Social Issues

Funding fears for family violence services despite Govt boost

As New Zealand’s family and sexual violence providers prepare to discuss the state of the sector, there are concerns extra funding from the Government is not flowing through to specialist services.

Specialist family violence providers have warned a funding boost provided by the Government is not making its way through to them, with some agencies risking “going to the wall” as a result.

In the 2018 Budget, the Government announced an extra $76.2 million of funding over four years to support the delivery of family violence services which are funded by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

At the time, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the funding would “enable these critical front line agencies to expand into areas where there currently isn’t any support, or start addressing over-demand in existing services”.

However, Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga (the National Network of Stopping Violence) has expressed concerns about how the money has been distributed to date.

Merran Lawler, the network’s kaiarahi (manager), told Newsroom the $76m was not making its way to the front lines.

While some of the money had gone towards “sustainability funding” for organisations funded by MSD who were struggling with their current budgets, Lawler said the amount going to each agency was relatively small compared to what they needed to survive.

The establishment of Oranga Tamariki, and the transfer of responsibility for funding some but not all services to the new ministry, had created inconsistencies in funding depending on where in the country a provider was located.

'Filling the gap' over specialist services

Lawler said the bigger concern was that much of the $76m allocated towards family violence services in the Budget was going towards “filling the gap” by providing practical necessities like housing and food, with little to none of the funding going to those who provided specialist trauma counselling and other interventions.

“The whole point of having a specialist family violence focus is that you have dedicated people who understand the process of healing and restoration…

“That’s a therapeutic process - not simply 'let’s give somebody a driver’s licence and access to accommodation' and somehow that solves family violence issues.”

Funding for specialist services was also provided for short-term programmes, when what was needed was a longer-term approach, she said.

“Giving 10 counselling sessions for a woman enduring family violence in her life with her partner for the last 10 years is barely enough time to establish trust with her.”'

“We have specialist family violence agencies that are facing going to the wall for the sake of $10,000 - the difference between being able to pay the rent for the month or paying out what’s owed to staff.”

Some agencies who were the only provider of specialist services in parts of the country appeared at risk of collapse, Lawler said.

“We have specialist family violence agencies that are facing going to the wall for the sake of $10,000 - the difference between being able to pay the rent for the month or paying out what’s owed to staff.”

National justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said while the Government had increased funding for family violence services, that were not accompanied by hard targets for how it should be used.

“It becomes very confusing for the sector, and this is exactly what happens, money gets channelled into areas where there are no key deliverables.”

There was an enormous strain on many who were providing family violence support and other social services, with some in the sector telling him that “money is still being funneled into the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”.

Mitchell supported Lawler’s concerns about the lack of long-term funding for some specialist providers, saying short-term programmes would work for some people but many others needed continuity.

Associate Social Development Minister Poto Williams says government agencies are working together to address family violence sector concerns about funding and contracting processes. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

“You need to have flexibility in the system to be able to recognise that someone that might go through 10 sessions or 10 weeks, actually they might need 20 or 30 - they might need 18 months...

“They’re [the Government] full of the best intentions, I don’t doubt that for one minute, but their ability to execute and come up with a plan is woeful.”

A spokesman for Associate Social Development Minister Poto Williams said over $13m of the Budget funding was being used to increase the budgets of providers that provided direct family violence services, with an additional $15m made available from 2019 to “strengthen and stabilise the family violence sector through the rollout of whānau resilience services”.

MSD and Oranga Tamariki were working together to address issues raised by both the sector and within the Government about how to improve relationships with providers and funding and contracting processes, the spokesman said.

The funding shortfall will be among the topics of discussion when specialist providers gather at the National Sexual and Domestic Violence Conference in Wellington, taking place on Thursday and Friday.

Lawler said her network had recently formed a coalition with the Women’s Refuge, and the conference was a way for specialist providers to band together and deal with the fragmentation of services across New Zealand.

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