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Early Start: Successful Decade of School of Medine

Media release
16 November 2005

Early Start – A Successful Decade of School of Medicine and Community Collaboration

Over the last three decades there has been growing concern about a series of issues relating to the health and well-being of young people. These issues have spanned such matters as child abuse and neglect, juvenile offending, substance use and youth suicide. All of these concerns are more common amongst young people from families facing stress, difficulty and disadvantage.

In 1995 recognition of these problems brought together researchers from the University of Otago’s Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and representatives of community agencies, including Plunket, Pegasus Health and Maori representatives, to develop a programme of home visits to support families facing stress and difficulty. This innovative programme was called Early Start.

To celebrate the achievements of the last decade, the Early Start programme is holding a function at the Christchurch Netball Centre at 455 Hagley Avenue from 5.30pm to 8.30pm on November 17.

The past decade of success in helping disadvantaged families will be marked by the launch of an in-depth 91 page report on one of the internationally most successful early intervention programmes for disadvantaged families. The report has been supported by funding from the Ministry of Social Development and will be available at the launch.

The event will be attended by a wide range groups and agencies who have participated in the development of Early Start, including the Minister of Child Youth and Family Services, the Hon Ruth Dyson.

The Early Start programme provides a unique service, including home visits by trained support workers to families with pre-school children, who may be facing stress, difficulty or disadvantage. It develops positive partnerships with parents to improve childhood outcomes in child health, childhood education, parenting and family functioning. The service is intensive, and families may remain with Early Start for up to five years. Since the inception of the programme in 1995, nearly 800 families and their children have been supported and assisted.

An important component of the programme has been the evaluation of the service using a randomised trial in which 220 families receiving Early Start have been compared with 223 control families. This evaluation shows that Early Start leads to multiple benefits in a number of areas of childhood functioning.

“Early Start is one of the few family intervention programmes internationally which has shown demonstrable and consistent social benefits,” says Professor Fergusson. “Most families and their children are significantly better off because of the intensive assistance from qualified support workers.”

“The key factor in the success of this programme is the level of intervention and direct assistance provided.”

The evaluation research clearly shows children from both Maori and non-Maori families benefit from Early Start intervention. Some of the positive outcomes are:

- greater contact with their family doctor

- more likely to receive child health checks

- higher rates of attendance at pre-school dental clinics

- higher rates of pre-school education

- lower rates of hospital admission for childhood accidents

- less often exposed to child abuse and neglect

- receive more positive/less punitive parenting

- less prone to behavioural problems.

The evaluation, conducted by Professor David Fergusson and his colleagues at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will also be published in the prestigious US journal Pediatrics.


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