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The Family Help Trust

The Family Help Trust

“Every New Zealand child has the right to grow up in a loving and safe household, free from crime, physical, sexual and mental abuse.

As the results of our programmes show, social support services need to stop putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and erect a barrier at the top because it is only then we can effectively break the cycle.”

Sally Thompson, Chairperson The Family Help Trust, 10 April 2003

http://www.familyhelptrust.org.nz

Who are we?

The Family Help Trust provides services for at-risk children and high-risk families in Christchurch. These cover a wide spectrum, ranging from preventing child abuse and addressing family dysfunction, to teaching parenting and life skills, to improve their lives and those of their children.

The Family Help Trust operates on a simple motto; Prevention is better than cure. It’s an oldie but a goodie and has never been more relevant when applied to life today with the devastating effects of violence, drugs and crime on home life, and ultimately on children.

The Trust was established in 1990 and has seen around 500 families and 1,000 children in the last 12 years. It operates with a team of 3.5 social workers, a Trust director, one clinical manager and one support staff.

What do we do?

The Family Help Trust recognises how important it is to help at-risk children as early as possible to avoid the huge human and social cost of a continued cycle of violence and crime within a family.

A child’s character and personality is shaped by the time they reach five years of age. According to American paediatric researcher Professor Dr Bruce Perry, an infant’s developing brain function can be altered by trauma. Dr Perry maintains that children raised in violent and abusive environments develop with neurological disadvantages that are less likely to be overcome once the child has reached the age of three.

Further studies show that if there are problems at home, the child is likely to have developed anti social behaviours by the time they start school. By then it is much harder to help them. By that time it is also common for several social welfare agencies to be involved in the child’s care, perpetuating a cycle of state care. Says Dr Perry:

“What we are as adults is the product of the world we experienced as children. The way a society functions is a reflection of the childrearing practices of that society. Today we reap what we have sown”,

Despite the well documented critical nature of early life experiences, he also believes that we dedicate few resources to this time of life.

“As a society we put more value on requiring hours of formal training to drive a car than we do on any formal training in childrearing.”

Fellow American, Criminologist Dr Ronald Huff thinks along the same lines. “Given that youth violence is often related to early aggression, prevention programs should target the family context to prevent the development of early childhood aggression.”

How did we come about?

The Family Help Trust’s early intervention services grew out of a concern that children in the care of social welfare all too often “graduate” into the prison system. Concern also came from health professionals that a lack of good parenting skills, violence and abuse were producing second, third and fourth generation criminals, long-term state dependents, intergenerational child abusers and children having children.

New Zealand research has found that 20 percent of repeat offenders are responsible for 80 per cent of crime committed (Source: Department of Justice). Children from these homes are also disproportionately represented amongst youngsters with suicidal tendencies and those with mental health and substance abuse problems.

“Sometimes dad hit us kids. Sometimes we hit each other. Sometimes everyone was hitting each other. It was how I grew up”

(Jake Heke, in the major NZ film “What Became of the Broken Hearted”)

The Roper Report (NZ, 1987) suggested that: 80% of all violence was family based or in the home and identified family violence as "the cradle for the perpetration of violence and crime in the community". 50% of all women who are murdered in NZ are killed by their partners or ex-partners. 1 out 5 men use physical violence against their partners.
How do we go about helping families?

With statistics in mind, the Trust provides two unique services to high-risk families to stem the tide of family dysfunction and disadvantage: New Start is for repeat offenders parenting a child under the age of four years. This has achieved encouragingly low levels of re-offending and great improvements in child health, education and family functioning.

What is unique about this programme is that it is a home-based service for up to five years, and can start even before the child is born - while the woman is pregnant - and will last until the child begins school.

The goals include improving: child health and preventative medicine early childhood education usage parenting skills self esteem adult social skills budgeting and home management skills Self-reliance and a reduction in the use of emergency and social service including the police and women’s refuge.

The service also aims to reduce the level of: neglect and abuse parental offending violence and substance abuse anti-social behaviours

Safer Families is for high-risk pregnant women with multiple risk histories of being abused, or abuse/neglect their children, or violence and/or substance use. They may have babies with a range of complications from premature birth to foetal alcohol syndrome.

What are the criteria for our services?

