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Appeal to Govt to help at risk families/children

Appeal to Government to help at risk families and children

Essential support services for more than 70 families and their children is in desperate need of funds, according to a Christchurch based support organisation, Family Help Trust.

The announcement comes the day before a bigger than forecast budget surplus is expected to be announced by the Government.

The Trust, which has no central government funding, is currently working with more than 150 “high risk” children and their families who have few options for assistance.

Trust Chairman, Sally Thompson, says it takes more than energy, commitment and professionalism to run an organisation like Family Help Trust.

“There have been suggestions that the Government should put some of the predicted budget surplus into fixed term projects related to child poverty and crime – well here we – a 12 year old social service agency doing a hugely important job with families who are the hardest to reach and present the greatest social cost to our community. And we are doing this in the absence off any central government funding.”

Sally Thompson says Family Help Trust has a growing list of families and children needing help but FHT is like a lot of charities – relying on fundraising to get by. Unfortunately, the ability to fund raise from many sources has diminished putting the charity in financial crisis.

“We have been operating on the smell of an oily rang for the last two years. Now, the rag is fast becoming fumeless and we are concerned that the children who need this type of support most will lose out. We are in desperate need of major, long term financing which would enable us to continue operating, and unless this happens soon, our future is certainly not secure and perhaps most importantly, hundreds of at risk families and children will miss out. The long term implications of this to society are wide reaching and costly.”

One of the Trust’s unique and successful services targets the children of families most in need, at the earliest possible time – before they are born. A professional team of social workers visits the families in their own homes addressing a huge range of problems, including crime, violence, drugs and poverty.

“We have seen that families with multiple problems tend to do much better when offered long term solutions supported by professional social workers who spend up to five years with them – until the children start school,” says Sally Thompson.

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. There is new evidence that these unique, long term, homebased approaches are making a positive difference.

“It’s such a crying shame when not only does the Trust’s own information show how effective the programmes are, but the New Zealand Roper Report (1987) and overseas research carried out by American Criminologist Dr Ronald Huff is compelling, to say the least. Much of what Huff and his contemporaries maintain is reflected in our hugely successful Safer Families and New Start family support programmes. And we see the success in the children and families every day,” she says.

New Start was developed out of concern that violence and abuse was contributing to problems in the family, including feeding a cycle of crime, which in turn was producing second, third and fourth generation criminals. The newest service, Safer Families was developed out of concern from midwifery services that their clients were falling through the gaps, particularly when midwifery services exit 6 weeks post partum.

This is supported by Dr Huff who says, “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 corrections service and other appropriate community agencies, for example, pregnant women are referred by GP’s and Midwives.

Safer Families offers parents-to-be positive options and guidance to assist them before their new baby arrives. Sally Thompson says you can’t get much earlier than that in breaking the cycle.

“As shown in the television programme last Sunday night about William Bell - the man convicted of the RSA killings in Auckland - families under considerable stress need huge support, and it is usually most effective when it is home based, with appropriate mentoring. The consequence of failing to adequately support such families can have horrendous outcomes.”

The FHT team develops a mentoring role with the families and children, building on the strengths they currently have. They help parents by providing them with options and support to make positive choices for their children and themselves.

“We are seeing a turnaround in our families and that’s encouraging. An external formal evaluation is soon to be completed and that will provide us with important data related to the long-term effects of our programmes.”

Sally Thompson says the time has come for the Government to recognise the value and success of organisations like Family Help Trust and their programmes, and fund them accordingly. She says serious consideration should be given to putting any surplus budget money back into social development, which will help stop the offending and poor parenting repeated within generations of the same family, in an effective way while keeping families together and communities strong.

“Every New Zealand child has the right to grow up in a loving and safe household, free from crime, physical, sexual and mental abuse. As shown by the success of our programmes, social support services need to stop putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and erect a barrier at the top because it is only then we can effectively “break the cycle.”

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