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Helping our families stay safe

A small group of women with big hearts, cool heads and lots of common sense have been tackling family violence and getting impressive results – helping families live safer, happier lives.

The passionate and talented team is focused on challenging the way domestic violence courses have traditionally been delivered.

Flaxmere Community Constable Susan Liley contacted non-government social organisation Innov8 in 2015, concerned at the levels of family violence in her patch. From that contact grew Te Manu Tu Tuia – the bird that brings the message.

Innov8 managing director Tania Luscombe says the families the team works with have very high levels of violence – both in the number of episodes and in seriousness, averaging near 10 family violence callouts to police a year over three years.

But Te Manu Tu Tuia, which started in Flaxmere, proves there is hope. A common thread in whanau feedback is the need for more courses for more people, along the lines of “if it’s worked for us, it can work for anybody”.

So what is the difference?

In part it’s the message – change is possible; and in part it’s the delivery – working together, as a whanau, to reach the place they want to be.

Programme developer and facilitator Jen Tua says whanau come with different dynamics, different needs, and wanting different outcomes. But in the end what they want most is to live without violence. “A one size fits all – typically with the two partners attending courses separately and without input from the kids – does not work.

“It may be that the family wants to stay together; or they want help to manage separation; or they are separated and want to be able to co-parent in a functional way where everyone feels safe.”

The team buses the couples to a weekend camp; typically eight couples. Sometimes a couples’ camp; other times a whanau camp, but what they have in common is helping the couples work in a group to come up with the insights and tools they need to manage their emotions.

As Ms Tua says, it is not the anger that is the problem - everyone gets angry. “It is understanding and acknowledging the anger; what we do with that anger; how we have seen anger expressed by others; finding the tools to cope.”

The camps are intensive, with the couples working up to nine or 10 hours at a stretch. “It’s intense and very personal but as we tell them: We’re here to fix this, not to learn how to cook!”

The statistics from the first two years are impressive: an 80 per cent drop in violence with near 60 per cent of the couples having no further need to call police to help with violence. And, proving the importance that family dynamics, self-respect and self-understanding can have positive outcomes in many ways, after two years the number of participants employed or in education had leapt massively, from 8 per cent to just over 46 per cent.

That’s some success rate!

In recognition of the programme’s success Susan Liley, is about to receive a District Commander’s Commendation for her contribution to the project.


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