As social services deal with a rise in family violence cases, a dire lack of free, qualified, local psychological support for victims is becoming more apparent with some victims needing to travel out of the city for help.
And while the pandemic has amplified the problem, it's not a new issue.
Mount Maunganui's Dr Tony Farrell said funding for people with mild to moderate mental health problems always ran out "very quickly".
"Getting access to psychological services has been a problem for a while."
Work and Income was sometimes called on for support, but that was only partial funding and Farrell said the cost could become a barrier for couples experiencing domestic violence.
ACC was also a funding avenue as some people had traumatic pasts which impacted their ability to regulate their emotions in day-to-day life.
"Many people with violence issues have co-existing mental health problems such as addictions and getting timely treatment can be an issue."
This created a barrier to support as the stigma of illicit drugs brought with it a reluctance for treatment providers to offer treatment.
Farrell said as well as a shortage of psychologists trained in the complex field of family violence, trust issues; shame and fear of judgement prevented the clients from seeking help.
The biggest shortfall, he said, was the axing of the free counselling to couples that the district court provided up until 2013.
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This service provided six free sessions to people experiencing difficulties and Farrell said it was a "brilliant" preventative measure to family violence.
It also provided help for couples who were separating or trying to work on their issues and for children who were traumatised by violence between parents.
This was cut 2013 years ago by the National Government under former Prime Minister John Key through the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill.
"We need a lot more multi-skilled counsellors who understand mental health and addiction issues as well as a broad understanding of the interpersonal violence literature to be able to offer effective and timely services for these clients."
Holland Beckett Law family law partner Christie McGregor said there was difficulty finding local psychologists for the family violence victims after a spike in cases after the lockdown.
"We have clients having to travel out of the area to access that support."
Lawyers would recommend their clients explore counselling and psychological support if parties were considering separating, and to help with separation and effects of family violence.
"We have noticed difficulty accessing psychologists locally for support for clients," she said.
"Our clients are finding it harder to access the support directly, with a real skill shortage of local psychologists."
Tauranga Living Without Violence practice leader Glynette Gainfort said there was a "significant shortage" of affordable or free trauma-informed psychological services, even before the pandemic.
"The family violence in our community continues to appear to be significant and further specialist supports are urgently needed."
She said they continued to offer a specialist service to perpetrators, victims, and children and hoped other agencies and practices would refer their identified clients - victims and offenders - to them in the first instance.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said one of the biggest challenges to strengthening mental health and addiction treatment was building the workforce.
"That will take time but that process is under way through funding more places in educational institutions and recruitment offshore."
He said the Government committed $320.9 million to address family violence in last year's Budget and a further $202.9m this year.
There had also been $1.9 billion for mental health and addiction nationwide.
He said while the free counselling sessions in the Family Court axed in 2013 were a setback to troubled families, it was not set up to treat those with family violence or complex mental health and addiction.
"There is some access to advice to separating parents for the separation process but we have not yet reinstated the sort of counselling previously available.
This remained a recommendation from the panel which reviewed the Family Court in 2018/19.
Little said the Government had started the process of reforming the Family Court for those working through separations or partnership breakdowns.
Clients are now entitled to access to legal advice from the outset, and legal aid rules have been adjusted, he said, with more help available to parties to find advice and assistance for the legal process.
Justice Under-Secretary Jan Logie while the Government had shown a commitment to addressing family and sexual violence - including budget packages totalling two-thirds of a billion dollars towards frontline services and strategic work - there was a "long way to go".
"It will take a sustained, long-term effort to address decades of neglect and underfunding, and fix our processes and institutions."
Police and domestic violence services in Tauranga saw a surge in the number of family harm incidents during lockdown.
Police data on callouts between March 8 and April 8 showed, on the first day of lockdown, there were 35 calls to police in the Bay of Plenty, 12 more than the same day the previous week.
The highest number of callouts was on April 5 with 52 calls, 13 per cent, or six more than the highest number of callouts in the weeks leading up to the lockdown.
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am-11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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