Speech to National Family Violence Conference 2024

Hon. Karen Chhour 

National Network of Family Violence Services 

National Family Violence Conference 2024 

9:25am Wednesday 29 May 2024

It is an honour to open this conference, and I want to acknowledge the broad range of expertise, experience, and hard work represented by the people here in this room. We all share a common cause – breaking the cycle of violence in Aotearoa - and ensuring our children can grow up in a country that allows them to be safe and thrive. Some of us have travelled far to be here today – including from America and the Pacific Islands – I commend your dedication, welcome.

I want to acknowledge my colleagues. Louise Upston, who attended last year’s conference as Opposition Spokesperson for Family Violence, is now our dedicated Minister for Disability Issues, the Community and Voluntary Sector, Child Poverty Reduction, and Social Development and Employment. Ending family violence is a key priority in all those areas, and I can speak to her commitment to this work.Paul Goldsmith, our Minister for Justice – I look forward to working closely with him as we look to make our justice system more victim-focussed, through court processes that ensure complainants are well-supported, along with appropriate sentencing and rehabilitation of those held accountable.

I also acknowledge Marama Davidson, who served as the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence before me. You have been a strong advocate for Te Aorerekura, our national strategy.

The National Network of Family Violence Services covers such an incredible range of work. Frontline services, training, resources, programmes – expertly tailored to the specific communities who need them most.

Victims, children, and those who use violence – just those categories alone each have their own unique challenges and need for specialist understanding and care. Not to mention communities of identity which have their own needs and considerations, and overlap in many ways – tangata whenua, Pasifika, rainbow community, ethnic communities, disabled people – just to name a few.

You may have already heard that I bring to this work my own experience of dealing with the state on these types of issues as a very young person. I know all too well that trauma has lasting impacts.

I want to break the cycles of violence by supporting parents to nurture their babies; by creating a culture of care and respect for children; and making sure our communities are safe.

As I said in my maiden speech to Parliament three and a half years ago, “We can't keep doing what we're doing. Society needs to take a stand and decide what is acceptable and what is not.”

I have met with some of you, and your organisations, gaining understanding of your work programmes over the last six months. I am humbled by your stories of innovation and perseverance to deliver services that enable safety and healing.

I have heard about the many challenges that frontline services face and I am committed to being the strong advocate you need me to be. I have listened to stakeholders across communities and the sector on what are the most important things for us to get right – and it is informing my approach.

As Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence, my responsibility is to provide leadership to improve the family violence and sexual violence system response.

Te Aorerekura - our long-term strategy - aims to ensure the provision of safe, integrated, and early help for people impacted by violence, alongside prevention and healing to improve the overall system response.

Te Aorerekura is our National Strategy. That doesn’t change. We’re committed to the strategy and the 25-year system change that’s required  

This strategy is different from what has come before. It sets a wellbeing and strength-based vision, with a stronger focus on primary prevention, healing and the critical role of community leadership for achieving change that lasts.

The strategy has cross-government support and will be invested in and carried on though this term and many more to come. It was always meant to be intergenerational – with a view over the next 25 years – because this work is complex and will take time to get right. Many of you in the room were, and continue to be, instrumental in its development and how it is implemented.

Community insight and frontline expertise is the backbone of this work, and we are committed to involving you every step of the way. Your guidance and knowledge have shaped our strategy from the beginning and will continue to do so.

My overarching goal is to break the cycle of harm and violence, this means acting to prevent at all opportunities, and stopping the creation of one more victim or victimisation - and to do that, we need to be effective where it counts most - and with those most at risk of being harmed and those creating that harm.

Te Puna Aonui is developing the second Te Aorerekura Action Plan - I have asked that this be focused on fewer key actions that will drive change in the system and achieve impact on the ground. This is about focus on doing the right things first, and well. And identifying gaps before taking on the next set of issues.

I want to ensure we are putting our collective effort into the things that will make the biggest difference now, while also keeping focussed on the long term.

I am also working closely with Te Pūkotahitanga, my tangata whenua Ministerial Advisory Group, and I appreciate the directness and wisdom of those in this group. They have advised me on their priorities for system change, which are helping to inform my approach and shape our plan.

Targeted engagement with community groups is starting. Our aim is to launch the second Action Plan a later this year.

So What are the priorities I’m seeing emerging?

Te Aorerekura is focused on enabling communities to lead. While talking to providers around the country, I am hearing:

  • children and their families must be the priority
  • providers want resources to respond to local needs
  • workforces need support to build capacity and plan for the future
  • government agencies have the potential to work better together at the local and national levels, and
  • the lack of housing is impacting both victims and users of violence.

