The Practicality of Domestic Violence Leave

28th of November, 2019

Business woman looking contemplatively at phone

As of April 2019, the New Zealand Government has adopted the Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Act in response to the country’s staggering family violence statistics. This act has been praised by news media and family violence agencies alike, but what does it actually mean for employers and their employees affected by violence?

According to Employment New Zealand, the Act “adds legal protections in the workplace for people affected by domestic violence.” These protections include the right for employees to take at least 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, ask for up to two-months of flexible working arrangements, and not be treated adversely in the workplace because of their experiences.

Kayla* had only recently started her new job when she decided to seek help with her violent relationship. She joined Aviva’s group programme for women experiencing violence but realised she would need to miss work to attend the full course. Her support worker encouraged her to seek leave and assisted in setting out the terms for her request. Having been a past donor, her CEO Mike* was already familiar with Aviva services. “We were sympathetic to her situation and saddened that it was occurring. We had no hesitation in approving the request for DV leave,” he says. “[The programme] really did help me to understand the cycle of violence, and finally allow me to let go,” Kayla explains. “It really would not have been possible without the support of my work and the ability to have the leave.”

The benefits of the Act are clear, but Aviva General Manager Nicki O’Donnell notes that there is still a gap. “For us, it’s all about inclusiveness. You can’t change the cycle of violence if you are only working with people experiencing family violence." Aviva believes in everyone’s potential to become a better parent, partner or citizen and that, in order to achieve a violence free society, people using violence need to be included in the conversation.

There are other practical barriers to requesting leave. Admitting you are experiencing or using violence is a highly difficult process. People often feel shame, guilt, or confusion, and may be uncomfortable discussing their situation with friends or family, let alone an employer. The legislation’s lack of a confidentiality policy and the employers’ right to ask for proof further discourages people from reaching out. Although a high-risk situation may have a police report attached, most of the violence taking place today will never come to the attention of the police or professional services. Someone experiencing violence may not have “proof” to give.

Nicki explains that as part of the Human Resources team at Aviva, she would not ask for proof of domestic violence. “When people come and ask you [for domestic violence leave], they are courageous to say something is not right. As much as employers may have a DV policy in place, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Mike agrees with the need for flexibility, having ignored his own six-month service requirement to grant Kayla’s request. “We would approach each situation independently, rather than be guided by policy,” he explains. Mike and Kayla further emphasise the value organisations like Aviva can offer, whether it be acting as a liaison, giving guidance, or offering peace of mind. “With all you are already going through and have been through, it’s nice to have the support in place,” Kayla says.

Although Mike’s understanding helped Kayla to overcome a violent situation, it may not be that way for everyone. “It’s easy for us to say come and talk. But will they?” Nicki asks. Aviva has created “Let’s Talk / Me KĊrero” to help start the conversation. If you are interested in making sure everyone in your workplace feels safe and respected to come forward with their experience, contact community@avivafamilies.org.nz to find out more.

 

*Not their real names

 

Nicola Says Farewell After 8 Years of Leadership and Innovation

28th of November, 2019

Nicola with Aviva banner

Nicola Woodward has led Aviva since 2011, formerly as CEO and most recently as Director of Strategy and Innovation. She will leave us shortly before Christmas after eight years of service to the agency and the communities we support.

Nicola joined Aviva, known then as Christchurch Women’s Refuge (CWR), following the agency’s decision to disaffiliate from the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. The decision was based on the recognition that it needed to develop a whole family approach and change the way it provides services if we wanted to achieve our goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence.

After 30 years in related fields, Nicola brought a wealth of experience in innovating, leading and transforming government and societal responses to deeply embedded problems. This included her frontline work setting up London’s first needle exchange and harm minimisation service, to developing national policies in the UK to address the multiple effects of social inequalities. Nicola used this experience to explore the contemporary benefits, limitations and unintended consequences of the refuge model CWR founded in 1973. “The public perception, shared by many women, was that we had to leave our relationships, homes and employment, remove our children from school, and enter a refuge to become safe. One of the unintended consequences of this was that it placed the burden of responsibility on women to take action to become safe and protect our children.”

