Child and youth voice research findings

Kids in the Middle Research

Author: Women's Refuge

In June 2021, Women’s Refuge released a research report into what children need to feel safe after family violence. Nineteen children aged 5-13 were interviewed by specialist researchers about their experiences of finding safety and support. All of the children that took part in the research were forthcoming with their thoughts, feelings, and memories of being in Women’s Refuge safe houses or programmes. The children’s reflections of their time at Refuge prompted Women's Refuge to think differently about how kids cope with the aftermath of violence.

Family violence is a common occurrence in New Zealand#

The report comments that every day in homes throughout the country children are seeing, hearing and, in some cases, getting caught in the middle of family violence. In New Zealand, children are present in about half of family violence callouts by police, and in around 70% of those households with violence children are also direct victims of some form of violence. Furthermore, almost two thirds of notifications to Oranga Tamariki are reported to have some family violence component.

Impacts of Family Violence on Children#

The report comments that exposure to family violence has a significant impact on children’s lives and wellbeing. Early onset and frequent and long-term exposure to family violence, amongst children, changes the neurological processes in their brains. This means that, without intervention, that violence can change the way children think, act and feel for the rest of their lives.

Breaking the Cycle#

We know that loving, stable and secure home environments are the best circumstances for a child’s growth and development. On the other hand, living with violence creates a sense of fear, anxiety and stress. This means that children in homes characterised by frequent violence are constantly living in a state of hypersensitivity, always prepared for fight of flight.

The children that the Women's Refuge works with tell them that they just want to be listened to, have their opinions, thoughts and ideas taken seriously. Recently, with a select number of children and their families in the care of Refuge, they have been following the children’s journeys, to better understand from their perspective what would best support their engagement with Refuge.

They need to be told what is going on. The Women's Refuge team need to be listening to, and supporting children who experience family in the ways that they need. To make this happen  specialised and skilled child advocates are needed to focus on working for and with them. The Kids in the Middle project aims to provide every Refuge in New Zealand with a full-time child advocate to work for and with the children.

The Ultimate Goal#

With advocates in every refuge Women's Refuge could:

  • Enhance existing policy and practice and programmes that they have developed and ensure these are aligned with evidence-based best practice research.
  • Support advocates with the required knowledge, training and support mechanisms to ensure the children they work with flourish, evaluate, enhance and expand the project, taking on new learnings and feedback to reach more children that need help.

Read the full report here.


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