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Long Awaited Howse Report Welcomed

Media Release
Wednesday 12 November 2003

Long Awaited Howse Report Welcomed

Better late than never, says a Christchurch based support service working with high-risk children and their families.

The Family Help Trust welcomes the report into the Howse tragedy and hopes the resulting publicity and recommendations will help prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

Clinical Service Manager, Bill Pringle believes it will be a waste of time and resources if a witch hunt results following the reports release.

"There are families and children who need the help of organisations like Family Help Trust and CYF, right now. We know what works for these at risk children, we know what improves their chances in life and we know what breaks the cycle. Let's take the positives out of the report and just get on and do it," he says.

Mr Pringle says child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect are occurring too often. Once is too often. He says it's unacceptable and we must stop our children from dying. Family Help Trust is confident that they are making a huge difference. The findings of an independent evaluation on their service and the results have just been released and are hugely encouraging.

One of the most significant findings is that over a twelve month period, what are termed 'parental risk indicators", such as drug taking, violence and alcohol abuse are present to a far lesser degree then when the families first started with Family Help Trust.

"This means the home environment is a much safer place for the children and that's a major part of our success," says Mr Pringle.

However, he is quick to offer support for the Child Youth and Family Service, which will no doubt come under increasing pressure following the release of the Howse Report.

"As the report apparently shows, there are big demands and huge pressures on CYF social workers and unlike the Trust's team, they do not have the time to work closely with families, preventatively, over a number of years and by doing so help stop potentially more serious problems developing in the home," he says. "Preventing abuse and neglect of children is the responsibility of a whole society and we all have to play our part."

With funding from local government, the Community Trust and other generous individuals and organisations, the Family Help Trust social work team works with "high risk" children and their families, addressing multiple problems such as a history of violence, drugs and crime. Bill Pringle believes it's the unique combination of early intervention, long-term relationships and being home-based that makes all the difference.

"Not only does our own independent evaluation support what we are doing for the most at risk children and their families, but there has been research and evidence around for years related to the positive outcomes of early intervention programmes, " he says.

"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," he says.

Dr Huff has written, "Given that youth violence is often related to early aggression, prevention programmes 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 midwives, GP's, Plunket nurses and social workers from various agencies.

"Most of these families have already been through the "system" or been in it for years. For many of them, involvement with agencies like Family Help Trust are their last chance to make a difference for the sake of their children. Early intervention is the key to the success of our work and the excellent 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 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."

"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. Family Help Trust is offering a service which is successfully preventing such incidents - we are the barrier at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom," says Mr Pringle.


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