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Howse Report Welcomed

Howse Report Welcomed

More emphasis on prevention, that’s the advice to the Government from a Christchurch based support service working with high-risk children and their families.

The Family Help Trust welcomes the report into the Howse tragedy, due out this week, and believes that the successful preventative work the Trust carries out, is one of the keys to reducing the risk of such tragedies from occurring.

“Anything that can stop tragedies like the deaths of Saliel Aplin and Olympia Jetson from happening again has to be a good thing, so we welcome the inquiry and report into the case,” says Trust chairperson, Sally Thompson. “I am sure they would not be carrying out the report if there were not going to be suggestions about how to help stop this kind of tragic incident from happening again. It’s occurring too often. Once is too often. Just look back over the last few years, the child deaths related to home violence and abuse – it’s unacceptable; we must stop our children from dying.”

However, Ms Thompson says, the Family Help Trust understands the pressures on social workers and that unlike the Trust, they do not have the time to work closely with families, preventatively, over a number of years and by so doing help stop potentially more serious problems developing in the home.

Without any central government funding, the Family Help Trust team works with “high risk” children and their families addressing multiple problems such as a history of violence, drugs and crime. Sally Thompson says these families and their children have few options for assistance that is not limited by time constraints, and therefore possibly not as effective as it could be.

“Most of these families have already been through the “system” or been in it for years. For most of them, we are their last chance. Early intervention is the key to the success of our work, and the amazing outcomes we have seen over the years in our families. As a result of close and ongoing support, we help parents by providing them with options and support to make positive and informed choices for their children and themselves. We teach responsibility and accountability, and services continue until the youngest child in the family starts school, which can mean we work with a family for up to 5 years. Now that’s something the state social service just can’t offer at the moment.”

Sally Thompson says 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. She says there is evidence that these unique, long term, homebased approaches make a positive difference.

“The New Zealand Roper Report (1987) is only one of a number of research reports which support what we and other organisations do; reducing the risk of crime, violence and other social problems developing further in the family unit. American Criminologist Dr Ronald Huff also offers compelling evidence,” she says. Dr Huff has written, “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 and corrections service and other appropriate community agencies, for example, pregnant women are referred by GP’s and Midwives.

Sally Thompson says it is disappointing that despite a large budget surplus this year and evidence of the success of prevention programmes, the Government has yet to recognise the value and success of organisations like Family Help Trust and their services, and fund them accordingly.

“No-one can be one hundred per cent sure that if Bruce Howse and the whole family had been a part of a preventative programme such as ours, then these young girls would still be alive. But we are convinced that the risk of such things happening is hugely reduced by offering an early intervention preventative service. We are the barrier at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom,” says Ms Thompson.

An independent formal evaluation is soon to be completed and that will provide Family Help Trust with important data related to the long-term effects of their work. Final results will be released in another 3-4 weeks.

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