility in the fund criteria that we can respond to those needs as they continue to emerge.
Those eligible include:
• Family members of the deceased
• Those admitted to hospital, and physically injured as a result of the mosque attacks
• Other victims directly affected at the mosques at the time of the attack.
7. What will happen to the rest of the money?
Every cent will be distributed to the victims and their families. We are working to develop a plan for their long-term support. This process takes time, as victims’ needs will continue into the months and years ahead, and we need to ensure funds are managed carefully to support present and future needs.
It’s worth noting that the money has been ring-fenced and none of it will go towards Victim Support’s regular operating costs.
8. Why did it take so long to get in touch with the families/provide them support? Why weren’t you in touch with all the families sooner?
Our first payments to victims were made within two days of the shootings, but it has taken time to identify other victims and they are still coming forward. Our service starts with referrals from the NZ Police. Victim Support have responded to all referrals as quickly as possible, as they are received.
It is important to understand the scale and complexity of the situation and we understand that it has not been a simple process for Police to transfer all victims to Victim Support.
To ensure accessibility of our service, we have taken other steps we would not usually take via the media and social media to promote our 0800 line. We thank all media who have helped us with this important task.
9. Why is it taking so long to distribute the money/respond to the media?
Our first payments to victims were made within two days of the shootings and this has been an ongoing process dealt with on a case-by-case basis. For the past seven weeks we have been working closely with the Muslim community, victims, and government agencies to identify the people in need of support and try to ensure no one is missing from the Justice victim list.
As you’ll appreciate, this is a complex process. Some victims may be reluctant to come forward or are not aware of the support we can provide. We will continue to work with these groups to finalise the list, while providing crisis support and funding to those whose needs are known to us.
10. How will women without bank accounts receive access to the funds?
This is an important benefit of the Victim Support model. We assign a support worker to each case, whose training is based on identifying and meeting needs, working with people experiencing trauma, and providing other practical assistance such as helping them to open bank accounts.
Our support workers have been, and will continue, assisting women in need to set up bank accounts.
11. How are supporting workers ensuring they act in a culturally appropriate way? Have they received cultural training?
We absolutely acknowledge that we have been learning a lot as we go. Initial cultural training has been provided and we are working with the Muslim Association of Canterbury around on-going cultural training.
We are in regular contact with community leads and taking advice frequently and openly.
For example, there are many protocols related to gender and we are doing our very best to meet those. We have both male and female support workers on hand in Christchurch.
12. What about all the other money that was raised?
Victim Support is only responsible for those funds received via donations on Givealittle to Victim Support.
13. What other support are you providing?
We have specialist homicide support workers who are assisting with a range of needs, including crisis response, grief and trauma support, practical assistance and working with government and other agencies.
14. Do you have the capability to handle the distribution of such a large amount of money?
Absolutely. We are experienced at managing multi-million-dollar grants and have both the capability and capacity to ensure support is provided in a fair and responsible manner. This is the largest response we have ever had, which is why we’re working closely with central and local government, the Muslim community, victims, and other government agencies to ensure the Victim Support Givealittle funds are well managed.
15. How many Support Workers are helping victims?
We have well over 100 Support Workers supporting victims and their families not just in Christchurch but across the country.
Family members are dispersed around New Zealand and many arriving from overseas require assistance at the point of arrival.
Our call centre is also working round the clock to process requests from victims.
16. Is all of this impacting your ability to help other victims, not related to the Christchurch attacks?
No, we have a network of support workers across the country that are continuing to support and care for people who have been the victims of crime, loss or trauma. We are there 24/7 to help and, while the events in Christchurch continue to require considerable attention, this has not affected our ability to give other people the help they need.
17. Why are victims going to media to complain?
We cannot comment on individual cases. It is a difficult and uncertain time for victims. Their lives have changed in an instant and will never be the same again. We are working closely with our government agency colleagues to help victims understand what they are eligible for and to start to plan for their future.
18. Why have you taken so long to explain what was happening with the money?
Our core priority is focusing on the victims. We are still in an emergency status so the majority of our resources have been taken up with looking after the victims and ensuring they have food, warmth, shelter, access to specialist help and emergency funds. At the same time, we have been working with government to make sure the remaining funds are well-managed and distributed as soon as possible. In the following weeks, we will move to sustained victim support status. We will be working with the victims and the community leaders about future distribution.