History of the Family Help Trust

Background of service development

The Trust's initial intensive family support service began in 1990, as a result of concern that children in the care of the Director General of Social Welfare all too often left that system in order to "graduate" into the prison system.

This first service was eventually named New Start and targeted a group of chronic offenders, focusing on their children, and providing intensive home-visiting family support and mentorship. The pilot service achieved encouragingly low levels of re-offending and measurable improvements in child health outcomes and family functioning.

New Start.  Currently the longest running service of its type in New Zealand, New Start still targets families where repeat criminal offending is a major issue and where the young child is the primary client and the key focus of the service.

In recent years the service has been streamlined and opened up to accept community referrals. Considerable effort has been made to ensure maximum accountability and transparency. The design of the service itself is based on international evidence-based practice.

In 1995 the Family Help Trust, with a strong intent of stemming the tide of intergenerational family dysfunction and disadvantage, acquired the funds to establish the Christchurch Early Start service.

With the assistance of Associate Professor David Fergusson (Christchurch Health and Development Study), key employees designed and later implemented Early Start for the following five years under the auspices of a separate governance board, with the Trust remaining as a shareholder with a primary interest in service delivery. Other partners joined this group, including Plunket, Pegasus Health and Maori representation.

Safer Families.  Early in 2001 the Family Help Trust resigned its entire interest in Early Start and established a new service named Safer Families, made possible by a generous three-year donation from The Community Trust. Safer Families now stands alongside the Family Help Trust's original New Start service.

Following its experience with New Start and the post-birth complications for special needs babies withdrawing from methadone, suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome, and babies born before 24 weeks with neurological, sensory and respiratory difficulties, the Trust sought interest from midwifery services for an additional intensive long-term home-visiting service to begin early in pregnancy.

As a result of consultation with relevant groups, the Trust learned that the midwives had significant concerns that pregnant women with high psycho/social needs were falling through the cracks of local services, and that they were being obliged to provide additional services for which they were not trained.

While targeting high-risk mothers with new babies soon after birth was highly desirable, the Trust and the midwives believed that it was better to provide intensive support services both pre and post birth. They maintained it was an ideal opportunity to maximise good outcomes for infant/child bonding and breastfeeding difficulties, together with dealing with a raft of social problems related to improving the outcome for the unborn child.

Without such services and support, the midwives had become concerned for the outcome of babies born into high-risk situations. They said vacancies for appropriate intensive and long-term services were limited, and this was unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.

Safer Families was initiated as a result of these concerns and viewpoints and was originally developed as a joint venture between the FHT and the Christchurch Women's Hospital Community Midwifery Team.

The referral protocols, and the establishment of clear criteria to ensure the inclusion of only those pregnant women who needed such a service, were carefully formulated to reflect this. To date, vote health has not contributed to this service, in spite of the fact that 90% of referrals originate from the health sector.  By 2012 this had changed significantly as a result of major contracts with Child Youth and Family. 

Two additional services that have been established recently are:

New Start Plus (Mothers and Babies in Prison) was initiated in 2008 as a result of new legislation that allowed for infants to remain with their incarcerated mothers until the age of 2 years.  In 2012 this service has funded by Departmernt of Corrections. 

HIPPY (Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters) Hoon Hay has been iniated in 2011/12, now opereating at Rowley Primary School.  HIPPY is run under the umbrella of Grat Potentials in Auckland.

Concern for our nation's children

Both of the Trust's early intervention services grew out of the same professional concern that poor parenting, violence and abuse were producing second, third and fourth generation criminals, long-term state dependents, intergenerational child abusers, and children having children.

There is now significant paediatric research that suggests that children raised in violent and abusive environments, develop with neurological disadvantages that are less likely to be overcome once the child has reached the age of three.

New Zealand research has found that 20% of repeat offenders are responsible for 80% of crime committed (Department of Justice). Children from these homes are also disproportionately represented amongst youngsters with suicidal tendencies, and those with mental health and substance abuse problems (Christchurch Health and Development Study).

Despite research (notably the Roper Report) identifying family and early childhood intervention as one of the keys to lowering New Zealand's crime rate, early intervention services are still struggling to receive funding parity with crisis services. Given the social cost they generate, this makes poor economic sense.   

Assessment and Effectiveness

The Trust strongly believes in high levels of accountability throughout all areas of their service, and that funders have a right to expect that their money is spent on services that gets measurable results.

In order to achieve this, comprehensive and efficient methods of internal quality control have been developed across both services to provide evidence of service effectiveness.

Family progress is tracked across a range of parameters every six months and transferred quantitatively into a database. This enables the production of good quality data and reports that are routinely required by funders.

Additionally, service monitoring includes the regular review of family plans, family functioning, client safety, and social work competence through weekly on-site professional clinical supervision.

Care is taken to store all information and to inform clients as to such precautions and for what purpose information is collected about them. All such information, when used for the purposes of service promotion or funding accountability, is non-identifiable.  


In July 2002, Christchurch Safer Community Council, now named Safer Christchurch, donated the funds for the Family Help Trust to evaluate the Safer Families service. This evaluation was carried out by the University of Canterbury, Social Work Department and the service outcome section was released in the later part of 2003 and is available on this web site.

View the Safer Families evaluation External Report 2003.

In June 2004 the Family Help Trust commissioned a review of their data collecting system, to ensure that various recommendations from the University evaluation had been completed satisfactorily. The reviewer (Fiona Robertson, Social Work Consultant) scrutinised a number of areas including: financial accountability, staff culture, accuracy of client information collection, management and supervisory functions, communication, and an examination of a random selection of client files to ensure that they passed the ‘acid test’. Staff and board members were interviewed.

The report concluded that the agency was functioning well in all areas and deserved a score of 9/10 in this regard. A positive culture existed throughout the agency, social workers felt well supported by management and within their supervisory environment, financial accountability was thorough and transparent, and information contained in client files would stand up to court examination.

The funds were acquired for a second evaluation, generously donated by our Principal Partner, Lion Foundation. In 2006 this evaluation was conducted by Dr. Mark Turner and the summary can be found here.

For more detail on the New Start and Safer Families services, including the Acceptance Criteria and Referral Packages, go to the Services pages.