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Horomia: Building Strong Families

Hon Parekura Horomia

Helping to Build Strong Families in Counties-Manukau, Address to the launch of Counties-Manukau Family Start Programme Manurewa Marae, 81 Finlayson Ave, Weymouth

Family Start is about making sure that children get a great start in life. That means supporting their parents. Family Start is about health, parenting skills, housing, and income assistance - a family might need help in one, several, or all of these areas. The advocate's job is to find out what the family needs, and then to help them achieve their goals.


Good morning everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today for the formal launch of Counties-Manukau Family Start.

A warm welcome to the Director of the Counties Manukau Family Start Trust, Colleen Fakalagotoa; to the Trust's three partners, Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, Te Kupenga o Hoturoa Charitable Trust, and TaPasefika Health Trust; to all the Trust Board members; to His Worship Sir Barry Curtis, my parliamentary colleagues, and to all the agencies and organisations that are represented here today, particularly the Family Start funders, the Ministries of Health, Education, and Social Development.

Finally, a very warm welcome and acknowledgement to the families who've joined us today, and to the Family Start Trust's whanau advocates. They're the people who get out in the community and deliver the Family Start service to whanau, fono, and families in their own homes.

Family Start is about making sure that children get a great start in life. That means supporting their parents. Family Start is about health, parenting skills, housing, and income assistance - a family might need help in one, several, or all of these areas. The advocate's job is to find out what the family needs, and then to help them achieve their goals.

Family Start is about acting early. The earlier we work with fono, whanau, and families, the better chance we've got of helping parents raise healthy, loved, and happy children right from the start. The early years are the crucial time to support families with high needs. That's why Family Start is available from early pregnancy.

I'd like to tell you a story that shows how vital this early intervention is.

A 17-year-old woman, pregnant with her first child, had a low sense of self-esteem, low self-confidence, and a negative outlook on life. She also had a negative attitude about becoming a mother. Working with her whanau advocate, she's developed a much stronger sense of her self and of her strengths. She's started drug and alcohol counselling. She's started to appreciate the precious value of her baby, and of the importance of her job as a mother.

Family Start is voluntary. It's driven by the whanau, fono, or family. The advocate's role is not to tell the whanau what their goals should be; it's to help the whanau develop their own goals, and make a plan for how to achieve them.

One mother working with Family Start felt ready for her two and a half year old daughter to leave the care of Child, Youth, and Family and return to live in the family home. Her whanau advocate visited her every week and spent lots of time arranging visits between her and her daughter. After a long and careful period of preparation, the daughter's now back living with Mum, and the whanau advocate is supporting the family to avoid the problems that happened before.

Time is crucial to the success of Family Start. High-risk families with very young children need more than a quick, occasional pop in. They need regular contact, regular services, and lots of support and encouragement. Whanau advocates spend up to two hours every week with a family, for as long as it takes for them to have the knowledge, tools, and strengths they need.

Vital though they are, building strong and healthy families is about more than good social services. We all know the importance of an adequate income and a decent standard of living. Families need enough money to raise their children. Parents need good jobs, and training for those jobs. They need access to good housing and health services, for themselves and for their children.

Since the Labour Government came into office in 1999, we've seen progress in all these areas. Unemployment is the lowest in the OECD. Through the Working for Families package, we're delivering financial assistance that is making a real difference to families. We've made big investments in housing and health. Family Start whanau advocates also make sure that parents know about the help that's available and that they're getting all their entitlements.

Lots of agencies and organisations deliver Family Start services, just as they do for programmes like Strengthening Families and SKIP, Strategies for Kids Information for Parents. These programmes are co-ordinated by Family and Community Services, in the Ministry of Social Development.

Family and Community Services work right across communities to lead and develop programmes for families, and we're seeing some really positive and exciting things happening. I'd like at this point to acknowledge the work of Auckland region Family and Community Services, and of Regional Relationship Manager Robyn Rushworth and her team.

Here in Manukau, Family and Community Services is currently running Local Services Mapping. This exercise identifies all the services for families and communities in your district, to find out what's working well, what's missing, and what improvements can be made. In partnership with the Salvation Army, Family and Community Services has just launched a SAGES programme here, involving older people passing on their knowledge and skills to others. SAGES is a brilliant programme that sees young families learning simple and vital skills in areas like gardening, budgeting, home maintenance, and healthy cooking.

Other family initiatives in South Auckland include an expansion of Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention programmes, with a focus on Maori and Pacific families. For young people - and Manukau is a very young city! -there's the At-Risk Youth Manukau Project run by Tea Ropati.

There's no doubt that this is a strong and supportive community, with the strong will for everyone to work together and improve the lives of children, young people, and families.

Over the next two years, 736 high-risk and at-risk whanau, fono, and families in Counties-Manukau will get intensive support from Family Start. Many, many children will benefit, and so, we hope, will the children of those children. If it is true that disadvantage can be intergenerational, then so can knowledge, strength, and opportunity.

My heartfelt congratulations to everyone involved in Family Start. Congratulations on what you have achieved, and what you will achieve. All the best for your great programme.

Kia ora.


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