Information for non-specialist services

Click here to go to our other COVID-19 pages

Last updated 30 January 2022

This page provides quick information if you are a social or health service provider whose primary role is not addressing family or sexual violence but you may come into contact with people experiencing or using violence in your work. We have also put links to more detailed documents.

We add new research, reports, guides and policies related to COVID-19 and violence to our library. To find these resources, see our library quick topic search on COVID-19.

It is unsafe for general service providers who have not been formally trained in a response approved by their organisation to expand their response to family and sexual violence without adequate training and organisational support. We have summarised Recommended prerequisites before engaging non-specialist services in responding to family and sexual violence.

The advice and recommendations below are not appropriate for the general public or staff/volunteers in other sectors. Please see our general information on how to help

Family and sexual violence services are always available. Contact them if you are worried.

It is important that people know they can leave isolation and ask for help.


How to respond to family violence

There are 6 key parts of good practice to respond to family violence: 

1.  Understand people’s experience of family violence, sexual violence and violence within whānau. People come with different experiences of violence which may be reinforced by structural inequities. People's response to you may reflect how they have been treated by services in the past. 

2.  Uphold the dignity, values and beliefs of people. Ensure you refer to appropriate services. This means knowing which services are best for people from various communities. 

3.  Enable disclosures and respond to help-seeking. People who experience violence are active help-seekers. They may fear for their own safety and the safety of any children. They may feel ashamed. Provide a listening ear and be prepared to respond:

  • Let them know you’re glad they told you. 
  • Let them know you’re sorry it happened. 
  • Let them know it’s not their fault. 
  • Let them know you’ll help. 

4.  Use collective action to create safety for victims. Safety and wellbeing requires a collective response. You are not expected to do it alone, but you are expected to help find support. People who abuse may use COVID-19 restrictions to control their partner's ability to access to services, help and support. Do not just give a number and tell people to follow up - help them contact the services. 

5.  Use collective action to sustain safe behaviours for people using violence. Victims' safety depends on holding people who use violence to account. When people who use violence ask for help, they need an effective response. Support services are available

6.  Work as part of a team. Where you have referred someone for or sought additional support, follow up. Ensure that you have been heard and the actions you expected are happening.

For more information, see Family violence, sexual violence and violence within whānau: Workforce capability framework (Ministry of Social Development, 2017).


How to screen or ask about family violence

The Family Violence Risk Assessment Management Framework recommends that non-specialist services screen or ask about family violence when you are concerned about someone's safety, but you are not sure.

You should only ask about family violence if you are concerned for someone's safety. Routinely asking every client about family violence is not recommended and may not be safe.

During lockdowns, workers frequently had to rely on technology to communicate with clients. It is important to remember that it may not be safe to ask questions about violence over the phone or by messenger or text. You may not be able to ensure that the abuser is not monitoring the conversation. Talk with your manager or supervisor about the best way to provide help and work with your clients. 

This advice is for workers in the social and health sector. For other workers and volunteers, see our general advice on how to help.

Follow these key tips when screening or asking about family violence: 

  • The interview should take place in private 
  • No friends or relatives should be present 
  • If interpretation is required, use a trained professional interpreter. Do not use children, or other family members.  
  • If the person is deaf and a sign language interpreter is not available, use written communication 
  • Avoid using terms such as ‘physical violence’, ‘sexual violence’ and ‘psychological/emotional abuse’. Instead, ask about specific behaviours: 
    • Has anyone scared or threatened you, or someone you care about? If so, who did this to you?
    • Is anyone trying to control you, or make you feel bad about yourself?
    • Have you been hit, pushed or shoved, slapped, kicked, choked or otherwise physically hurt? If so, who did this to you?
    • Has anyone forced you to have sex, or do anything sexual, in a way you did not want to? If so, who did this to you? When did this happen (the last time?) 

The Ministry of Health has published the Family Violence Assessment and Intervention Guideline: Child abuse and intimate partner violence (2016). This guideline has information about routine or regular screening for family violence.

