A programme to protect babies and young children in
Dunedin has been granted funding for a few more years but those
in rural areas remain at risk, a social agency director says.
Anglican Family Care director Nicola Taylor said the $1
million of annual funding for the voluntary Family Start
programme in Dunedin had been renewed for three more years.
The money helped up to 214 vulnerable babies and young
children in Dunedin, she said.
The social work agency had 13 frontline staff helping up to
18 children by creating positive parental behaviours, she
The staff acted as role-models, helping parents with the
child's development and discussing the detrimental effects of
family violence on children, she said.
Key performance indicator measurements included enrolments in
early childhood education, immunisations and breast feeding
percentages, she said.
Support was available from the second trimester up to the
child's fifth birthday, she said.
Initial visits were weekly but staff generally became less
involved as the child got older but visits depended on need,
For example, a parent with postnatal depression might use the
service for a year, she said.
"It's pretty powerful, when it reaches the right people."
But there were children in Dunedin who died as a result of
neglect or failure to provide medical care, she said.
Parents most at risk would not engage with the voluntary
service unless coaxed by family or community members, she
The programme was mostly being used by the middle to
high-risk range of families in Dunedin, she said.
Although the service helped families in Outram, Portobello,
Waihola and Waikouaiti, the more rural areas in Otago were
not included, she said.
Similar services were available in Alexandra and Balclutha
but they were less intensive, she said.
Dunedin was one of the first cities to adopt the programme in
2000 and it was available in 32 cities in New Zealand, but
funding for five contracts was dropped this year and a dozen
were renewed for just a year, she said.
Dunedin received a three-year renewal because of the high
quality of work, she said.
Salaries of frontline staff were 40% lower than similar work
by social workers in the health industry, but staff retention
was high because of job satisfaction, she said.
Although the family start programme began in Dunedin, the
prototype for the programme, called Early Start, was
developed in Christchurch, she said.
Recent results of research from the University of Otago, in
Christchurch, showed the Early Start programme dramatically
reduced child abuse, she said.
Prof David Fergusson, of the University of Otago, said the
research followed two groups for nine years since 2000 to
measure the benefits of the programme.
The research compared 221 families on the programme, with 223
control families, with similar difficulties, who were not in
The study found children in the programme had a 50% lower
rate of physical abuse compared with the children outside it.
Children in the programme had about a third fewer hospital
admissions for non-accidental injuries than children in the
other group, he said.
Children in the programme were physically abused less, had
fewer hospitalisations for injuries, used health services
more and had greater enrolments in preschool, with parents
reporting more positive and less punitive child-rearing
practices, such as smacking, he said.