Child poverty is a big issue in New Zealand but it’s impossible to help our vulnerable youngsters by focussing on their needs alone.
That’s why the Salvation Army is launching a new ‘Whanau Mentoring Programme’ in Tauranga to help entire families overcome challenges, build on their strengths and learn new skills.
The programme is already running in Waitakere, Auckland, and if successful here, could be rolled out across the wider Bay of Plenty.
Davina Plummer, the manager of Tauranga Salvation Army’s Community Ministries, says 3285 local children are identified as being ‘at risk’ based on current social investment insight data.
“There’s been a lot of research on child poverty and the extent of that. There are certainly children in our community who are really suffering so we’re keen to work with their entire family to provide social work as well as practical help.”
BayTrust has granted $25,000 so a whanau social worker can be employed to work with 35 families over the next 12 months.
Weekly family visits will be arranged so the ‘mentor’ can get to know the entire family and see what challenges or needs each person has.
“The whanau mentor will then come up with a development plan,” Davina explains.
“We want to help children explore their passions and interests and we’re able to connect their parents into the Salvation Army’s existing positive parenting programmes, budget support, counselling, family therapy, addiction services, and our education and employment services.”
Davina says the programme is ideally suited to vulnerable families who want to engage and work on their own goals.
“It’s difficult when families have to go from one agency to another seeking help and receive short-term interventions. We’re keen to see sustainable change. We want to see generational change. It’s not just a short-term fix. It’s about working through and changing habits over time and gaining new skills.”
The whanau mentor will identify and focus on a person’s strengths to then help them address their weaknesses.
“The families who are vulnerable hear the negatives all too often. A child might have trouble reading but they love playing sports so you can use sport as a way to engage and assist the child to read as well.”
Another important part of the programme is to encourage each family member to ‘give back’ and do volunteer work in the community at local events or through Salvation Army programmes or family stores.
“The giving back is two-fold. It’s good for them to feel they have something worthwhile to contribute. It adds to their sense of well-being and self-esteem. But it also benefits the whole community at the same time.”
Davina hopes the programme will begin this year. She is now developing the concept and evaluation methods further and seeking funds to cover operational costs. Soon she will advertise the new whanau mentoring position.
“We will certainly need a very special person for the job – someone who can help each member of a family to develop, as well as the family as a whole.”