Also see the Ministry of Health Family violence intervention guidelines: elder abuse and neglect (2007).


What about children?

If intimate partner violence is occurring, it is important to think about the safety of the children. The Family Violence Death Review Committee has written about the link between partner violence and child abuse

Our NZFVC issues paper on Child maltreatment, intimate partner violence and parenting identifies 5 key principles when working with parents: 

  • Provide holistic support for children 
  • Support the non-abusing parent 
  • Support the mother-child relationship 
  • Hold the perpetrator accountable 
  • Be culturally responsive 

Children may experience abuse and neglect but the signs or symptoms may not be obvious.  If you are concerned about a child, contact Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children


What about staff?

The World Health Organisation has highlighted that health workers (many of whom are women) may also be at risk of violence in their homes. These risks also apply to all essential workers who are women. It is important that employers are aware of this and offer those staff support. Guidance on how to respond can be found on our How to help page.


What is high risk and how to respond 

The Ministry of Health assessment guidelines explain what can be high risk and how to respond. Below is a list of indicators of high risk. If you think a person you are working with is at high risk, get advice: talk with a senior colleague, a health social worker, and a community agency that works with family violence. If it is safe to do so, you need to talk about your concerns and plans with the person who is in danger.

These are indicators of high risk. One or more of these may be enough to treat the situation as being high risk:

  • "Life threatening injuries.
  • Children, elders or disabled at risk.
  • A threat to kill or a threat with a weapon has been made.
  • The person has recently separated from the abusive partner, or is considering separation.
  • The person is afraid to go home or stay home.
  • Physical violence has increased in frequency or severity.
  • The abuser has attempted to strangle the patient (loss of consciousness).
  • The person has been knocked out.
  • The person has been beaten while pregnant (if applicable).
  • The perpetrator has access to weapons, particularly firearms, hunting knives, machetes.

Other factors to consider:

  • Has the abuser made threats of homicide or suicide to the person?
  • Has the person made threats of suicide?
  • Is alcohol or substance abuse involved?
  • Does the person believe that their partner is capable of killing them?"

Options for health care and service provider responses include:

  • "Express your concern for the person’s safety (and that of their children, if relevant).
  • If possible within your organisation, initiate a multidisciplinary response (eg, with social work, or other in-house resources).
  • Depending on the person’s health needs, and the resources of the health care organisation, consider arranging inpatient care, which can allow the person both temporary respite and further opportunity to connect with in-house support services (eg, social workers) or external support agencies (eg, refuge).
  • Active referral to a community agency that specialises in responding to family violence is required.
  • If inpatient care cannot be arranged, help the person access emergency shelter/refuge.
  • Encourage the person to seek help from family or friends (or other safe housing).
  • If they insist on going home, make sure they have information on safe exit planning if they need to leave a violent situation in a hurry. A detailed safety plan designed as a handout for victims of intimate partner violence is presented in Appendix J.
  • Make sure the person has information about, and contact details for, other legal and support options that may assist them."

If you believe a person’s life is in immediate danger, contact the Police on 111. Be sure that you tell the person at risk that you have notified the Police.

See the guidelines on pages 64-67 for more information about responding to high risk situations.


A note on information sharing

New provisions on information sharing in the Family Violence Act 2018 and Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989) came into force on 1 July 2019. Both Acts:

  • "apply to many of the same agencies and people, including schools, early childhood services, health professionals, social workers, some non-government organisations, Police and other government departments

  • are designed to encourage agencies and people to voluntarily share information, and work collaboratively

  • are about ensuring information that is relevant is shared appropriately, and for the right purposes

  • mean people are generally protected from civil, criminal or disciplinary proceedings as long as information is shared in good faith, and they comply with the relevant information sharing provisions."

Further detail on the information sharing provisions of each Act is summarised in our previous news story New information sharing guidance from 1 July 2019. Also see the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for information specific to COVID-19 and privacy and information sharing.


Click here to go to our other COVID-19 pages

Return to top