The InterAction Collection

Using the Solution Focus Approach in the New Zealand Police with Young Offenders

with Emma Burns

May 16, 2021

Emma Burns, Greg Oberbeck


Solution Focused Practice within the Police. Yes, you read that correctly, the use of Solution Focused Practice within the Police. Emma Burns talks about a government initiative in New Zealand to identify and support young people to help them avoid a road of offending and instead be on a path towards a better life. While that was the initial aim, even more has been achieved in the work Emma has been doing.

Emma gives an excellent overview of how she applies the Solution Focus approach with some of Andrew Turnell’s Signs of Safety model in order to effectively meet people where they are at in their lives and focus on their hopes and the future that they are after. In doing this work and treating each individual as a person as opposed to “an offender” you hear about how those people make changes in their lives in ways that are right for them and that come from them instead of the professionals.

Working in this way has led to amazing outcomes from a young person and family perspective as well as that of an organisational perspective with 89% of young people no longer coming to the attention of the Police and an additional 9% of young people only coming to the attention of the Police for very minor incidents.

The impact of the work has also been seen in the transformation with the Police Officers. Emma talks about how the Police now go into family homes asking questions about how best to interact with young people as opposed to rushing in and trying to instantly take control of a situation, which is amazing to hear about.

The message that resonates with me after watching the video is the phrase, “We can.” This is something that you hear from the young people and their families, feeling like they can do this and often are already doing it. It is also a message echoed by the Police who have had some insight to a Solution Focused way of working saying that they feel that they can really make a difference, even if it’s a short conversation that they are having. I know that I have that same motivation and inspiration after watching this video, and I hope you do as well!

About the speaker Emma Burns

Emma is a registered psychologist, having worked for NZ Police since 2010. She has spent eight years using the Solution Focused approach working with young offenders, and has recently moved into Whängaia Ngä Pä Harakeke, the new approach to family harm within Police. Prior to this, Emma has worked in mental health, education and suicide bereavement.

Emma has spoken at the Solution Focused World Conference in Frankfurt in 2017, and at the Australasian Association of Solution Focused Brief Therapy conference in Melbourne in 2018. She is the vice-president of the AASFBT and coordinates the Hawke’s Bay Solution Focused practitioners’ group. Emma is also the mother of four children, and a competitive swimmer.

About the reviewer Greg Oberbeck

I am a Qualified Social Worker and UKASFP Accredited Solution Focused Practitioner with a Diploma in Solution Focused Practice from BRIEF in London. I have been using the Solution Focused approach for over six years now with families and young people on the edge of care within a local government setting as well as more recently providing telephone coaching for a charity in London and working in my own private practice. I also provide SF Supervision as well as deliver Solution Focused training in a way that invites people to think about how to apply the approach in a way that works for them, their organisation and most importantly the people they’re aiming to support.

Emma Burns
Emma Burns
InterAction Contributor

I am a psychologist with a passion for the Solution Focused approach.

Greg Oberbeck
Greg Oberbeck
InterAction Contributor

Greg has been using the Solution Focused approach for over ten years now with a particular focus on family work.