• Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

"The Government's new Family Start programme has taken a big step forward, with the signing of the first contract for the delivery of Family Start services," the Ministers of Education, Health and Social Services, Work and Income announced today.

"The contract signed today with Tipu Ora marks significant progress towards the delivery of Family Start services in Rotorua," Education Minister Wyatt Creech said.

"Family Start is an exciting new programme designed to help families in the greatest need from the birth of their baby, if necessary, right up to the time the child starts school. Assistance will be provided in the family home by skilled family workers, committed to making a difference.

"Family Start is an important element of the Government's Strengthening Families Strategy which co-ordinates health, education and welfare services for high risk families in need of help.. Family Start will make a difference for children now and in the future," Mr Creech said.

Family Start in Rotorua is due to begin helping families from December this year. It is expected that at least 100 families will be receiving Family Start services by July next year and 300 by year three of the programme when it is fully operational.

Maternity carers, well child providers and general practitioners will be asked to identify families who they think would benefit most from the Family Start service around the time of the birth of a child. Tipu Ora will work with the family to assess their needs and strengths, and actions they need to take to build a better future for their children and themselves.

The Family Start programme is in addition to the services Tipu Ora already provide to children and families - it does not replace those services. Tipu Ora is a Maori community health mother and child support programme.

The Family Start service in Rotorua is one of three prototype services funded by Government. The others are in Whangarei and Ranui-Massey (West Auckland). In addition, the Early Start programme in Christchurch will be extended. These initiatives were announced in April this year and the contract with Tipu Ora in Rotorua is the first of them to be signed. Tipu Ora's contract is with the Early Childhood Development Unit Board.

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What are the key features of the Family Start programme?

It is preventative - providing support for families with new born infants rather than waiting until a crisis occurs;
It provides additional support to families to meet health, education and welfare needs through one service rather than sector specific services;
It is family focused working with all members of the family;
It is voluntary;
It is based on family workers working alongside parents in the home;
It is intensive - depending on the level of need - and sustained if necessary up until the child goes to school

What's new about the programme?

The programme builds on work already undertaken by many agencies throughout New Zealand to provide a more intensive home based preventative programme for families with newborn infants. Family Start services will work with families at highest risk to help them meet the needs of their children. The programme is a joint Education, Health and Welfare initiative, and is part of Government's Strengthening Families Strategy. It complements the collaborative approach being taken by government, Education, Health and Welfare agencies to family support cases they have in common.

How will families access the programme?

Through referral from medical professionals such as GPs, midwives and nurses at the time of the birth of a child into the family. Referrals will be discussed with the family where it is considered that they could significantly benefit from the programme. Parents must agree to the referral.

The Family Start workers will then work with the family to assess the level of service required.

What will the family workers do?

In practical terms the family worker will work with the family to develop a plan to meet their needs, building on the strengths already there. The functions of the family worker include:

- providing advice and help to meet family needs e.g. to find more appropriate accommodation or to improve money management;
- helping parents to support their child's development
- helping to develop positive parenting behaviour;
- co-ordinating access to services eg, specialised services for child or parent);
- strengthening support networks for the family;
- working with other services involved with the family;
- assisting parents to improve their circumstances.

Why will it be three to five years before further implementation is considered?

It's important to get the service right and to evaluate the results before extending it. The services is not a replacement for other programmes; it will work in conjunction with existing programmes and services such as Wellchild care and general health services, early childhood education services and family support which will continue to be available in the trial locations and throughout New Zealand.

Who will benefit from the new programme?

Research from the Christchurch Health and Development Study Indicates that families who show multiple indicators of disadvantage are at risk of poor outcomes for their children.

The disadvantages include:

- poor parental educational attainment;
- poor housing in poor neighbourhoods;
- low income;
- long term unemployment
- sole parenthood; and
- high residential mobility

Factors associated with the above disadvantages are likely to include:

- poor family health (e.g. frequent preventable illnesses);
- alcohol and drug dependency;
- lower levels of parenting skills;
- truancy and low educational achievement;
- involvement in criminal behaviour
- young motherhood.

Research shows that intense early home based support can support parents and reduce the risks of poor social and emotional development and subsequent problems for children. When offered a service such as this, the take up rate is very high.