Family violence questions and answers

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Why is family violence a health problem?

Family violence is common.

For information and articles pertaining to family violence including prevalence and health effects see New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse.


Why should child and partner abuse intervention be linked?

Studies show a high co-occurrence of child and partner abuse (Murphy et al 2013)

The Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Child and Partner Abuse (Ministry of Health 2002) recommends that:

  • if partner abuse is identified that a risk assessment be undertaken for child abuse
  • if child abuse is identified, that a risk assessment be undertaken for partner abuse.

This dual risk assessment increases the opportunities to identify abuse, and allows intervention to be offered for all victimised family members. As witnessing partner violence has similar mental health outcomes for children as being the direct victim of child abuse, it is important to assess the safety and well being of children. Identifying partner abuse can be the first step in assisting access to support for both mothers and children through local referral agencies.

Living in a household where a child’s mother is abused is similar in traumatic affect to children as direct child abuse. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study suggests that being a victim of child abuse and/or witnessing partner abuse is linked to serious health problems in adulthood (Felitti et al 1998).


Should you screen for child abuse?

There is currently no sensitive, specific, validated screening instrument for child abuse.

The Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Child and Partner Abuse (Ministry of Health 2002) recommends that a comprehensive risk assessment of child abuse and neglect be completed for high-risk groups and/or if signs and symptoms suggest abuse.

See Appendix A (High risk indicators associated with child abuse), B (Sign and symptoms associated with child abuse and neglect, & C (HEADSS assessment) of the Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Child and Partner Abuse.


Why are men not screened for partner abuse?

The Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Child and Partner Abuse (Ministry of Health 2002) recommends that men be assessed if there is a suspicion that they have been abused.

Partner violence for men does not meet the criteria for a health-screening programme due to lack of evidence of health impact. A New Zealand study demonstrates that males who have been hit by females partners report needing no first aid, medical or hospital treatment compared with 9 percent of women who were hit by their male partners (Langley et al 1997).

Kimmel (2002) acknowledges that prevalence rates of males reporting violence from partners may compare those reported by females. He also notes that perpetrators of systematic, persistent and serious violence are predominantly men.


Is it mandatory to report abuse?

In New Zealand, it is not mandatory to report partner and child abuse.

Child abuse

Best practice recommends staff who identify or suspect child abuse report their concerns to a statutory agency, the police or the Ministry for Vulnerable Children. In some DHBs this is mandatory.

Health professionals should recognise the paramountcy principle for child care: ‘[the] welfare and best interests of the child or young person shall be the first and paramount consideration.’ (section 6 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989).

Whilst the legislation does not require mandatory reporting of child protection, district health boards have within their child protection policies the requirement to report child protection concerns to Police and/or Child Youth and Family. In addition, all DHBs have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (PDF, 3.9 MB) with Child, Youth and Family and the New Zealand Police that requires that the parties to the MOU practice in accordance with their organisations policies/procedures.

Partner abuse

In most circumstances concerning an adult victim of partner abuse, the victim should be empowered to take a variety of actions themselves. This can be achieved by providing the victim with an active referral to contact community/hospital-based services at any time (for example offering support and privacy to enable a victim to call an agency at the initial assessment).

See Appendix K, Excerpts from relevant legislation in the Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Child and Partner Abuse. If a clear, serious and imminent danger of partner abuse exists, staff may report the threat to the police without the potential victim’s consent (sections 151–210 of the Crimes Act 1961).


What intervention is offered for elder abuse?

Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder abuse and neglect is available to download or you can order hard copies.

If elder abuse is suspected, the person should be assessed and referred to the appropriate services. For additional information contact your local Age Concern group.

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