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Reporting of family harm incidents in Waitaki is increasing exponentially, local experts say.

But whether the increase was due to the public being more willing to report issues or more offences being committed was hard to know, Safer Waitaki community development co-ordinator Helen Algar said.

The increase in reports was raised at a recent Waitaki District Council meeting by Mrs Algar.

But family harm was just one of the safety and wellbeing issues the community faced, she said.

“Everything is connected – family violence, mental health, addiction.

“There is a distinct lack of services for men.”

Sergeant Blair Wilkinson, of Oamaru police, said the higher level of reporting of family harm was not necessarily reflective of more offences being committed.

Those affected were more ready to ask for help – and witnesses and bystanders were more prepared to call police, Sgt Wilkinson said.

In the past three months, police have attended 131 family harm call-outs in Waitaki.

“These include incidents where violence has occurred, but the majority are other types of conflict, which are often resolved without prosecution,” he said.

“The police ‘prevention first’ strategy involves identifying risk to families earlier and working with other agencies to minimise the risk of harm and ensure safety.

“In many cases, families that police are attending family harm incidents with are also coming to the attention of other agencies and providers.”

There was also a difference between the terms “family harm” and “family violence”.

“When we talk about family harm incidents, we are not necessarily talking about family violence,” Sgt Wilkinson said.

“Obviously if somebody has assaulted somebody, that is family violence. We will attend that and it will be recorded as family harm.

“Whereas if we get a call to a couple arguing or someone is concerned about something going on at their neighbour’s address, we might find no violence has occurred, but we may discover that there is some child neglect going on, or drug or alcohol abuse – it is still identified as family harm.”

Every family harm incident attended involved information sharing with other organisations.

Family Violence Interagency Response meetings are held weekly in Waitaki and are attended by police, Oranga Tamariki, Women’s Refuge, community mental health services, Family Start, Ministry of Social Development, Department of Corrections and Victim Support.

This enabled a collaborative approach to be taken to achieve the best outcomes for those Waitaki families, Sgt Wilkinson said.

“Many of the family harm incidents that do result in charges being laid are now going through the restorative justice process, which has resulted in a decrease in reoffending.”