New Start accepts a parent:

with at least one criminal conviction within the previous two years currently parenting a child or children under the age of four years if the offending parent is in prison, he/she is within four months of release living in the Christchurch district willing to work with a social worker in their own home willing to make a commitment to their children and to creating a safe home environment for them

Safer Families criteria are similar with help given to pregnant women who are at least 24 weeks pregnant.

How is the Trust funded?

The Trust has no central government funding and relies on community grants to function. However, it does have strong support from the Christchurch City Council and has an energetic fund raising team which organises celebrity events such as “Poli’s (Politicians) in their Pinnies” and the more recent and just as highly successful Crusaders Dinner. But the Trust is in desperate need of major long term financing to continue to help service a growing number of children and families.

Why we do what we do

The Trust’s message is simple. What price can you put on the life of a child and a family? A report produced in August 2002 by the Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) states that New Zealand is failing to protect children from violence and falling below United Nations requirements for meeting their needs.

“The care and protection system has been under funded stressed and unstable over the reporting period. Abused and neglected children have not had their care and protection rights recognised, acknowledged and met adequately,” the report says. ACYA representatives say that the tragic death of four-year-old James Whakaruru in 2000 highlights the major shortcomings in care and protection services, and also shows that inadequate funding was at the root of the problem.

What are our goals?

The well being of our babies, children and their mothers is our top priority. Providing a long term, home based mentoring service is our aim. Empowering high-risk families to break the cycle is our business. Early Intervention is the key. Non-intervention can cost 19 times more than effective early intervention carried out by the Family Help Trust (Source: 1992 Michigan Study). Family Violence costs the country an average of $1.2 billion a year. We can’t even begin to quantify the personal and emotional cost to the children and the family. Programmes that support and promote safer children and family environments back up those philosophies.

Kids don’t come with an instruction book. There’s no manual for raising a family. There’s no secret recipe for having a functional, happy home life. But there are life skills to help families meet and overcome obstacles.

The Trust says that by ‘getting in early’, by assisting families to address their problems, to look at alternatives and learn new skills, then the chance of the cycle of crime being repeated in the children is greatly reduced.

Trust chairperson, Sally Thompson, believes that for the last 12 years, her organisation has effectively acted as a barrier at the top of the cliff and not the ambulance at the bottom.

One Christchurch mother says the service the Trust provides probably saved her life.

“I first came in contact with them (FHT) in 2001 and at the time I was in jail. I had a drug habit and was on the verge of losing my children. I was pregnant and on the verge of giving up. All I could see was a road to nowhere, They (FHT) came in, and I made a commitment to stay with them for five years and they changed my life around.”
Media Release: 10 April 2003

Support for More Government Money in Early Childhood Intervention

A Christchurch based support agency for at risk children is confident that more funding for early intervention services will help turn around the appalling youth violence and crime rates in New Zealand.

Spokesperson and Chairperson of The Family Help Trust, Sally Thompson, says early intervention is the key, as has been recently highlighted by Family Court Judge Beecroft.

“It’s not a new idea,” she says. “The Roper report and more recent research has identified that early childhood intervention is one of the keys to lowering New Zealand’s crime rate and childhood abuse.”

Mrs Thompson says the proposed extra funding is great news for our children and families who are most in need, and demonstrates that the Government is continuing to recognise the importance of early intervention programmes and support.

Family Help Trust’s New Start programme is a unique service that aims to help repeat offenders with young families by breaking the cycle of violence and crime, both of which can lead to difficulties with effective parenting. The programme was developed out of a professional concern that violence and abuse was contributing to problems in the family, including feeding a cycle of crime, which in turn was producing second, third and fourth generation criminals; a key point in the Roper Report.

Sally Thompson says one only has to look at the success of the Family Help Trust’s work to see how important it is for the Government to continue, and even increase, funding for early intervention.

“Our New Start service, which began in the early 1990’s, achieved encouragingly low levels of re-offending, and measurable improvements in areas such as child health and education. The programme is much the same today, and there is an effectiveness in the programmes which Family Help Trust credits to the unique elements within those programmes.”

Those unique elements include being a home based service for up to five years, (until a child starts school), and offering the service to pregnant women.

“You can’t get much earlier than that in the intervention and we believe this is one of the keys”, says Sally Thompson.

Social workers at FHT say the long-term relationships developed over a number of years allow a building of trust and respect between those involved.

