1 May 2020

Pacific family violence workers mobilised during NZ's lockdown

11:53 am on 1 May 2020

Over one thousand Pacific family violence workers have been mobilised in a campaign to curb domestic violence in their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ Pacific Sara Vui-Talitu

The Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu campaign was launched this month by The Cause Collective, a Pacific social change agency.

The Cause Collective have spent the past three years working with family violence practitioners, Pacific providers and community leaders, including police, social workers and church ministers and training using specific cultural frameworks in eight different Pacific languages through the Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu programme.

The programme has set out to provide participants with the cultural values and concepts to help achieve family well-being, especially when dealing with family violence.

Chief Executive of The Cause Collective, Rachel Enosa, said the training programme identified areas and regions of New Zealand where there are high Pacific populations, to support practitioners and community leaders there.

CEO of The Cause Collective, Rachel Enosa

CEO of The Cause Collective, Rachel Enosa Photo: Supplied / The Cause Collective

"What we are wanting to do now is support community action. The Nga Vaka approach is about communities themselves organising what they believe the responses that are required in their community, so what is developed in South Auckland will be different to what the community in Oamaru might want to do.

"The people we have trained are part of a voluntary community workforce, so they are not employed or being paid.

It's more about mobilising as part of a community response movement and so they will be right up and down the country; south, west and central Auckland, Oamaru, Dunedin, Ashburton, Christchurch, Porirua, Hutt Valley, Newtown, Hamilton and Palmerston North is where we focused our efforts," she said.

Last week, New Zealand Police released data showing a surge of family violence incidents since the nation went into lockdown late last month.

Ms Enosa said her team has had discussions within their networks, who have informed her that a rise has been seen in all-types of violence seen in Pacific families during this four-week period of the level 4 lockdown.

"There have been cases related to physical violence, issues about their financial situation, psychological abuse and we are very concerned about these Pacific families who are clearly under a significant amount of socio and economic stress during this pandemic."

The Fono Health and Social Services is the largest Pacific NGO in New Zealand and offers medical, dental and community services across the Auckland region, as well as providing Whanau Ora services to Pacific families residing in Northland.

The West Auckland branch, where the family violence crisis team are based, have been attending every Pacific call out in the Waitematā region, working seven days a week since the lockdown was commenced.

The Fono creating Pacific relief packages for families in need during the lockdown period

The Fono creating Pacific relief packages for families in need during the lockdown period Photo: Supplied / The Fono

Manager Ana Aitcheson said it has not only been a crazy, busy time for the team, but also very interesting in the type of call outs they have received.

"We do Pacific relief packages, so that is essential resources and needs for our most vulnerable Pacific communities getting food parcels, advocacy and welfare checks from Warkworth all the way to Waiuku and everywhere in between.

"The Fono have helped around 4,500 families through this lockdown. We have also offered family violence and mental health support packages as well as helping people apply for benefits.

"We have attended call outs that vary from a small verbal argument to physical altercations and we assist the police with welfare checks afterwards. Due to the lockdown, checks must be done over the phone, which makes our work hard as face to face interaction is where our work thrives.

"We are always busy, getting around 150 calls a month that we follow up on, but recently we have had an increase in calls, in particular with first time callers, so stresses around everyone being at home for long periods, financial stress, drinking during the day because they have nothing to do are what we are dealing with mostly.

Ana Aitcheson, manager of the family violence crisis team at The Fono, West Auckland

Ana Aitcheson, manager of the family violence crisis team at The Fono, West Auckland Photo: Supplied / The Fono

The Cause Collective cite research showing that Pacific people are less likely to report instances of family violence to the police despite Pacific young people being three times more likely to be exposed to family violence.

Reasons they have identified for not reporting the violence include not wanting to bring shame on their family, fear of any repercussions, cultural barriers around language and feeling like they will not be treated fairly if they do so.

A support group on Facebook for Pacific mothers called Poly Mamas Community have a following of 35,700 people.

The group invites Pacific mothers of all walks of life to share their experiences of being a parent, recipes, health and fitness, spiritual, infertility stories and other interests.

An admin told RNZ Pacific that the group has recently had many posts relating to family violence, with majority of mothers seeking help wanting to remain anonymous.

"It is a big problem in our Polynesian community and very heart breaking for us to read their stories. We do post on our page helplines to contact if they are going through domestic violence.

"Our Facebook group is a private group to protect our mothers' privacy, so that they can share openly."

Ms Enosa encourages Pacific people to help one another, especially if they see someone is distress.

"We all have a role to play and it's not just the social service providers or the government that are part of the response to preventing violence. It's the communities themselves and so we all need to work together.

"We also need to have the confidence to speak out when we see violence happening and say it isn't okay in our community and that it is not part of our culture and we can do things better.

The Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu campaign is funded by the Ministry of Social Development under the Pasefika Proud initiative.