Faults flagged in $29m family project

NZ Herald Nov 16, 2009

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. 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”. A more limited evaluation of Family Start in New Zealand recorded similar concerns that some workers had not been sufficiently prepared.

FAMILY START * 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.

READ Maxim Institutes report “Broken Boughs” which highlighted these concerns