“The advances and positive choices being made as a result”, she says, “are incredible. We are enabling people to turn their, and their children’s lives around.”

With a growing list of families and children needing help, FHT says it welcomes the Government’s intention to put more money into early intervention programmes.

“Every New Zealand child has the right to grow up in a loving and safe household, free from crime, physical, sexual and mental abuse. As shown by the success of our programmes, social support services need to stop putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and erect a barrier at the top because it is only then we can effectively “break the cycle.”

ENDS
Media Release 20 September 2002

Local support programme gives our ‘at risk’ children a chance

We help break the cycle, that’s the word from Christchurch based support organisation Family Help Trust.

Spokesperson and Chairman, Sally Thompson says the team of professional Social Workers support ‘at risk’ children in ‘high risk families’, (who are sourced from both the prison community service, corrections and other appropriate community agencies), as a part of the early-intervention support programme, New Start.

New Start is a unique service that aims to help repeat offenders with young families by breaking the cycle of violence, crime which can lead to difficulties with effective parenting. The programme was developed out of a professional concern that violence and abuse was contributing to problems in the family, including feeding a cycle of crime, which in turn was producing second, third and fourth generation criminals. Also, it is noted in the Roper report and subsequently in more recent research, that family and early childhood intervention is one of the keys to lowering New Zealand’s crime rate.

The pilot New Start service, which began in the early 1990’s, achieved encouragingly low levels of re-offending, and measurable improvements in areas such as child health and education. Sally Thompson says the programme is much the same today and there is an effectiveness in the programmes which Family Help Trust credits to the unique elements within those programmes.

“At the heart of New Start is the fact that we are homebased. Our professional and experienced social workers visit the families in their own homes which we see making all the difference,” says Sally Thompson. “It is also long term which is unique in this type of intervention service. We can assist a family for up to 5 years or until the child begins school.”

Sometimes, pregnant women are referred to the trust - another unique part of the programme.

“You can’t get much earlier than that in the intervention and we believe this is one of the keys”, says Sally Thompson.

“When a family begins the service, one parent may still be in prison and anxious about their release, and their family. Our teams develop a mentoring role with the families and children, we build on current strengths they currently may have and help the parents by providing them with options and support to make positive choices for their children and themselves. We see regular anecdotal and quantifiable evidence that Family Help Trust and our teams are enabling families to break the cycle of crime, violence, drugs (often these things go together).”

As the programme enables a social worker to be within a family unit for up to five years, the relationships developed can be strong and effective.

One of the social workers at FHT says she remains firm but supportive with her families. She treats the trust she gains from the families as invaluable but makes it clear that it works both ways. After up to 5 years of working with a family and seeing the advances and positive choices being made, she says the huge professional satisfaction is immeasurable.

Sally Thompson says the Trust believes by getting in early, by assisting high-risk families to address their problems, look at alternatives and learn new skills, the chance of the cycle of crime being repeated in the children is greatly reduced.

“There are never any guarantees but we are seeing a turnaround in some of our families and that is encouraging. We are about to complete a formal evaluation and that will provide us with important data related to the long-term effects of our programmes after the family and children leave New Start. At this stage though, the results we see on a day to day basis look encouraging.”

ENDS

Media Release 18 December ’02

Appeal to Government to help at risk families and children

Essential support services for more than 70 families and their children is in desperate need of funds, according to a Christchurch based support organisation, Family Help Trust.

The announcement comes the day before a bigger than forecast budget surplus is expected to be announced by the Government.

The Trust, which has no central government funding, is currently working with more than 150 “high risk” children and their families who have few options for assistance.

Trust Chairman, Sally Thompson, says it takes more than energy, commitment and professionalism to run an organisation like Family Help Trust.

“There have been suggestions that the Government should put some of the predicted budget surplus into fixed term projects related to child poverty and crime – well, here we are – a 12 year old social service agency doing a hugely important job with families who are the hardest to reach and present the greatest social cost to our community. And we are doing this in the absence off any central government funding.”

Sally Thompson says Family Help Trust has a growing list of families and children needing help but FHT is like a lot of charities – relying on fundraising to get by. Unfortunately, the ability to fund raise from many sources has diminished putting the charity in financial crisis.