Nicola encouraged another perspective. “Achieving a violence free New Zealand calls for all of us to reflect personally on how we see and behave towards others.” In particular, she elaborated, “Men who are using violence bring their personal stories too. To support individuals and families to become safe, we need to understand all of our past experiences and influences.” In 2012, in partnership with Canterbury Police, Aviva developed the award winning ReachOut service for men using, or at risk of using, violence. Our services further expanded to include specialist youth  services to respond to the growing problem of adolescent intimate partner violence and familial violence, evidence-based specialist peer support services, and microfinance services. In 2014, Aviva and START partnered to  rapidly develop the Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) following the sudden closure of the Monarch Centre. “Our mindset has changed. Our language has changed. Our name has changed. Our behaviours have changed. But our purpose is the same,” explains Nicola.

One of Nicola’s biggest challenges during her time with Aviva has been co-leading the development of The Loft with other partner agencies. “People and families experiencing violence have a broad range of needs that have to be addressed quickly to enable safety. The Loft’s emerging model of frontline, management and leadership practice makes it much easier for families to access support and much easier for practitioners across multiple organisations to work together,” Nicola explains. “Since opening The Loft we’ve connected with hundreds of individuals and families who would otherwise not have asked for help.” Nicola describes The Loft as a “manifestation” of everything Aviva has aspired to become since she joined eight years ago. “I still go into the reception to welcome the courageous people walking through the door and think, ‘We made it. We actually did it!’”

This courageous and innovative woman has made a significant contribution to Aviva and our purpose to enable New Zealand to become violence-free. “What I takeaway isn’t so much a sense of pride, it’s an inner strength that comes from remaining true to why we’re here as an organisation and what I believe in as a human being.” As Aviva looks to its future, Nicola offers some departing advice, “Keeping hold of our truth means continuing to listen, learn and remain generous; to explore, innovate and partner to achieve more for children and families than we can alone. But most of all, I’d encourage us all to deepen our belief in everyone’s intrinsic goodness and our collective potential to enable Aotearoa New Zealand to become violence free.”

 

Motivating Families to Reach Their Full Potential

28th of November, 2019

“Great man.”

“Natural empathy.”

“Life which he shares and he’s not afraid of.”

Nicky at the Loft with quote

This is how clients describe their Aviva Family Support Worker Nicky Sofai, as he approaches almost 20 years of service in the sector. After years of work in alcohol and drug counselling, facilitating restorative justice, and working as a private consultant for family violence, Nicky has brought his talents to Aviva. He works with everyone, men, women, youth, and the children in our Tamariki Group. “What I love about Aviva is that we work with the whole  family, people using violence and experiencing violence. Including children,” Nicky says. His primary focus, and where he has proven highly instrumental, is his work with ReachOut for people using violence or at risk of using violence.

Nicky has his own experience witnessing violence as a child in Samoa, describing how his father would drink and become violent towards his mother. He remembers how it affected him growing up and starting a family while dealing with his own problems with alcohol. For many years, he never questioned his drinking, it was just what they did in his family. He recalls finishing work, going straight to the pub and drinking into the late hours of the night without pause. “Then one day deciding I’d had enough,” he says. “I wanted to take my children out of that kind of life. That motivated me to keep going.” Nicky had built a successful business in Samoa, but he understood that, “the only way to live and fulfill my family was come here and start all over again.” He brought his family to New Zealand to do just that. “Coming here. It was good. It gave me an opportunity to raise my own kids the way I believe.”

After stopping drinking, moving away from the violence that plagued his childhood, and making a better life for his family where his children could thrive, Nicky was inspired to support other families to overcome their own struggles. “I love to see families doing well. I love to see happy, successful, healthy, wealthy families without violence,” he says. If that means sharing his own story, he is not afraid to do so. “I had so many people asking, ‘Have you ever had any experience with alcohol or drugs.’ I replied, ‘Well, I did study, but at the same time, you want to know about my experience, where do you want to  start?’ If part of my life journey can be to help to motivate someone, I will openly share it.”

