3 Apr 2012

Funding cut for Family Start providers

8:21 pm on 3 April 2012

The Ministry of Social Development says it is axing contracts for five Maori providers of social services to at-risk families due to inconsistent and, in some cases, unsafe social work practices.

Family Start is a service for vulnerable families with newborn babies.

Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust, Turuki Health Care and Papakura Marae in Auckland, Te Ha o Te Whanau Trust in Opotiki and Te Roopu Awhina Family Start in Porirua have been told their contracts are going out to tender in July this year.

The Ministry of Social Development says the five providers were told regularly that their service was not up to standard, and that help from social work advisers and increased monitoring did not change the situation.

The ministry's head of Family and Community Services says some providers have made improvements recently, but they do not go far enough.

Murray Edridge says the Government spends $30 million a year on 32 Family Start contracts nationwide and needs to ensure that they are keeping children safe.

The ministry says overall funding for Family Start is unchanged. Mr Edridge says the funding the five contractors were receiving will be tendered in coming months.

Cuts too hasty, says Tamihere

Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust says the Social Development Ministry should not be allowed to simply pull the plug on the service which has more than 200 families in its care.

Trust head John Tamihere believes the ministry is being too hasty.

He admits its programme ran into problems last year and families were let down.

However, Mr Tamihere says they have been working hard since the end of last year to turn things around with new management and beefed-up expertise.

Mr Tamihere is confident the trust will regain the Family Start contract when it is put up for tender.

But Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the West Auckland trust is losing its funding because it has failed to meet required standards.

Ms Bennett told Parliament on Tuesday the trust has had about 14 visits from the ministry since July last year.

"They are failing to adhere to some of the basic requirements of the Family Start programme manual and have not been able to successfully implement best practice advice.

"This is the minimum standard of practice expected to meet the contract requirements."

Fears for Whanau Ora

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says the Social Development Ministry is seriously denting the Whanau Ora programme by cutting funding to Family Start contractors.

Dr Sharples told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday the five contractors concerned recently changed the way they run their programmes and were still meeting targets.

He believes the axing of the services will make the whole Whanau Ora programme less effective.