“We have been operating on the smell of an oily rang for the last two years. Now, the rag is fast becoming fumeless and we are concerned that the children who need this type of support most will lose out. We are in desperate need of major, long term financing which would enable us to continue operating, and unless this happens soon, our future is certainly not secure and perhaps most importantly, hundreds of at risk families and children will miss out. The long term implications of this to society are wide reaching and costly.”

One of the Trust’s unique and successful services targets the children of families most in need, at the earliest possible time – before they are born. A professional team of social workers visits the families in their own homes addressing a huge range of problems, including crime, violence, drugs and poverty.

“We have seen that families with multiple problems tend to do much better when offered long term solutions supported by professional social workers who spend up to five years with them – until the children start school,” says Sally Thompson.

One of the results of staying with a family unit for up to five years, is the development of strong and effective relationships between the social workers and the families. There is new evidence that these unique, long term, homebased approaches are making a positive difference.

“It’s such a crying shame when not only does the Trust’s own information show how effective the programmes are, but the New Zealand Roper Report (1987) and overseas research carried out by American Criminologist Dr Ronald Huff is compelling, to say the least. Much of what Huff and his contemporaries maintain is reflected in our hugely successful Safer Families and New Start family support programmes. And we see the success in the children and families every day,” she says.

New Start was developed out of concern that violence and abuse was contributing to problems in the family, including feeding a cycle of crime, which in turn was producing second, third and fourth generation criminals. The newest service, Safer Families was developed out of concern from midwifery services that their clients were falling through the gaps, particularly when midwifery services exit 6 weeks post partum.

This is supported by Dr Huff who says, “Given that youth violence is often related to early aggression, prevention programs should target the family context to prevent the development of early childhood aggression,” and this is what Family Help Trust does. The families are referred by the prison corrections service and other appropriate community agencies, for example, pregnant women are referred by GP’s and Midwives.

Safer Families offers parents-to-be positive options and guidance to assist them before their new baby arrives. Sally Thompson says you can’t get much earlier than that in breaking the cycle.

“As shown in the television programme last Sunday night about William Bell - the man convicted of the RSA killings in Auckland - families under considerable stress need huge support, and it is usually most effective when it is home based, with appropriate mentoring. The consequence of failing to adequately support such families can have horrendous outcomes.”

The FHT team develops a mentoring role with the families and children, building on the strengths they currently have. They help parents by providing them with options and support to make positive choices for their children and themselves.

“We are seeing a turnaround in our families and that’s encouraging. An external formal evaluation is soon to be completed (May/June 2003) and that will provide us with important data related to the long-term effects of our programmes.”

Sally Thompson says the time has come for the Government to recognise the value and success of organisations like Family Help Trust and their programmes, and fund them accordingly. She says serious consideration should be given to putting any surplus budget money back into social development, which will help stop the offending and poor parenting repeated within generations of the same family, in an effective way while keeping families together and communities strong.

“Every New Zealand child has the right to grow up in a loving and safe household, free from crime, physical, sexual and mental abuse. As shown by the success of our programmes, social support services need to stop putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and erect a barrier at the top because it is only then we can effectively “break the cycle.”

ENDS

To contact us …….

Postal address: P.O. Box 22-126
Address: 1st Floor, 292 Cashel Street, Christchurch
Phone: (03) 365 9912 Fax: (03) 365 9913


The Family Help Trust

Staff Members
Libby Robins (Director) e-mail: libby@familyhelptrust.org.nz
Bill Pringle (Clinical Service Manager) Team of 3.5 social workers Office Administrator

Board Members/Officer Holders:
Sally Thompson Q.S.M. (Chairperson & Early Childhood Educator), Charles Knibb (Treasurer & Chartered Accountant), Jocelyn Darling (Communications Consultant and Secretary)
Trustees:
Jo Dearsley (Events Organiser), Lani Hagaman (Businesswoman), Ian Hall (College Principal), Andy McGregor (Police Inspector), Libby Robins (Director), Jane Tappenden (Solicitor), Annabel Taylor (University Lecturer / Social Worker), Alison Wilkie (Registered Nurse, CDHB)

Funding Committee:
Jo Dearsley (Chairperson), Jocelyn Darling, Sally Thompson, Richard Austin, Bryan Andrews, Libby Robins, Neil Blanchfield

Patrons: Lesley Max, MBE; Dame Ann Ballin, ONZ Consultant: Tane Norton
Auditor: Bruce Williams, Williams & Batchelor
Accountant: Andrew Warren


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