22 May 2018

Young children pushed to the brink by family violence

11:04 am on 22 May 2018

Children as young as 7 or 8 are telling social workers they have thought of killing themselves because of the violence at home.

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Photo: 123rf.com

New Zealand has high rates of domestic violence and one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD and while some blame failing mental health services, others say a safe home would be a good place to start.

Every year about 10 children are killed by a member of their own family and dozens more end up in hospital with serious injuries.

Police investigated 118,000 cases of domestic violence in 2016.

Between July 2016 and July 2017, 13 children aged between 10 and 14 killed themselves.

Experts and groups such as domestic abuse charity Shine have now drawn the link between violence and youth suicide.

Shine spokesperson Jill Proudfoot said suicidal thoughts were common among those who had experienced or witnessed family violence.

"I've talked to a number of children even as young as 7 or 8-years-old wanting to take their own lives because they're so distressed about what's happening in their family," she said.

She wanted more focus on the link between family violence and suicide.

"When we talk about our youth suicide, I hear people say we need more mental health services for these youth, but these young people are growing up in homes where they're not safe and they're being exposed to violence in their homes and what they really need is a safe home," she said.

Oranga Tamariki chief social worker Paul Nixon said there was clear evidence about the emotional damage children suffered from living in a violent household, such as chronic anxiety, drugs and alcohol use.

Mr Nixon said since the review of Child Youth and Family and the launch of Oranga Tamariki, there had been a much greater focus on mental health.

"Having a trauma-informed approach was one of the big building blocks of the new organisation and it means looking much more closely at children's well-being and their mental health.

"We have a service called Towards Well-being which is manned by 13 clinical psychologists, who look at and give advise to social workers working with vulnerable children to help them think about the risks to their mental health," he said.

The Suicide Mortality Review Committee advises health officials on how to reduce the number of people taking their own lives, with its latest report released in 2016.

Deputy chair Sarah Fortune said they were struck by the figures that showed the link between family violence and the suicide of rangatahi Māori.

"Around one in five young people were documented to have been exposed to family violence and that was either as a direct victim of violence, or a witness of violence, or that they in their relatively young lives had gone on to be in a violent relationship with an intimate partner.

"And it looked like from that data the rates were slightly higher amongst young men, so it was about one in four young men and about one in six young women. Now those figures are extremely concerning, but we are more concerned that this is likely a significant undercount," Dr Fortune said.

Family violence is one of the areas the committee will be investigating in its next suicide review, due out next year.

* This week's Insight just after 8am on Sunday morning will focus on new tactics to try to counter domestic violence.

Mental health

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.


NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Family violence

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

]http://www.victimsinfo.govt.nz/ Victim Support]: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - 0

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