Money alone won't curb ills

Last updated 07:12 13/02/2014

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OPINION: Programmes that work are the key to curbing family violence, writes Chief Families Commissioner Belinda Milnes.

In the lead-up to election-year budgets, there is always a clamour from all corners of the country for governments to commit to more funding for this, a greater investment in that or a new programme to solve this problem.

But one area where the answer is not more money, is the fight against family violence.

I know this is an uncommon thing to say and it will upset many in the sector. But the Families Commission has a long track record in this sector, and we have spent much of the past decade at the forefront of New Zealand's efforts to curb family violence.

What is clear to us is that there is no silver-bullet programme that will fix the problem overnight. But we can still make a big difference in the next few years.

The key is to harness NGO and government resources and to have clear agreed goals, set targets and timeframes, backed up by a real commitment from the public sector to make it a priority, with consequences if targets and timeframes are not achieved.

To do this we can adopt the Government's Better Public Services approach, which has focused the might of the public sector into addressing some core issues for the country.

Government agencies have large work programmes, several competing priorities, huge responsibilities and massive resources and budgets to manage.

Under this approach, they have articulated clear goals, with fixed targets and powerful accountability mechanisms, to deliver results in real timeframes.

What else can be done?

We also know that quality relationship education in schools is one of the most effective ways to prevent future dating or partner violence.

Programmes that are built into the curriculum raise self-esteem, encourage respectful relationships and teach kids violence is unacceptable. They do work.

On the other hand, one-day programmes that drive into school and are off again the next day are not effective and would be a waste of school time and taxpayer money.

And we know our drinking culture is linked to family violence rates. More work needs to be done about how we can learn to drink safely and keep our families violence-free.

But we do not know whether the estimated $65 million spent each year by the Government on family violence prevention is making a real difference.

We need to re-examine how this money is being spent and stop funding programmes that are not making a difference so we can invest in programmes that will.

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That is what family violence needs.

And why should family violence be a top government priority? I will give you three compelling reasons.

First, 58 per cent of all violent crime is family violence-related and making a difference here will make New Zealand a significantly less violent place.

Second, it is estimated that family violence costs this country $8 billion a year. Compare that with the estimated $40b cost of rebuilding Christchurch. The return on investment is clearly worthwhile.

Finally and most importantly, we know the powerful links between family violence and child maltreatment.

Recent research here and overseas shows the devastating impact on children of being exposed to family violence - even if they are not physically hurt they are deeply scarred.

It is strongly linked to a lifetime of poor social and economic outcomes, and increases the chances they will become the next generation of victims or perpetrators.

Chucking money at the sector will not stop women having to lock themselves and the kids in a bedroom to be safe.

But a swift, serious and combined response from us all - families, communities, workplaces, NGOs and government - will make a difference.

- The Dominion Post

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