Māori designed, developed and delivered initiatives to reduce Māori offending and re-offending

Te Whakaruruhau Māori Women's Refuge


The Need

The organisation, founded in 1986, runs a Māori women’s refuge and a general women’s refuge. They provide two safe houses in Hamilton. Operating in a crisis area, they have 27 staff, and operate 24 hours a day. The additional developments of the service, beyond crisis intervention, were initially funded by Te Puni Kōkiri. As an indication of volumes, the statistics for the month of May 2010, including all new and existing cases that staff visit to work alongside, were 392 women with 700 children for both refuges.

When someone needs their services, an assessment is undertaken to determine if the woman wants to come into the refuge, be transferred out or stay in her own home, depending on whether the partner or offender is arrested or at large. In the assessment phase they look at the woman’s personal, social, economic, education, health and cultural needs; if the family is actually participating in the community in any positive ways, and the positive strengths that the family brings with them.

This is the period of time when they negotiate and work with the families. Once the assessment has been done, the woman may be placed in a refuge. If the women needs to get out of her home, and the whānau aren’t there or don’t have the resources to care for her, then she will come into the refuge.

The refuge’s relationships with Crown Agencies are crucial. They may need to work with the Police, Health or Child, Youth and Family services (CYFs) if there are children involved. Sometimes they do notifications to CYFs where there is an unsafe situation but they let the woman know if they are going to do that.

In the post-crisis transition, a range of issues are dealt with to assist the woman and her whānau to identify and progress towards their long term goals. Prevention plans are developed and there is a mix of programmes and individual advocacy and support provided to assist the women through the transition phase, post crisis. Often there is a need around housing, for example. If the whānau do have the ability to house her, they will work alongside them to provide support.

Summary of Services and Approach

Te Whakaruruhau uses whānau-directed strategies. Programmes are completely whānaucentered and not prescribed. As they do not want to make the woman and whānau fit the programme but rather the programme fit them, it varies, depending on circumstances and what the family wants to gain in the future.

Quite a few families and partners of the women work in the refuge with them. All of the programmes are really about supporting the women, adding to the support women receive from their whānau, giving them access to what they need.

Te Whakaruruhau has had a relationship with the Māori Focus Unit of the prison in their region for four years. They were first asked to go into the prison to talk about domestic violence but it soon changed to getting a team of guys to help with things they needed to get done. Those teams have been working with them ever since and the relationship has grown positively. The teams close down and repair houses for those women who have had to flee. These houses are sometimes damaged to the point that repairs incur bills upwards of $16,000 owed to Housing NZ.

Te Whakaruruhau staff work with the women to help them decide whether or not they want to integrate back into their families, and once all that is settled, they move the women to the wellbeing side of their programme. Here, it is about supporting progress towards the vision of where these women want to go with their lives, and seeking support from their extended whānau.

The Results

Key findings from research on Te Whakaruruhau’s programmes are that strategies have to be whānau driven and that there has to be resources to go with it. Crown Agencies need to get these resources to the whānau and to the people who can support those whānau.

Te Whakaruruhau facilitates a lot of restorative work that families can do together, with each other. Men are also being supported by mentors, not just from the Māori Focus Unit but also men from families who are committed to working with the refuge to realise their goals. They are integrating a lot more men back into the families.

The refuge has good relationships with Crown agencies.

Key Points

  • In the last three weeks, they have dealt with five serious assaults on children. Three children made statements to Police. This is not usual and poses worrying questions about what is going on in the community.
  • They need some of the Crown agencies to work more quickly in dealing with the needs of the women who come to the refuge as their processes are too slow. This barrier makes it difficult for the families that they work with to progress. The crisis team is usually the one that works fastest and hence Te Whakaruruhau staff will link into those groups after-hours and during working hours to try to get whatever that family needs immediately.
  • They network and collaborate, doing anything and everything necessary to meet the needs of the whānau. The staff members negotiate with Crown agencies to make things easier for the women.
  • There is a need for more men to get onboard to play a mentoring role. Over the years they have had three men who were willing to do this at any time of the day.
  • What they want is for the Crown agencies to walk with them as that is how they will come to understand their needs. “Our words are different, our interpretations are different”.

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