As the case studies in this booklet attest, there are many good reasons to view family violence as a health issue. Health professionals are often the first to see victims when they most need help. Effective early intervention for children is very powerful in reducing long term harm. Family violence also imposes big strains on health services. But perhaps the most pressing point is also the most human. Health professionals are people we can trust to care for us when we are vulnerable – people who will help us get better. And over recent years New Zealand health professionals have achieved some remarkable progress in rising to the challenge of providing good care for victims of violence and abuse.
For many, this has meant entering unfamiliar territory, but it has also brought considerable new pride. Following simple processes to identify and refer people in need can change or even save lives.
Certainly, family violence remains very widespread in New Zealand. And the health system response is only a part of the picture.But we have been among the leaders in moving on from simply raising awareness to establishing systems to support intervention that works.
A first step was to make sure that we offered care for all family members. It is so common for both children and mothers to be victimised that we needed to make sure we could offer support to both.
Being a victim of violence still carries a stigma,so we also learned that as health professionals we need to take the lead in asking about violence and abuse rather than expecting victims to approach us.
For young people, family violence increases risk of suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems by two to four times.Adult victims use health care services at three times the rate of others and the health impact increases the longer abuse continues.
When the Ministry of Health published the Family Violence Intervention Guidelines in 2002 based on research by Dr Janet Fanslow at the University of Auckland, it was taking a strong leadership role. And, as set out in this booklet (see page 3), the leadership of individual health professionals and organisations has produced very strong progress over the last five years.
For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of being involved in this programme has been the opportunity to see the professionalism and care with which health professionals have taken up this work. With the launch of the VIP,we are delighted that the Ministry has provided additional funding as we take the programme up another level.
In ten years time I believe sound family violence intervention will be accepted by everyone as a completely routine part of health care. The issue remains pressing, but there is every reason for confidence in continued strong progress.