That openness and empathy is what makes Nicky so good at what he does. He never fails to see the strength or goodness in a person. Even when speaking of his own father’s violence, he describes him as “an awesome dad” and expresses a gratitude for their reconciliation. When talking about his ReachOut clients, Nicky says, “There’s still a good person. There’s still potential. They have so much strength in them. They just have rubbish on top of them.” These people are willingly choosing to enter the service, admitting that they are using violence, and working to make a better life for their families and their children. Similar to Nicky, many bring their own stories of witnessing or experiencing violence, addiction, or struggling with mental health. “It inspires me to see just whoever is sitting in front of me. They’re so full of potential,” Nicky says. “It’s the people that make me keep going.”

The work of people like Nicky relies on the generosity and support of the community. To support our staff in their work to help people overcome the long-term effects of violence, please make a donation at donate.avivafamilies.org.nz.

“There is a light at the other end of the tunnel and Aviva is one of those places that can give you hope.” -Nicky

 

Learning to Understand Himself

28th of November, 2019

Couple piggy back

Aviva receives approximately 4000 calls for support a year. Recently, we received a call that was a little different. A woman called just to say thank you, not for herself, but for her partner who received support through Aviva’s ReachOut service. After just a couple of months, she said he had completely changed.

Trent* came to Aviva after his partner recommended it to him. “We were going through some troubles and realised we needed some help with things,” he explains. Trent had been through three anger management courses and supervision prior to coming to Aviva. “But this guy here,” he says, indicating his support worker Nicky, “out of all the professional help I’ve received, this guy is the best!” Trent elaborates, “He talked and listened. That’s the most important thing. And I knew he was listening because he gave me the right answers!”

Trent has struggled with anger and needing to prove himself right for years. Through his past courses, Trent built up a toolbox of communication skills and tactics for removing himself from situations where he described himself as “quite scary.” The tools were helpful, but he continued to find himself struggling with relationships. When he came to Aviva, he finally began to understand the “why” behind his anger and work through his past trauma. “[Nicky has helped me] to be able to allow myself to grieve. Allow myself to feel happiness not as a foreign feeling. He’s very naturally pin-pointed key points to the puzzle that I’ve been looking for, for quite a few years.” Trent recalls how he was treated as a child for his ADHD and how he has seen those experiences reflected in his own children after they were given the same diagnosis. “ADHD kids were always seen as naughty and punished for it,” he explains.

Having already put in years of work to learn the right tools for controlling his anger, Aviva and Nicky may have just been there at the right time and with the right listening ear; but the improvement Trent has made is undeniable. Trent describes his current relationship with his partner as, “Fantastic!” but what he says has changed the most is other people’s response toward him.

Trent now uses what he has learned every day. Whether it is being a better partner, helping his children avoid the same challenges his ADHD gave him, or his interactions with others, Trent says, “I just like people to be happy and good. I don’t like to see people unhappy.”

As Trent continues to work on himself and his understanding, we hope he and the people in his life have a future full of love and happiness.

 

*Not his real name

 

Partnering to Make Homes Safer

27th of June, 2019

Aviva and Cowdy real estate have recently formed a partnership which will help some Christchurch renters to better access social support.

As property managers, Cowdy staff sometimes encountered situations that they were uncomfortable with when they went into rental houses. Not knowing the best way to deal with those situations, which have included meeting people who were confrontational or those with obvious signs of anxiety or distress, left some of the team feeling outside their comfort zone.

Aviva was able to facilitate some conversations with the Cowdy Sales and Property Management team around possible scenarios and options; this conversation very quickly proved useful. Janice Cowdy, Director of the Property Management division, says “Catherine, one of our staff, recently had concerns about a client she visited. She asked how things were going and it turned out the client and her partner were arguing a lot more than usual. Having been part of the session with Aviva, Catherine felt comfortable enough to encourage her client to sit down and have a conversation, and to suggest where she could get some support. Catherine didn’t think she would have done that before she’d been part of the conversation with Aviva.”

