Whaiora’s Family Start team:, Julia Mullen, left, Tamariki Services manager Tess Parr, Rebecca Notton, Guiping Xiao, and Nikki Bell. Absent: John Slater and Carolyn Brooks. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Hayley Gastmeier

A small team of passionate and dedicated Whaiora staff are working hard to ensure Wairarapa tamariki are getting the best start to life.

Whaiora’s Family Start team are currently helping about 80 whanau in the region with parents who are struggling with challenges that make it harder for them to care for their baby or young child.

Tamariki Services manager Tess Parr said the programme was about helping parents understand the “ages and stages” of the development of their children.

“We also help support them through any issues that may be going on.”

She said life hurdles could be impacting on a parent’s ability to care for their offspring.

These challenges included financial hardship, drug or alcohol addiction, mental health, involvement with Oranga Tamariki, and housing concerns.

All whanau registered with the programme are visited in their own home, whether they live in Eketahuna or on the South Wairarapa coast.

Julia Mullen, a registered social worker with Whaiora’s Family Start team, said many of the whanau they were working with were referred to the programme through various agencies, but families could also self-refer.

She said the first 1000 days of a child’s life were incredibly important and helped determine their future.

The aim was “breaking down barriers” for whanau, whose needs were identified through conversations.

“We break it down and then we figure out how we can help.”

She said the social worker would work with the parent to come up with a plan to help them navigate their way through the issues.

This could involve a multi-agency approach.

It may include putting a family in touch with Work and Income or a housing provider, a referral for budgeting advice, or arranging for support services for health or addiction issues.

“We’re connecting these people up with vital services that can help them reach their potential, and our staff walk along side them so they’re not going through this on their own,” Julia said.

“We want our whanau to be moving forward.”

The Family Start social workers will work with whanau from 12 weeks of confirmed pregnancy until the child is five years old, if necessary.

These families will be visited at least twice a month, with the focus being on strengthening parenting and caregiving skills and achieving set goals.

Family Start is free and participation is voluntary.

Tess said seeing the bond between parent and child strengthen and other positive changes within whanau as they progressed through the programme was really rewarding.

“You walk into a home and it can be absolute chaos – parents not really knowing what they’re doing, they’ve got Oranga Tamariki involvement.

“Just being there to support them and making whatever changes they need, and getting them to the point where they can exit [the programme] – where they’re functioning as a family again and they get to keep their babies and they are in full or part time work – that’s really rewarding.”

Julia agreed and said empowering whanau and building healthy home relationships to ensure children were safe was what Family Start was about.