Aviva welcomes the findings of a report released today by Women’s Refuge that emphatically demonstrates, in the words of women themselves, the significance of family violence as a mental and physical health issue in New Zealand, and calls for the Ministry of Health to acknowledge it as such.
“As an agency, we’ve long seen and responded to the very common co-existence of mental health concerns alongside family violence” says Nicola Woodward, CEO of Aviva, a specialist family and sexual violence agency based in Christchurch. Aviva was established in 1973 as the first women’s refuge in New Zealand, and became independent from the National Collective of Women’s Refuges (also known as ‘Women’s Refuge’) in 2010. This separation from Women’s Refuge was in part because Aviva recognised the need for a more ‘joined up’ approach to the many issues women experiencing violence commonly experience, including, but not limited to, mental health problems. Woodward raised mental health as one of a number of issues that required a reformed response from the family violence sector in a 2017 TEDx talk.
“We’re glad to see this report also acknowledging this important need, and reinforcing what earlier research, such as the Glenn Inquiry of 2014, highlighted - that family violence is not just a social and personal issue – it is one of this country’s most significant health concerns. What the research by Women’s Refuge doesn’t acknowledge, however, is the fact that it is also common for people perpetuating this violence to have also experienced trauma as children and young people, and that people using violence are also commonly experiencing mental health concerns. Unless we as a country provide significant interventions in childhood and youth, this cycle will continue.”
The current government has signalled its intention to invest in ‘wellbeing’ as a measure of national success, as well as traditional economic measures. Woodward believes that this provides a major opportunity to change the way we respond to family violence. “The enduring effects of violence are extreme and long-lasting, and a rapid but short-lived intervention is not sufficient to enable individuals and families to rebuild their life. The absence of violence does not equate to wellbeing, and that requires longer-lasting and more integrated responses. It is time that central government addressed family violence and its impacts as the significant threat to our society’s welfare and wellbeing that we know it to be.”
The research conducted by Women’s Refuge also reinforced the need to remove silos between organisations and services, which in many cases create barriers to gaining the support they exist to provide. It was this knowledge which led Aviva to champion the creation of The Loft in Christchurch. The Loft is the shared home of a wide range of specialist social, community and health organisations, which provide collaborative responses and support for any concern through one front door.
“Literally hundreds of people come to The Loft’s every week” says Woodward. “They say what is really special about The Loft is that it is ‘making a difficult thing easier to do’. It’s important that all of us involved in the social services sector, whether we’re government or not-for-profit organisations, focus on creating truly collaborative responses that bring services to people, rather than requiring people to seek support from multiple places. We’d be happy to share our experience of this model with Women’s Refuge and other organisations throughout the country.”