Preventing family violence through culture

Launched in 2016, Pasefika Proud’s Nga Vaka Family Violence Training Programme (PFVTP) has seen some interesting and heartening results so far. Some trainees say they now have a better understanding of the various legislation and have adopted new techniques in their personal, community and work contexts.  With the 2018 training programmes starting soon, we look at how the programme is tailored to help community support workers and community members, with working knowledge of the communities they serve, who are often the first point of contact for Pacific families at risk.


The programme aims to support and strengthen attendees’ understanding of what defines family violence and secondly the effect family violence has on Pacific communities across New Zealand.

The lead facilitator of this programme is Cook Islander Jean Mitaera, a registered social worker, and current Chief Advisor Pacific Strategy for Whitireia and WelTec.

“We focus on the key definitions and types of violence; relevant legislation and their various scope(s) of responsibility,” says Jean.

“This is important because it develops a working knowledge of the limitations, extent and application of these laws given the type of violence.”

“It could be intimate partner violence, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, elder abuse and or child abuse,” she says.

“Family violence has many faces and it is critical that we name them.”

Secondly the programme looks at the effect family violence has on Pacific families and communities.

“It looks at the social, economic, cultural and political impacts,” says Jean.

“For instance the impact on family relationships when trust has been broken, on family members who become isolated because of the visible physical signs of abuse, on children and their behaviours at school.”

“We often see different types of abuse, but some of them have become normalised and we therefore do not see them as abuse, rather as accepted ways of being.”

Jean says that this is a free and accessible programme for people who not only work in the area of family violence, but also for those who have influence over our families and communities.

An ethnic-specific element of the programme is informed by the eight ethnic-specific Nga Vaka o Kāinga Tapu Conceptual Frameworks.

First mooted at the Champions of Change Fono in 2010, where over 500 participants spoke out against family violence in Pacific families and communities.

The group called for government and funders to look within Pacific cultures to inform family violence programmes when working with Pacific families.

There was a need to understand, or at least have an overview of Pacific cultures because “what was being delivered in mainstream was having minimal impact on changed behaviours, it wasn’t connecting with Pacific perpetrators or victims, nor their families and communities”, says Jean.

The Nga Vaka o Kāinga Tapu framework considers the cultural knowledge, skills and tools inside each of those Pacific ethnic groups and how these can be used to support practitioners and families influence change amongst family violence victims and perpetrators.

It provides the framework for how culture can protect family members e.g. through respectful relationships, intervention to ensure safety for all, and restoration of wellbeing.

The ethnic-specific programmes provide participants with an in-depth insight to cultural approaches to achieving family wellbeing, and are not limited to family violence.

Samoan-specific facilitator Apulu Mary Autagavaia says the hope is that the practitioners who attend use the material developed to work with and support families.

“They can use the cultural model of practice to rebuild relationships and present tools of change for both victims and perpetrators,” says Apulu.

And with the programme’s assistance, practitioners can help support the “va fealoaloa’i (peaceful relationships in Samoan) of the families and community members they serve”.

Jean says: “Pacific cultures in NZ are often talked about in social service settings as having negative impacts, emphasising blame”.

“However, these particular family violence programmes supported by the Ministry of Social Development actually say the answers for Pacific people are often within our own cultures.”

It’s an invaluable programme says Jean, who has seen how it’s worked in the courses she’s run.

“I’ve seen surprise in people when they understand the influence that they do have to support others (if not themselves) to transform their lives out of family violence,” she says.

“Within the training there is a conscious space given to self-review and reflection. For many of the Pacific people that I work with, they just do it because it’s needed, they are needed and there is no time to reflect.”

As a social worker, Jean says it’s important to reflect on yourself and your practice, what you have learned about yourself, the situation you worked in and to ask yourself what you might change that will be good for the next time.

This is most pertinent in the development of safety plans.

“Most people may not have considered safety plans for women or girls in their families, for a ‘just in case’ scenario,” says Jean. “What do we do when danger is circling us? How do we exit from the situation and where do we go to be safe?”

Jean has practiced the development of safety plans in the PFVTP.

“One of the women in the group went back and worked with her women’s fellowship to ask the mothers to develop safety plans for themselves and their daughters, just in case,” she says.

“We don’t judge and say ‘so you’ve been bashed again’, rather we ask ‘can we help you to make a safety plan?’”

Jean emphasises the importance of both the content knowledge, in terms of understanding why particular situations might arise, along with the practical knowledge that people can take away and use very quickly.

“We start by looking at the New Zealand context and how the law and society views family violence and different types of abuse,” says Jean.

“Then we lean into our foundation, our culture(s) to inform the changes that a person can make for themselves or support others whom they influence over.”

2018 Pacific Family Violence Training Programme 

The PFVTP is is in two parts and is intended to build the capability of Pacific providers and practitioners by providing culturally appropriate responses to Pacific individuals and families affected by family violence. 2018 training dates have been scheduled with the first sessions starting in April.