Having the confidence to reach out is exactly what Aviva was hoping to help build, says Communications Manager Julie McCloy. “For some people, the property manager may be the only person they see or speak to all week. We want to help people feel confident enough to have conversations where they would naturally occur – that could be with your hairdresser, your personal trainer, or your property manager. You don’t have to know all the answers, but be willing to talk and listen, and know where to direct people to. That is how we as a community help people overcome family violence, or other issues in their life.”

Aviva also provided practical resources (e.g. numbers to call, business cards for The Loft, which hosts a range of services, including Aviva) that could be given out to clients, and their Safety in the Field policy, to make home visits as safe as possible for Cowdy staff. In return, Cowdy will support Aviva with regular donations, to enable the organisation to keep offering their free services to those who need them.

“It’s a natural alignment for us” says Janice. “We sometimes see situations within people’s homes that other people don’t. We are not specialists in dealing with this, but if we have the tools to do a little more to help our tenants be safe, we want to know how to do that.”

 

We Couldn't Do This Without You

18th of June, 2019

Did you know that Aviva benefitted from 7,943 hours of GIFTED time last year? In recognition of their dedicated service, two of our fabulous volunteers, Renata Hopkins and Bev Shepherd, received Volunteer Recognition Awards from Volunteer Canterbury on 17 June 2019.

“There were so many volunteer groups that I’ve never heard about. It was amazing,” says Bev. “I felt slightly embarrassed because I was like, why am I  getting this award? I said to the other volunteers in the team that the award was really for all of us,” Renata explains.

Renata (left) and Ruth Dyson MP at awards ceremony. Bev (right) and Aviva staff member Tania at the awards ceremony.

Renata joined Aviva’s Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) as a volunteer almost a year and a half ago. Renata’s mother had been a  volunteer for Aviva when it was still a women’s refuge, creating a natural interest for her. She often works the overnight shifts for the 24/7 SASSC helpline. “Sometimes you just have to get up, put your clothes on and go," she says, describing her latenight shifts supporting people at medical examinations.

As a freelance writer, Renata has plenty of experience speaking with people about their stories. She brings those skills to her work with SASSC. “You’re there to listen and help in whatever way you can, even if that’s just making a cup of tea,” she says. “I’m always amazed by how brave and strong people are, despite the traumatic experience they’ve been through.”

Bev has been working as an administrative volunteer at Aviva for almost three years. After she retired, she immediately turned around and said, “It’s time to give back to the community.” Bev does everything – filing, copying, cleaning, picking up donations, refueling cars. Her supervisor Tania Kitto says, “She is always willing to go above and beyond with a smile and willingness. We are so grateful to have such a willing, efficient, flexible volunteer of time and tasks – a volunteer extraordinaire!” Bev explains, “You do it because you want to help out. And for your own mental health. Giving is really good for your own mental health.”

Bev recalls her own experience overcoming domestic violence and being reliant on her grandmother to take her in. At the time, refuges and family violence services were not as prevalent as they are now. When she first started looking for volunteer opportunities, she knew she wanted to support family violence services and make sure the people going through similar situations have the support she did not. “It’s a worldwide issue,” she elaborates. “I’ll stay here as long as they want me. I really enjoy it. I can’t think of any reason I would leave unless they don’t need me anymore.”

Aviva relies on the generosity of caring individuals like Renata and Bev to play an active part in their community by gifting their time, skills, and energy to help others. If you are interested in volunteering with Aviva, there are several ways. You can volunteer regularly like Renata and Bev, or just for one-off projects. To find out more, contact enquiries@avivafamilies.org.nz.

“Get started! It’s a great place to come and volunteer!” -Bev.

 

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Visits Aviva and The Loft

3rd of June, 2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visiting The Loft with Poto Williams MP and Nicola Woodward.

