Cross-agency plan to deliver world leading interventions for people who use violence within their family

Zoey Henley
Principal Adviser – Family Violence, Department of Corrections

Author biography:
Zoey has a Masters Degree in Social Work from Massey University and is a registered social worker. Zoey spent most of her time as a frontline practitioner, working with young people in the justice sector in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. She has held several national policy roles at the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and is now based at the Department of Corrections as their Principal Adviser – Family Violence.

Family violence is a complex problem that generates long term costs to New Zealanders: socially, economically and morally. An expert panel reporting to the New Zealand Government in 2013 described family violence as the result of many complex and interconnected causes that requires an agile response to address its complexity (Expert Advisory Group on Family Violence, 2013). Family violence includes intimate partner violence (including male, female and same sex partners as victims), elder abuse, and child abuse (Lievore, Mayhew, Mossman, 2007). New Zealand is often cited as having one of the highest rates of family violence in the world and has previously been assessed as having the highest rate of intimate partner violence out of 14 OECD countries (UN Women, 2012). Consequently, the New Zealand Government has committed to a work programme that will deliver a response to family violence that is coordinated, integrated, leads to lasting change, and ensures people get the right service at the right time.

The Domestic Violence Act (1995) defines domestic violence as violence against a person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship. Violence can be physical, sexual or psychological abuse (which includes having a child bear witness to violence in the home). Victims as defined in the Act may include partners, family members and others who share a household or have a close personal relationship with the perpetrator.

In their most recent annual report the New Zealand Family Violence Death Review Committee made strong recommendations to address what they viewed as systemic failures of the current response to family violence. They described the current response as a ‘system by default’ which has grown organically as needs are identified and services have been built. They noted that while New Zealand’s response to family violence has some strengths, services are often delivered in isolation, and the overall system has not been designed in a way that produces an efficient and effective response (Family Violence Death Review Committee, 2016).

Background to the Ministerial Group for Family Violence and Sexual Violence

The New Zealand Government has established a Ministerial Group for Family Violence and Sexual Violence (MGFVSV), which is co-chaired by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Development, to set the direction and oversee the proposals and cross-Government changes required to improve the response to family violence and sexual violence. The overall objectives of the MGFVSV are:

  • less family violence and sexual violence in New Zealand
  • minimising harm to victims
  • more perpetrators end or reduce their use of violence and sexual violence and are held accountable for their behaviour
  • more men, women, and children have respectful and non-violent relationships.

As part of this ambitious work programme, the MGFVSV has commissioned a range of work-streams and key areas of focus. Each of the 11 work-streams* is led by a Government department, although they are established and resourced collectively. The Department of Corrections is part of this comprehensive cross-agency programme of work and has been appointed as the lead agency for the Perpetrator Interventions work-stream. To that end, Corrections is working with partner agencies including the Ministry of Justice, New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Social Development and Te Puni Kokiri, to ensure that the response to people who use violence within their family is comprehensive, fit for purpose, and results in the optimum mix of interventions.

Action taken to date

The wider ministerial work programme is building evidence of ‘what works’, in order to provide a safe and effective family violence response. A recent literature review by the Department of Corrections examined existing responses to people who use violence within their family (Morrison et. al., 2015). The review found that solutions to address family violence are complex and not well researched. Further, Morrison et. al. challenged the traditional typology of family violence because it takes a singular lens to the issue, focusing on issues of power and control built from feminist theories (Duluth Model, 2011). The review suggests that we move to a more holistic typology that considers the range of causes of family violence. One suggested model outlines four categories: coercion and control (fear-inducing behaviour that has an emotional and psychological element), separation (violence that occurs at the end or separation period of a relationship, when violence had not previously been present), situational (violence that does not contain the emotional and psychological elements of coercive and controlling behaviours) and violent resistance (generally carried out by females as a response to previous victimisation) (Johnson, 2008; Kelly and Johnson, 2008; Dutton, 2006 cited in Morrison & Davenne, 2016). Further evidence and exploration of the use of these typologies in a New Zealand context is required, including exploration of the fluidity of typologies. However, it is likely that taking this wider view of the causes of family violence will ensure we can tailor responses and interventions for people who use violence within their family, and this should have a greater impact on desistance.

