Family violence

This page provides an overview of the violence in families practice resource designed to support and strengthen social work practice.


Violence in families affects the lives of many children and young people in New Zealand. It is a key priority area for Government.

Family violence is a term commonly used to describe a range of behaviours that take place within the family context. The behaviour creates fear. The behaviour often uses power to control. What we know is children and young people are commonly part of that home environment and as such are affected by the violence that takes place.

The way the violence affects children and young people can be difficult to discern and well hidden. The practice resource has been developed from literature reviews and research to support social workers in strengthening their work in this area. The triggers are based on the principles of reflective practice and provide a prompt to draw social work attention to some of the most critical issues to consider when working with children, young people and their families.

The resource also includes key informations to provide additional guidance to social workers, focusing on issues such as the law, understanding a child or young person's needs within the context of violence and assessing risk. The package also contains links to other valuable resources such as papers and articles by experts in the field.

How to navigate the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, 1989

Promotion of the well-being of children, young persons and their families and family groups is the object of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act (the CYPFA). In promoting well-being section 5 of the CYPFA encourages participation, of the child, young person and their family, whānau, hāpu, iwi and any family group, in decision making wherever possible.  Section 5 also encourages that the child or young person’s relationship with those groups is maintained and strengthened. The Family Group Conference (FGC) provisions also provide an entitlement for such persons to be attendees at any FGC.

In applying the provisions of the CYFPA, it is often necessary to balance the goal of participation and relationship maintenance/strengthening alongside the need to consider the emotional and physical safety needs of victims of family violence – adults and children.

The paramountcy principle in section 6 adds force to the position that safety considerations ought to be factored into decision making. Section 13(2) also guides us by reinforcing that ‘children and young people must be protected from harm and have their rights upheld’.

When working with families who have experienced family violence it is important to assess the current impact of past and/or present violence. This is important as the physical and psychological consequences are highly individualised and vary from intense and immediate, to cumulative and long lasting.

Care must also be taken to assess the perpetrator’s current level of risk.  This should involve consideration of any personal safety orders that are in place i.e. protection or restraining orders, why these were made and who they cover.

Ask questions of the protected person and where possible, seek to obtain a copy of any order that is in place. Check with Legal Services if you are unsure about the continued validity of the order and it’s impact on any child or young person.

When the impacts of family violence and current risk levels are not clearly identified for all those involved, efforts to address care and protection concerns through engagement with the offending party, may lead to further trauma and revictimisation. It may also increase the risk of harm to the child and the non-offending party.

Professional judgment is required to ensure that investigation and assessment and any future interventions including FGC or whānau hui, occur in a manner that best ensures emotional and physical safely for all.

Updated 30 November 2015