In April 2019, Aviva was excited to welcome Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to The Loft. The goal of her visit was to learn more about Aviva’s approach to family and sexual violence, and The Loft’s integrated model for addressing social inequalities and their impact on wellbeing.

According to data released by the New Zealand Police in June 2019, the police are called every four minutes to investigate an episode of family harm, 14% of young people report being hit or physically harmed on purpose by an adult at home, and 50% of New Zealand homicides are caused by family violence. “New Zealand stats have been abysmal for a very long time and we’ve known it for a very long time,” Director of Innovation and Strategy Nicola Woodward explains. “However, we don’t know if the most recent increased number of police call outs reflects an increase in family violence or an increase in people’s trust that if they call the police, they’ll get the help they need.”

Prime Minister Ardern’s visit came shortly after the government's announcement that it would invest in the development of services for family and sexual violence. Ardern stated, “My goal has always been for New Zealand to be the best place in the world to be a child and that means supporting parents and communities to ensure children grow up in secure homes free from violence.”

Aviva has been developing its holistic child and family centered approach to family violence since 2011, recognising the importance of pro-actively reaching out and earlier intervention in breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence to achieve this very goal. During her visit, Ardern dropped in on a Peer Support community training course to meet people with lived experience of overcoming violence and joined Plunket’s infant drop-in clinic. She also connected with practitioners from across The Loft partners to discuss the most critical issues facing New Zealand families. “It’s very promising and it indicates movement in the right direction,” Nicola says regarding the government’s interest in Aviva and The Loft’s service models. “The ability to achieve Aviva’s and The Loft’s potential for children, families and communities is not only subject to transforming how we respond to family and sexual violence, but also transforming how the government responds. We’re all parts of one interdependent system.”

Since the Prime Minister’s visit, The Loft partners have been invited to submit a funding proposal to government to support and develop The Loft's approach for children and families. The Loft sits at the heart of Aviva’s strategy to change how we respond to family violence and sexual violence. Family violence and problems closely connected with violence, such as mental ill health, are the main reasons people walk through The Loft front door. The government’s recognition of The Loft model and Aviva’s approach is highly encouraging as we continue our journey to create the best possible response model to family and sexual violence.

Sadly, demand for Aviva’s services always exceeds the funding we receive from government. Please consider helping us in creating a better world for our children by making a donation at donate.avivafamilies.org.nz.

 

Roz is Finally Feeling Safe at Home

2nd of May, 2019

Women and childSince Roz undertook Aviva’s family violence education programme, she can recognise straight away those who haven’t in the Facebook support group she is part of. “They are still asking themselves what they have done wrong” she says. “They don’t realise that the problem isn’t them.”

Roz knows what it is like to blame and question yourself. She was with a person she describes as a narcissist for nine and a half years. During that time, they had had a daughter together, a sister for Roz’s older son.

Roz met her ex-partner when she was in her early 20s. When she caught him cheating on her 30th birthday, she made the decision to end the relationship; it took ten months to physically leave. “People say ‘why don’t you just leave?’. He had manipulated me for so long, saying ‘you can’t make it without me, no-one else is going to want you’ – you believe it. We had a child together and you’re going to lose a lot of people in your life – our daughter’s grandparents, her aunts and uncles – it’s like chopping off half of your life.”

When she did leave, the abuse got worse.[1]“I moved to a farm in Kaiapoi. He would come to my place at night and shine torchlight through the windows so I couldn’t sleep. He tried to take our daughter; turned the lights of my car on to run the battery flat; and took a log splitter to my front door to steal back the family dog.”

Roz went into a safe house several times. “Once whilst I was there, he rammed the farm gates with his SUV, then left two other gates open, letting the bull and dog out – he got run over. The second time I came home to a broken bedroom window.” He watched her house constantly, texting Roz demanding to know who was visiting. One day he called her over 200 times. Unsurprisingly, Roz had to take stress leave from her job.

