Waikato Women's Refuge is part of a pilot programme aimed at enabling multi-agency collaboration to make a real difference in the lives of whanau experiencing family violence.
The Integrated Safety Response framework sees government and non-government agencies working together to support victims of family violence - Police, CYF, Corrections, Health, specialist family violence groups and kaupapa Maori services.
Waikato is the second pilot site for the programme and launched in October last year. The first pilot site, Christchurch, launched in July 2016. Both sites have government support in the form of $1.4 million in funding from the Justice Sector Fund.
Last week the government also announced $1.1 million of funding to provide short-term housing for perpetrators of family violence in Hamilton and Christchurch to ensure victims are kept safe and are able to stay in their own homes.
As part of the Integrated Safety Response framework, Waikato Women's Refuge oversees a small group of Independent Victim Specialists whose role is to be a voice for victims of family violence and advocate for their best interests to the other agencies in the programme.
Rolina Karapu, Waikato Women's Refuge's Crisis and Community Service Manager, supports and manages the network of victim specialists and says they are critical to helping the Integrated Safety Response framework achieve its purpose.
"Too often we hear from our families and whanau the bad experiences they have had with statutory agencies in the past; they feel like the system has let them down.
"The importance of our role is that we can come in and help break down those barriers between whanau and statutory agencies by advocating explicitly for the needs of whanau."
Ms Karapu says the most important aspect of their job is that they validate the experiences of victims.
"We listen to their story and we listen to what their needs are, and we follow through on addressing those needs. We do what we say we will, and in doing that we build trust with whanau and victims of family violence."
She says the front-line nature of their work gives them valuable knowledge to put on the table so that everyone involved can plan an effective response to a violent whanau situation.
There are also independent victim specialists in Thames, Tokoroa and Waitomo. The Integrated Safety Response framework works right across the wider Waikato region and is overseen by the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence.
In March, Justice Minister Amy Adams said the ISR pilot had helped over 24,000 people through the development of more than 8,000 family safety plans between July 2016 and February 2017; 776 cases per month in Christchurch and 951 per month in Waikato. She said the pilot programme was making a difference and had prevented cases where serious harm or death could have occurred, due to information sharing and inter-agency collaboration.
The ISR is expected to replace existing models of inter-agency family violence response.
About Waikato Women's Refuge - Te Whakaruruhau
Waikato Women's Refuge - Te Whakaruruhau was established in 1986 by a group of local M?ori women. It's grown from a one-bedroom flat into six safe houses across Hamilton City and provides 24/7 crisis services as well as working with families to create long-term change in domestic violence. The Waikato Women's Refuge takes an integrated approach to family violence working with a variety of agencies, but it is not connected with the national women's refuge collective.
Waikato Women's Refuge helps about 4000 Waikato women a year escape violent and abusive relationships.