Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

The Kindness of Strangers: Family-Based Early Intervention and Improved Outcomes for Children

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

The Kindness of Strangers: Family-Based Early Intervention and Improved Outcomes for Children

Article excerpt


This paper presents the findings of a study examining the relationship between family-based early intervention services provided through home visitation and improved outcomes for children, in order to determine the effectiveness of these programmes. This pre-test/post-test design study examined a sample of families (n = 297) across three California-based early intervention home visitation programmes. The findings of the study provides lessons for New Zealand on how early intervention programmes for families can be successful at protecting children from negative outcomes such as abuse and neglect. Programme effectiveness was studied by analysing individual family data to determine the relationship between programme involvement (duration and intensity) and changes in outcome indicators for children pre-intervention and post-intervention. Of the six child outcome indicators examined across three programmes, early intervention services had a significant positive relationship with only one outcome--healthy child birth weight. The key finding of this study was that greater programme involvement, measured by longer and more intense home visitation early interventions, did not result in improved child outcomes. The lessons for New Zealand from this California-based study are that effectively intervening early in a family to enhance a child's wellbeing is complex and seems to require interventions that are part of an integrated model providing quality services that are based on some flexibility in the intensity and duration of services provided.


   Society has a solemn responsibility to protect its young. When
   children are failed by their families then the onus clearly rests
   with the state and wider society to ensure that children do not
   suffer or die from violence, abuse or neglect (McClay 2000:25).

A significant number of New Zealand children die as a result of deliberate acts of violence against them by family members. A 2001 report by the United Nations Children's Fund, which compared the rate of child death from injuries among OECD countries, ranked New Zealand as having the fifth highest rate of child death out of the 26 countries studied, with 13.7 child deaths per 100,000 children aged 1-14 years old during 1991-1995 (based on unintentional or intentional injuries, since intention and definitions of neglect are not always clear). Comparably, this was just behind the United States, which ranked fourth among OECD countries at 14.1 per 100,000 children (UNICEF 2001). When we consider that only a relatively small percentage of child abuse and neglect cases end in death and how difficult it has been to correctly identify even these most severe cases, it is sobering to contemplate how many less obvious cases of abuse go unheeded and unchecked.

The trend among all OECD countries in recent decades has been a steep decline in child death rates from injury, with New Zealand's rate of 13.7 children per 100,000 during 1991-1995 down from a rate of 23.7 during 1971-1975. However, New Zealand's child abuse and neglect rate since 1995 has changed very little and the fact remains that New Zealand children continue to die as a result of abuse, often at the hands of family members (Doolan 2004).

The child abuse and neglect figures for New Zealand are also disproportionate across ethnicities. In the year to June 2003, 7,361 children aged 0-16 were assessed by Child, Youth and Family as abused or neglected following a notification, which equates to an overall rate of 7.4 children for every 1,000 under 17 years of age. However, when broken down by ethnicity, the rate per 1,000 was 11.9 children for Maori and 5.9 for non-Maori. (2) Maori families also have much higher rates of the family vulnerability factors discussed in this study, including low socio-economic status, teenage childbearing, low educational attainment and health problems in children (Ministry of Social Development 2004). …

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