Programme halves child abuse rate
A programme targeting Christchurch's most vulnerable families has halved the rate of physical abuse against children since its inception, new research shows.
The Early Start intensive intervention programme was established in 1995 to improve the wellbeing of preschool children living in families facing multiple challenges.
It can be delivered for up to five years and is funded mainly by the Ministry of Social Development.
Christchurch Health and Development Study (CDHS) researchers compared 221 families participating in the programme with 223 control families facing similar difficulties but who were not in the programme.
After nine years, the study found that children who had been part of the programme had a 50 per cent lower rate of physical abuse than those who were not part of the programme.
Early Start children also had about a third fewer hospital admissions for non-accidental injuries.
The study found increased reports of more positive and less punitive parenting and lower rates of childhood behavioural problems.
A previous study conducted after three years found children in the Early Start group had higher rates of enrolment in preschool and greater use of GP services.
CDHS director David Fergusson, of the University of Otago, Christchurch, said early intervention was the key to helping vulnerable families as a child's first year was when they were most at risk of severe child abuse.
"This is also a turning point in people's lives. They're more open to accepting support," he said.
Most of the families involved were single-parent households, with many on benefits and with mental health and domestic violence issues.
"These are families where the most disadvantage is concentrated," he said.
The programme was working with about 285 families in Christchurch and had 60 on the waiting list.
Fergusson estimated there were 1500 families in the city that could benefit from the service if the funding was there.
"The organisation just had to do its best with what it's got," he said.
He praised the work of manager Hildegard Grant and her team for the positive results found by the study.