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How to get at-risk families out of “ministerial boxes”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How to get at-risk families out of “ministerial boxes”

Is a “wraparound” model the answer for New Zealand’s at-risk families? A Massey University psychologist and family violence expert says the holistic, collaborative approach to delivering social services is effective in bringing about long-term change, and has organised a conference to build awareness.

Dr Ruth Gammon, based at the School of Psychology in Wellington, thinks the current system – which she describes as “dividing families into ministerial boxes” – is failing. Dr Gammon has worked with children affected by family violence and who have high and complex mental health needs for the past 30 years, both here and in the United States,. She is trained and experienced in the implementation of wraparound social service provision through her work with the National Wraparound Initiative (NWI) in the US.

In a first for New Zealand, a national hui this week (February 13-14) at the University’s Wellington campus brings together social workers and other professionals who work with at-risk children and families to learn about how the wraparound concept works in a local context.

The event is providing information and training workshops as well as insights and evaluation from government and non-governmental services in New Zealand that have already adopted or are trialling the approach. Keynote speakers are Dr Eric Bruns, co-director of the National Wraparound Initiative in the US, and Dr Gammon.

Dr Gammon says the structure of the current system results in limited improvements to the well-being and future prospects of many families. Too many children fall through the cracks because care and funding is segmented between competing ministries, such as Justice, Education, Health, Housing, Social Development and Vulnerable Children, she says.

In the wraparound model, barriers between ministries are broken down through coordinated planning and delivery of care and funding. The approach works by identifying and trying to build on the existing strengths of families and their community. “We ask ‘where are the family’s strengths?’ The idea is to build the family up, not to pathologise,” she says.

One of the principles of wraparound is; “you don’t give up, you persist. Families are going to slip up, miss meetings. So you look at what the obstacles are and try to work through those.”

Too often, at-risk families report feeling they are not heard, that they feel blamed for their situation and then become alienated from the services supposedly there to help. She says there is a high rate of dissatisfaction particularly with services for youth, and this is reflected in the high youth suicide rate.

The wraparound approach is designed to address multiple, complex and inter-related problems experienced by at-risk families, but it requires real commitment and investment in order for long-term, sustainable change to occur, Dr Gammon says.

At the hui she presented evidenced-based examples of wraparound programmes trialled in New Zealand by the Waitemata District Health Board, Tu Mai Awa (a community-based social change project), Otago Youth Wellness Trust and the Ministry of Education.

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