The Perpetrator Interventions work-stream has also completed a Service Level Review to describe the ‘current state’ of how Government agencies currently fund and rationalise their response to people who use violence within their family, through the purchase and delivery of community-based family violence perpetrator programmes. The overall work programme has implemented a pilot integrated system response (ISR) in Christchurch, with a further expansion into Hamilton. The lessons learnt from the ISR pilot will give us vital data on the scale of both the problem and how well resourced communities are to respond. Our next step will be to gain a clearer picture of the philosophy and content of these interventions, via a small-scale research project led by a team from Victoria University of Wellington. Collation of all this information will help to solidify what changes are needed to generate effective impacts.

What the cross-Government work programme means for us

While the Department of Corrections is the lead agency for Perpetrator Interventions, it will be multi-agency responses (including the NGO sector) that will deliver comprehensive outcomes. The scope of the Perpetrator Interventions work-stream is to create a rehabilitative environment for people who use violence within their family, that fosters transformational change when and where it is needed across the system. This means reviewing what is currently being delivered and how, but also what systemic changes and infrastructure we need to support the system to deliver a streamlined, multi-modal response. This transformational change will see interventions for people who use violence within their family that cross agency boundaries when needed, and deliver interventions within a whänau or inclusive environment when appropriate.

It’s possible that by supporting the Duluth or traditional feminist models (which focus solely on coercion and control family violence typologies) with a wider range of theories and typologies, we may be able to better respond to a broader range of needs. For example, incorporating the principles of risk, need and responsivity to ensure effectiveness, and building on what we know works in the rehabilitation of the general offender population (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). Thinking about the system as a whole while strengthening our current default system, will provide the transformational change needed within the family violence system.

What’s next?

The current focus of the work-stream is to develop a greater understanding of what is already being delivered to people who use violence within their family. We will then clarify what the optimum service mix looks like and identify the easiest way for people who use violence within their family to access interventions. Then we will create a supportive infrastructure that further enhances interventions and streamlines processes for providers and funders. The aim of the new system will be to ensure people get the services they need at the right time, delivered in the best way possible to reduce family violence and make communities safer.


This ambitious programme of work has the scope to make significant positive change for people who use violence within their family. Taking a cross-government approach that engages with providers means we can draw on the strengths and skills across the sector.

Anyone who wishes to find out more, or to be involved, can contact the author of this paper. (

*The 11 work-streams are: Workforce Development, Risk Assessment and Management Framework, Perpetrator Interventions, Integrated Safety Response Pilot, Sexual Violence Service Development, Primary Prevention Framework, Investment Case, Victims Services, Sexual Violence Policy and Governance, Youth Sexual Violence Strategy and Action Plan, and Research and Evaluation.


Andrews, D., & Bonta, J. (2010). Rehabilitating criminal justice policy and practice. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 16(1), 39–55.

Duluth Model (2011) What is the Duluth Model? Available at www.the

Expert Avisory Group on Family Violence (2013) Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Family Violence. New Zealand Government, Wellington.

Family Violence Death Review Committee. (2016). Family Violence Death Review Committee Fifth Report January 2014 to December 2015. Health Quality and Safety Commission, Wellington.

Lievore, D., Mayhew, P., & Mossman, E. (2007). The scale and nature of family violence in New Zealand: A review and evaluation of knowledge. Centre for Social Research and Evaluation, Ministry of Social Development, Wellington.

Morrison, B., Bevan, M., Tamaki, M., Patel, V., Goodall, W., Thompson, P. & Jurke, A. (2015) Bringing perpetrators into focus: A brief assessment of international and New Zealalnd evidence on effective responses to family violence perpetrators. Department of Corrections, Wellington.

Morrison, B., & Davenne, J. (2016). Family violence perpetrators: Existing evidence and new directions. Practice: The New Zealand Corrections Journal. Vol 4, Issue 1, August 2016

UN Women (2012). Violence against women prevalence data: Surveys by country. Available at