Pacific family violence workers mobilised during NZ's lockdown

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.

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.

"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.

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.