Roz estimates that she called the Police at least 30 times. They issued Police Safety Orders, and she got trespass, protection and parenting orders. “None of it seemed to deter him.” Although Roz moved, her ex found out her new location. After picking her children up from the school bus one day, he chased them at 160km/hr. Roz moved again and had Whanau Protect security measures installed by the Battered Women’s Trust. Shortly after, she undertook Aviva’s 10-week education programme.

“I did group twice. The first time I didn’t take it all in and felt I needed to brush up on the skills I’d learnt. The education made me feel sane – I wasn’t the only one this happened to. I learned about the cycle of violence, the hearts and flowers tactics etc – everything. I think the education was great and I’d recommend it to everyone. I’m far more confident and resilient now.”

Roz’ son and daughter also did the ten-week Tamariki group. “My daughter was having nightmares and my son was very anxious about going out anywhere. I could see the growth slowly from the beginning of the programme and they still use the tools they learned in group. The anger rules help my daughter process and label her emotions, and my son now will remove himself from a situation that is upsetting him and get some space to get his mind straight.”

The harassment suddenly stopped two years ago, “but I still lock my door and am super-vigilant. I’ve changed my entire routine – when and where I shop, my phone number, everything. We’re recovering and life is a hell of a lot more peaceful. To someone else going through what I did I’d say there are lots of people and organisations to help you – let them. Use all the resources you are offered. You can do it, and life will get better.”


[1] 50% of Intimate Partner Violence deaths occur at the time of separation. (Family Violence Death Review Committee 4th report. (2014).)

 

Sharing Wisdom and Inspiring Change

2nd of May, 2019

Carol BrownIn her 10 years with Aviva Carol has supported thousands of women and children to become safer. Working with people through some of the hardest times in their lives - trauma, grief, fear and hurt - may not sound like what most of us want to do every day, but Carol Brown loves working with women and children who have experienced family violence, and seeing them flourish.

Carol is well known within the Christchurch family violence sector in which she has spent 15 years supporting others, and recently celebrated her ten-year anniversary with Aviva. Carol thinks she will be at Aviva until she retires – and then probably still supporting women experiencing violence in some way; it’s her passion.

What initially inspired Carol into the work was her own experience of an abusive relationship in her first marriage. She had utilised safe house services and swore that she would help other women to become safe once she got herself sorted out. “A lot of people think it is just an issue that affects lower socioeconomic groups, but I’ve seen violence that goes all the way up the social scale” Carol says. “A really big thing – and I experienced it myself – is the ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ attitude. People have no understanding of the absolute pressure – trying to manage an abusive partner’s behaviour, manage children and their behaviour which may be affected by what is happening around them, perhaps being the breadwinner for the family. How does she get the time or energy to work out how to do that?”

When things improved for Carol she made good on her vow to help. She began volunteering on an after-hours crisis line and collecting women who needed access to a safe house before eventually becoming employed as Safe House Supervisor and volunteer coordinator. Since joining Aviva in 2009 Carol has had a range of roles including Women’s Services Manager; Earthquake Coordinator; safe@home Coordinator; Independent Victims Specialist (as part of the ISR pilot) and now as Senior Practitioner leading group education for both women and children. “What I love about working at Aviva is the team, and the teamwork; it really is like a family.  Everyone is professional in the way they do their jobs and there is always someone to talk things through with. There’s also real variety and challenge in the work. You never know what the day will bring.”

It can be hard, demanding and stressful, so what makes it all worthwhile for Carol? “What I really love most is when you engage with women and begin giving them the tools to recognise what is happening to them and their children” she says. “Just providing that support and knowledge to help them address what is going on, letting them see that there are options available, and then supporting them to make good choices.

“I see women coming into (education) group so laden with shame, guilt and stress, not knowing which way to turn. By the end of the (10 week) programme the changes are amazing – some of these women are barely recognisable. The guilt and shame are gone and placed where they should be – with the abusive person. And that group dynamic is a real force – they are empowered by being part of a group. They realise the behaviours of their abusive partner are not about them (the women) or their fault, because other people’s partners have the same behaviours. I feel very humbled when you see how hard many of those women work, and very humbled that they think so much of you for helping. Many of them aren’t used to having someone help them.”

