Dom Post on Family Start providers

April 4th, 2012 at 9:03 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples needs to decide whose side he is on. Is it vulnerable children, many of them Maori, or is it the providers of social services, who have failed them?

His advocacy on behalf of five Maori organisations that have had lucrative Family Start contracts terminated by the Social Development Ministry suggests it is the latter.

The five – Te Roopu Awhina Family Start in Porirua, Turuki Health Care in Mangere, Papakura Marae, the Waipareira Trust and Te Ha o Te Whanau Trust in Opotiki – have been told they will not be funded to provide intensive home-based support to vulnerable families after June 30.

According to Dr Sharples the providers are the victims of “funding cuts” that will reduce the likelihood of positive change in communities with high and complex needs.

The claim does not withstand scrutiny. The providers have not had their contracts terminated because of a funding cut but because, in the words of the ministry’s head of Family and Community Services, Murray Edridge, they provided “inconsistent and, in some cases, unsafe social work practice to families”.

Good intentions are not enough. I’m mildly surprised to see the Waipareira Trust as one of those defunded as for many years it was held up as a model for integrated services.

Terminating the contracts of the five providers will not reduce the likelihood of positive change. It will increase it if the funding is picked up by any of the other 27 Family Start providers, who are delivering useful assistance to the 15 per cent of the population at greatest risk.


Dr Sharples has also accused the ministry of failing to communicate properly with the affected organisations. “For Maori organisations, it’s about kanohi ki te kanohi (talking face to face),” he told National Radio yesterday. That claim also appears to be of questionable merit. According to Mr Edridge and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, the ministry has bent over backwards to try to help the affected providers to come up to standard. Ms Bennett told Parliament yesterday that the Waipareira Trust alone had received 14 visits from the ministry since July last year. Mr Edridge says the failed providers could not have been in any doubt about the ministry’s concerns. All had received regular feedback that they were not meeting the standards required.

If anything, maybe the fair criticism isn’t the decision to defund, but that it has taken so long!

Rather than berating the ministry for being too tough on Maori organisations, he should be thanking it for looking out for those his party has pledged to represent – the most vulnerable members of society.

By doing so the ministry has acted not only to protect children but the reputation of the Whanau Ora scheme established at the behest of the Maori Party to promote Maori solutions to Maori problems.

Nothing will undermine public support for the scheme faster than evidence that money is being wasted or that ministers are turning a blind eye to non-performance.

Exactly. There will be providers from time to time who do not meet the standard required or are wasteful. The Government’s job is to act on those issues, not ignore them.

Family Start

November 16th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government’s biggest home visiting programme is under review after researchers found its US counterpart failed to reduce child abuse.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has called for an evaluationof the former Labour Government’s flagship Family Start programme, which costs $29 million a year.

Ahem. That programme was not a Labour flagship. It was started by National in the late 1990s.

It follows the discovery by American researchers that Healthy Start in Hawaii – the model for the New Zealand version – did not prevent abuse, mainly because workers did not have enough training to recognise the danger signs and take action.

The researchers also found the strategy had shifted from home visitors identifying the key triggers of abuse – such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse and post-natal depression – to “strength-based” goal-setting by the families themselves.

One mother’s goal, approved by the home visitor, was “to be happy”.

Hmmn. I not conversant with the details of how it has morphed over time, but it used to be regarded very highly as making a real difference with some dysfunctional families. It sounds like they are skimping on training, and have gone a bit politically correct if it is now all about goal setting instead of identifying and preventing abuse.

Professor Anne Duggan, who led the research into Healthy Start and is working as a visiting specialist in Auckland, said New Zealand’s Family Start seemed to be “a wonderful resource for families” and she did not think it should be scrapped.

I would hope it is not scrapped also. If changes are needed, change them but the concept of a one stop support shop for families is I think a very sound one.

Oh and can some-one shoot the sub-editor:

* Cost: $29 million a year
* Created by Labour in 1998
* Goal: Providing home-based support for families with high needs and identifying key triggers before problems occur.
* Problem: Lack of training to recognise danger signs of child abuse.
* Researchers found that Healthy Start in Hawaii, on which Family Start was based, did not prevent abuse and merely allowed families to set their own targets.

I can almost excuse a general assumption being wrong about which Government started it, but not knowing Labour was not Government in 1998 is inexcusable.