Somewhere in Taranaki, a child is about to turn three. It’s a milestone that will be greeted with joy, not only by his mother, but also by members of the Police-led Nurture Taranaki programme, which takes a special interest in the lives of 16 young mums in the district.
The programme identifies at-risk younger women who are expecting their first child. Referrals come from midwives and Police
Family Harm teams.
She could be a young woman who left school early, who is unsure how to parent and lacks family support, or is reliant on drugs and alcohol.
“She will be struggling and finding it difficult to know where to turn for help,” says project leader Senior Constable Paul Lampe. “She may not have much self-belief and she needs some guidance.”
If the mother is willing to engage with the programme, this is where it begins – building support before the baby is even born, the very essence of early intervention,
continuing through until school age.
Nurture Taranaki was set up in 2015, linked to the Te Puna Trust. Paul has also led the successful mentoring programme Big Brothers Big Sisters of Taranaki (BBBS) since 2007.
He and other trust colleagues knew that help for vulnerable children needed to start even earlier and be longterm, but they were struggling to find any suitable prevention-focused strategies in Taranaki.
They started looking elsewhere and found the Government-funded Early Start Project based in Christchurch. Using that already well-researched and evaluated programme as a template, Nurture Taranaki was created, with the point of difference being that it is available only to first-time mothers.
Financial backing has come from the TSB Community Trust, which recently pledged $1.2 million over three years to Nurture Taranaki and BBBS.
The two organisations employ eight staff between them. Nurture Taranaki family support workers visit new mothers once a week for the first 18 months to two years, making sure that mum is nurturing her baby and that he or she is healthy and meeting their milestones and being seen by the appropriate agencies.
“We want to help mum be mindful of her baby,” Paul says.
The free, home-based support is both caring and practical. “We ensure that every baby is immunised, that every house has a smoke alarm and child safety features and we deliver a parenting programme.
“At this stage we have been going for about 3½ years and we are about to have our first child turn three.
“Yes, we are helping the mother, but our long-term focus is the next generation, making sure that baby has cuddles and stories and the basic things that help develop a healthy brain in the first 1000 days of a child’s life.
“When they start school, we want them to have some skills and good behaviour, not turning up with their brain stem on fire from being exposed to ‘fight or flight’ situations at home.”
It’s all about investing in children from the very beginning of their life, which all the research indicates is the best time to break the cycle of crime and family dysfunction.
It’s not easy, though. “Like any relationship, there are difficulties,”
Paul says. “And people move around a lot, but we will make sure we go with them. It’s not an easy road at all, but that’s the whole point of retaining contact.”
The outcomes can’t be quantified yet, but the goal is to create positive change in the next generation and beyond. And celebrating the third birthday of a happy, healthy child is a good place to start.