When it comes to children, the work is much harder Carol says, but just as rewarding. “It’s about developing a good rapport and creating a safe environment to talk about what is happening. It’s about building safety all around them, so that they know that there is someone who is going to listen and believe them. You get disclosures sometimes (e.g. sexual abuse) and, although that is awful, I feel really good that those children feel safe enough to talk about it in group. You leave them all with a bond. They know we’re a team here – someone may be working with them, someone else with mum and/or dad. They know we have their back.”

Aviva services are only partially government funded (60%) and the rest are funded by community support and generosity. If you would like to support Carol and her colleagues to continue helping more women and children overcome the effects of violence, please make a donation at donate.avivafamilies.org.nz

 

Findings of The Loft Evaluation - "the word collaboration doesn't even capture it"

2nd of May, 2019

The Loft In mid-2018, after two initial years of operation, The Loft (which Aviva, with partner agencies, established in mid-2016) commissioned its first evaluation. The findings, presented in late December, have demonstrated that the aspirations of Loft partners in creating this new way of providing wellbeing support are being successfully met.

The Loft is a collaborative partnership of community, social and health services working to improve the wellbeing of all people in our community. The first evaluation of its effectiveness included interviews with internal and external stakeholders (including clients), as well as use of data collected from clients over the previous two years on their experience of The Loft.

Clients, staff and external stakeholders all commented that The Loft’s location is working very well at providing services in a place and space that is highly accessible in terms of mobility, personal safety and connection to transport links. Client feedback reinforced that The Loft is a safe and non-stigmatising space for individuals and families, and somewhere that is increasingly visible and embedded in the local community. One client described their experience in this way: “When you walk in, it’s like Oh My God, it’s like my second house. … They make you feel like a human. They don’t make you feel like a number”. This may explain why word-of-mouth inspired self-referral is the most common access path to Loft services. 

Many people using The Loft identify multiple, co-existing needs - most commonly mental health, family violence, financial issues, housing, care and protection of children, and alcohol or drug concerns - and feedback indicates that The Loft is successfully making access to multiple services for those with complex needs easier. The Loft offers a Social Emergency Response Service (SERS) which means that people are not required to diagnose their own needs and then seek out help from multiple sources; the SERS team does that for them, thus removing those barriers which are part of the traditional social service system. After identifying their primary need, The Loft can facilitate the development of a relationship with an appropriate agency, and even provide some practical support around food parcels, clothing or other items. In its first two years SERS has supported over 600 individuals and families, usually unconnected with other support agencies. Thirty percent identify as Maori 76% have dependent children; most are between 25-45 years and 70% live in Christchurch’s eastern suburbs. 

Because 40% of people entering The Loft identify family violence as a significant issue for them, the role of Te Ara Atea – Family Violence Wayfinder, was created. This person offers short-term support and make safe interventions until a specialist family violence agency can take over for longer-term support. The evaluation indicated that supports for people experiencing family violence were seen to reach children, young people, women, men and all people using violence and/or being subjected to violence. Practitioners of non-family violence related services based at The Loft said that their own understanding of and ability to recognise family violence had also grown.

Feedback from both clients and workers based at The Loft also suggested that services are indeed being delivered in a more coordinated and integrated fashion than has happened in standalone services, thanks to the Navigator service, as well as the ease of connection between practitioners and agencies.  This prompted one Loft client to say “The Loft is perfect. That’s all I can say. They should have The Loft in every city in the country.” 

One external stakeholder reflected that “(The Loft has) put out the challenge really, about this is how services can operate collectively without that whole sense of competition… And it’s the kind of stuff that we’ve talked about in the social sector for a long time.”

The Loft evaluation is available to view at wwwtheloftchristchurch.org.nz