What I am hearing from you is helping to shape my priorities and focus and I’m clear about a few significant areas to tackle.

One of these is a fragmented response system operating under a range of different models. When I ask the question of whether anyone is truly better off, I cannot get a consistent answer.  My priority is to strengthen local and regional response models that include multiple agencies working together, but leading in the spaces that they best occupy.

That means government agencies doing what they do best and our communities and NGOs doing what they do best. By making sure we get this right, I believe we can create a strong foundation for change.

To achieve this goal, we must build capability and capacity in frontline workforces. You know this, and there’s much to be done. Without a supported, skilled, and capable workforce who are set up to meet demand, we will not be successful. Full stop.

Through its work to align strategy, policy, and investment, Te Puna Aonui Business Unit has led the work for all agencies to develop family violence training plans for their workforces - we want everyone working in government agencies feeling confident to lead and champion system, attitude, and behaviour change.

I acknowledge Emma Powell, their Chief Executive, who is here with us – we have been working closely to understand how best they can lead agencies in this work.

Resources have been created to better train our workforce to respond to incidences of harm, and to support best practice in working with both victims and users of violence.

The Family Violence Capability Frameworks have been made to help build consistent knowledge, and skills to support people to deliver effective, safe, interventions. Everyone should be able to access help that supports their safety and journey to wellbeing.

These frameworks were developed through a collective process with experts from the specialist family violence sector, including specialist tangata whenua leaders, representatives of victims, people from diverse communities and people across government committed to enabling and sustaining change.

These resources will guide and support people to understand all forms of family violence – the hidden psychological or economic abuse, as much as the devastating physical violence, or child abuse.

We will be better able to work alongside victims, sensitive to their safety and aware of any particular needs they may have, while delivering the support needed for them to achieve wellbeing.

We must also continue to develop strong supporting systems and infrastructure. Data capture and information-sharing between agencies is absolutely essential to getting a comprehensive understanding of needs and to support joint planning and better outcomes. I’ve seen first-hand the power of quality data and information supporting better quality responses.

Overall, better outcomes must be at the heart of our efforts.  I want to know if our actions are making the difference that we need them to.  Later this year, the first Baseline Report of our Outcomes and Measurement Framework will be released. This will be a key document which uses a range of measurement tools and surveys to give us insight into family violence and sexual violence across Aotearoa in a way that has not been done before.

The OMF defines national outcomes and the indicators that will be used to measure progress to implement the shifts in Te Aorerekura. Shared outcomes will support collective impact. Better measurement and reporting will help us learn what is working to achieve the shifts needed in the system. This will support government and public understanding about progress and help our plans for further action.

This work goes hand-in-hand with my focus as a Minister to be more measures-based, making sure we have accurate data to work from as we consider future investments. We all know that family violence and sexual violence is far too common, and that system change is needed – the OMF will make sure that the resources are going to the right places, and that the help being given is leading to better outcomes.

We also need to keep creating consistency and improvement to how we assess and respond to risk. Te Puna Aonui Business Unit is currently developing Risk, Safety, and Wellbeing Guidelines which will improve understanding about what risks for victims look like and how to establish safety. This tool, along with others, needs to be integrated into local and regional responses - improving multi-agency decision-making and practices.

Te Puna Aonui agencies, and the Business Unit that supports and guides this work through them, are focussed on how to better collaborate and make sure previous system gaps are being addressed.   A big focus has been to ensure that agencies are collaborating more closely, so that the work is aligned. I also want to ensure community groups feel valued and we’re not duplicating effort on engagements, contracting processes and the like. This is still a work in progress, but we are getting better at how we are engaging with communities to make it meaningful.

Te Puna Aonui has been working with many of you to build the mechanisms and opportunities for LGBTQIA+ communities, diverse ethnic communities, disabled people, elders, and children and young people to help us learn, monitor, and shape our work.

In Closing, I want to say … 

As everyone in this room is well aware, breaking the cycle of family violence and sexual violence will take time. These are among the most complex social issues facing our nation and no one government agency can do this work – we need everyone working together. 

What society considers “normal”, its attitudes to family and sexual violence, must be firmly addressed. Action is required from the highest levels of government, from our communities, and from ourselves as we navigate everyday reality in our own homes and those of our loved ones.

So please take this conference as an opportunity to connect and be inspired. Events like this invigorate our efforts and show the strength behind this change. This room is filled with so much mana, knowledge, and passion. May these sessions be challenging and positive influences - and create lasting relationships across workforces.

Thank you.