A father and daughter fishing.

Outcome / impact evaluation of Family Start: Final report

The reader should note that limitations to the Outcome / Impact Evaluation methodology constrain the types of conclusions that we can draw about the impact of the Family Start programme.

It was not possible for the evaluators to compare the outcomes achieved by Family Start clients with other similar families who had not participated in the programme. The outcomes described in the report were based on information collected on less than a fifth of the eligible programme participants, because of difficulties in collecting follow-up data from some participating families and the non-participation of other eligible families. As such, we cannot conclusively say how much benefit the programme had for participants or whether any gains observed in the evaluation would have been achieved without all or parts of the intervention.

The Outcome / Impact Evaluation report contrasts national prevalence statistics available for factors such as smoking and breastfeeding with the outcomes reported for Family Start clients. These should be interpreted with caution because Family Start clients are not equivalent in composition to the population as a whole. The latter include a much broader range of families, the majority of whom are not experiencing as many difficulties as those eligible for Family Start.

Family Start is a key component in an early intervention approach. International evidence shows that high intensity, home-based early intervention programmes are able to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families. By providing such an intensive targeted home visiting service to families with the highest needs, Family Start can make an important contribution to early intervention with vulnerable children.

As a consequence the Government has made improvements to, and continued to invest in, the Family Start programme since the evaluation was undertaken. These improvements were informed by the Family Start Process Evaluation, contract monitoring and international evidence.

Improvements that were made from 1 July 2004 included:

  • training on provider governance and management arrangements
  • a mandatory requirement that supervisors have tertiary qualifications
  • memoranda of understanding between Family Start sites and CYF on
  • referrals and notifications of child abuse and neglect
  • a more comprehensive needs assessment tool
  • new tangible indicators relating to the Family Start outcomes

The new tangible indicators have been written into service provider contracts to give workers greater guidance. These indicators include ensuring that:

  • families are enrolled for and receive regular dental check-ups
  • families are regularly seen by a Well Child/Tamariki Ora provider
  • all children receive their prescribed pre-school immunisations
  • support is provided to mothers to encourage breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life
  • children are enrolled in and attend early childhood education programmes
  • children and families are well prepared for school entry
  • families have been assisted to establish stable home environments
  • CYF are promptly notified of any care and protection concerns for children

In addition these indicators outline how parents will have improved their parenting capability and practice, and personal and family circumstances.

Additional improvements that will come into effect from 1 July 2005 require:

  • Family Start family/whanau workers to have tertiary qualifications wherever possible.
  • Family Start providers to build positive working relationships with local service providers through regular meetings, protocols and providing detailed feedback on the outcome of key assessments.

Commissioned and managed by Centre for Social Research and Evaluation - Ministry of Social Development

A father and daughter fishing.


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