A 'Family Start' Success Story

By Beth Stitely | Posted: Tuesday June 16, 2015

In July,  Family Start  will celebrate its 15th year anniversary with Anglican Family Care. To mark this special occasion we’d like to share the story of one Mum who went through the programme, developed life-long skills and confidence, and is now helping other Mums in our community. 

Her smile radiates across the room as she engages with everyone and makes them feel comfortable and welcomed. She shares her personal experiences and struggles with the young Mums surrounding her. Each Mum leans in to listen to the next word while holding their child close or playing with them on the floor. This group meets fortnightly to discuss the joys and challenges of being a parent. They also learn about programmes and opportunities that can help them manage their problems or help them become a better parent. Today they’re learning about Family Start.

The group is led by Kristalee, who herself went through some difficult years after having her first child when she struggled with postnatal depression and social anxiety. “The struggles I had at that time were very real to me” she says” the thought of going to a doctor’s appointment or going out seemed overwhelming.”

Kristalee found help through the Family Start programme six weeks after the birth of her first child. Her midwife recommended the programme. “At first I didn’t want to do it. But after I met my worker, I immediately felt comfortable. She didn’t judge me or my parenting and I came to understand that she was there to help.”

Family Start is a unique programme because it provides intensive, long-term social work services to parents who are struggling with a variety of problems. The programme is voluntary and takes place in the client’s home. Recent and comprehensive studies have found that home-based intervention programmes are most effective in bringing about desired change and improvement.* In this case, Kristalee was battling postnatal depression and anxiety; but other clients face issues that include poverty, family violence, isolation, marginalisation, and drug and alcohol abuse. Being a parent is challenging enough but when compounded with serious problems, it can become overwhelming and even oppressive for some.

A family worker who is immersed in the client’s home can witness what it means to be part of the family and can gain an understanding of the challenges that family faces. Through this, they have the opportunity to build a personal relationship. This is exactly what happened between Kristalee and her worker. “My worker was wonderful. She came with me to my doctor appointments because they caused me anxiety. When you have no family it’s nice to have someone there. It felt more like a relationship and not clinical like some places can make you feel.” These types of strong relationships are vital to success when parents and family workers are managing complex situations.

Kristalee participated in the Family Start programme for four years. She’s grateful for her family worker who encouraged and supported her through a difficult time in her life. “I had issues with breastfeeding. It made me feel that my child wasn’t getting the best start. It’s so easy to beat yourself up about things like that. But my worker made me feel better about the situation and myself. She hooked me up with a lactation consultant. I was anxious about going to the appointment so she went with me. She stayed with me and made me feel comfortable.”

Through the Family Start programme, Kristalee has also learned some life-long lessons that she still draws upon today. “I was lucky to have my worker. She taught me skills and tools that I still use today. It’s not that all my problems have gone away, but it’s that I can now recognise the path I’m going down and I can respond quickly to make the appropriate changes.”

Her family worker has also helped her to build strong parenting skills and confidence. “It was great to learn that I don’t have to have rules for myself. I had put such high expectations on myself of what it means to be a parent. My worker helped me to manage those expectations. I also learned to get on the floor and to play with my child and that was fun and encouraging.”

Kristalee is just one of the many success stories of the Family Start programme. She is using her experiences to help other Mums and facilitates the Mums-4-Mums programme through the Dunedin Parents Centre. She’s grateful for the help that she’s received and wants other parents who may be struggling to know that help  is available. “Family Start is a God-send” she says “There’s a lot of support out there and it’s not necessary to sit home and suffer. I encourage those Mums who are struggling to get help. I’ve learned that anxiety, depression, and other issues don’t just happen to a certain type of person, they can affect anyone.”

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help or if you would like more information about the Family Start programme,  please visit our website at www.anglicanfamilycare.co.nz or call 477-0801.  The Family Start programme is free and voluntary.

* Family Commission research report “Effective Parenting Programmes”, April 2014.