Helping children in Aotearoa lead lives free from violence is the catch-cry of this year's annual Women's Refuge appeal, which starts on Monday.

The nationwide campaign is targeted at raising funds to go towards meeting the costs for services that the refuge provides for children across the country.

Figures show that just less than half of the more than 40,000 women and children referred to Women's Refuge last year were children.

Women's Refuge Chief Executive Dr Ang Jury said: "We know that the impact of exposure to family violence is devastating for children, with some kids saying that witnessing family violence is more distressing than being the direct victims of violence by adults.

"Living with violence creates a sense of constant anxiety and stress, and this stress can damage if it's too much or lasts too long. When these tiny minds are exposed to severe, frequent, or ongoing stressful situations it can lead to an over-sensitive stress response.


"We can help them heal from this by providing one-on-one advocacy, programmes and workshops, groups - channels where kids can talk about their experiences in a safe and healing space," Dr Jury said.

Recent refuge statistics indicate that the demand for refuge services for children will continue to increase over the next four to five years, requiring more child advocates and more money to help fund the critical work they do to reduce the trauma of children's experiences and break the cycle of violence.

Hastings Women's Refuge manager Julie Hart said that, unfortunately, it was constantly busy. "We don't believe the domestic violence rate is increasing but there is evidence that people asking for help has. It is great that people feel free to come to us for help.

"Now we've also got employers, family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues calling on behalf of someone else," Ms Hart said.

While Women's Refuge has government contracts with Ministry of Justice and Child Youth and Family to provide children's programmes, the organisation is largely unfunded for the one-on-one specialised work they do with children which is mostly absorbed in to other streams of income or shouldered by the refuges themselves.

"Trained child advocates and child-focused services are critical to addressing family violence. Lack of funding for these services for children means that many refuges are unable to retain trained and skilled child advocates, or that the child advocate role is amalgamated into another existing role. Essentially our refuges have to choose between being able to offer appropriate services for tamariki and paying the power bill," Dr Jury said.

She said they needed the help of the New Zealand public to donate to the annual appeal in order to do their work.

"The kids we work with tell us that they just want to be listened to, have their opinions, thoughts and ideas taken seriously, and be told what is going on. We need to be listening to, and supporting, children who experience family violence in the ways that they need."


The 2017 annual appeal will run for four weeks and donations can be made via the website, or by looking out for Women's Refuge Street collectors.