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Working to stop child harm

Wairarapa police have been working to reduce the impact of family harm on children. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Over the past six months, two Wairarapa police officers have been working to reduce the impact of family harm on children.

The idea for the Child Harm Intervention Programme pilot began about three or four years ago when youth services officer Mark Brown was working with young people.

“What I noticed was that the children that were being referred were being referred because they had other things going on,” Brown said, “The better focus was that these children were identified earlier.”

CHIP involved “identifying children that are victims, witnesses and perpetrators of family violence”.

About 80 per cent of children who experienced family harm might later come to the attention of police, he said.

“Our stats tell us that we will likely see them again, in some way, shape or form.”

Each week, he meets the family safety team sergeant and the pair review family harm incidents attended by police over the previous seven days.

“We identify families that don’t already have community agency involvement.”

Brown then visits the family with Constable Dana Johanson, who also works on the programme, to begin “a dialogue between us and the families”.

“We try to get the adults to look at how their behaviour has impacted on the child, to see the incident from their child’s perspective,” Brown said.

“In the heat of the moment when things are going wrong, the children aren’t often thought of.”

The officers can also put the family in touch with other community agencies, depending on their needs.

“We are referring about 52 per cent of someone from [each] family to a community agency.”

The programme was completely voluntary, Brown said, which meant it was based on trust.

“That’s their prerogative at the end of the day,” he said.

“Out of families visited, of those that have been at home, we have over a 95 per cent engagement.

“When we can get it across that we want the best for them … And they want the best for them.

“It’s understanding the story really, behind every child.”

A similar programme existed in another region, but involved iwi approaching families instead of police.

“That’s where we’ve probably got it right – showing the uniform in a positive light, gaining trust and confidence,” Brown said.

“It’s sitting down with those families and walking alongside with them.”

CHIP had just had its six-month review and would be subject to review again in another six months.

“Ideally, I’d like to see this across the country,” Brown said.

However, he acknowledged not all areas had the same resources as Wairarapa.

“They will work the programme to best fit their community,” he said.

“The reduction is where we’re focused on, to really make these children’s lives better and safer.”

Johanson said the best way to engage a family was to show empathy.

“That’s why we have such a good buy-in from families, they can see we care.”

The approach was about “breaking that cycle” through prevention, rather than reaction.

“Just strengthening the whole family so that we can identify what their stressors are, what their needs are,” Johanson said.

“We’ve already had quite a lot of positive feedback from the families … it’s really fulfilling, that’s for sure.”

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