The Taupo Family Start programme was established in 2006 to help strengthen families in the Taupo District.Whānau Workers go into homes offering intensive support to families with high needs, to ensure that the children have the best possible start in life. Through the organisations’ work, it helps to improve the health, education and social outcomes for children and helps parents develop strong parenting skills and practices.

The Tindall Foundation spoke to Sharon Simpson, Manager of Family Start, to hear about the huge success of the organsiation’s Male Mentor Programme. Here’s what she had to say:

In each family we work with the children. They are our focus, their safety is paramount. We start working with the family when the mother is pregnant and support them through the first year of their child’s life. We are concerned with the baby’s health, and wellbeing, ensuring they are immunised and have regular health checks and that their developmental milestones are being reached.

Through our visits with families, it became very obvious that many of the fathers were struggling. We could see that they didn’t know how to parent and had no male role models in their lives to learn from. So we introduced the Male Mentor Programme at the beginning of 2012. So far it has been an overwhelming success. We call in our mentor, Brian Griffin, when we identify a dad who isn’t supporting his partner or where domestic violence is an issue. Brian’s role is to visit in tandem with the Family Start Whānau Worker and engage the dad in positive activities. As Brian’s position is not funded in our Family Start agreement with FACS/ MSD, we rely on grants to maintain the position. The Tindall Foundation has helped by assisting with Brian’s salary, making it possible for him to mentor some of our young fathers.

Brian has a way about him that sees him establishing a great relationship with these men. He soon becomes a father figure, a listening ear, someone they can look up to and rely on. Ultimately, his aim is to help the men become better dads, teach them about supportive, respectful relationships and show them the benefits this has for the whole whānau.

Brian does a fantastic job and, in a very creative way, figures out what is best for each man and what practical help they would each benefit from. He does every-day things with them. They may seem simple to others, but these activities make a significant difference these men’s lives. So Brian will take the Dad to enroll at the gym and go along with him, take him and the kids fishing or to the beach or pool, do the gardening or cooking together, all the while promoting the positive benefits of playing with children, the importance of helping mum and being involved in family life. Recently a young single father came to Brian asking for bread. Brian said he didn’t have any, but that he would teach him how to bake some. And so together, with the man’s little girl, they baked bread. Not only is it a great new skill, but the dad can now take part in a fun, educational activity with his daughter.

Brian also accompanies the dads to Work and Income or helps them apply for jobs. Recently he has successfully supported two dads into employment and he continues to visit them in their workplace. With Brian’s help another two men are now in training. He also works with fathers who are still in prison, helping to prepare them for their return home so that the transition back in to family life is a smooth one.

It’s not just the fathers and children that benefit from Brian’s help. The mothers speak of the huge difference Brian has made to their lives. They say he has helped reduce stress levels at home.  In one case, Brian was called in to help a young dad with issues of drugs and family violence. With Brian’s support this father has done so well. He has totally devoted himself to his child and his partner has been able to go back to work and leave the baby with him during the day. She said this never would have happened without the support of Brian.

In the Toupo region there has been a reduction in family violence since Brian started the mentoring programme six months ago. For those men participating in his programme, there have been no referrals to police for incidents/offences involving family violence.

Tom’s story:

Tom’s world revolved around drugs and alcohol and it wasn’t long before he found himself in prison.

When he was released from prison he got back together with his partner and child and they soon had another baby.   When Tom’s partner was pregnant with their youngest child, a local agency recognised that the children in this family were vulnerable and a referral was made to Family Start.  A female Whānau Worker first visited the family and established a rapport with both mum and dad.

Since being released from prison, Tom had been unable to find employment due to his criminal record.  The couple decided that mum would go out to work and Tom would be the caregiver to the baby and toddler.  Mum’s background was farm work and she secured work on a farm which included a house in which to live.  At this point, since Tom was at home during the day, Brian started visiting.  It was a huge undertaking for Tom to be at home all day with two little ones and he found it quite difficult.  Brian worked with him to find ways to decrease the stress of being the main caregiver and housekeeper. He taught Tom, through role modelling, how to get his daily chores done by involving the children so they learned skills as well as having fun with their dad.  Brian had been a baker previously and because the family was on a tight budget, and isolated from shops, he taught Tom how to make bread.  This allowed Tom to contribute to the family fare as he included the children in the bread making activity.  Now when Brian visits he often finds Tom busily preparing dinner with the children helping close by.  Tom was able to pick up a few odd jobs around the farm and could be seen with the youngest child in a backpack and the older child trotting along beside him as he did his jobs.  Tom wanted to build a playhouse for the children and sought advice from Brian, who is quite a handyman.

Tom’s partner has recently completed a Farm Management Course and has been offered the opportunity to manage a nearby farm.  Both the children will be at pre-school when Tom’s partner takes on her role, so Tom will be able to be employed as a farmhand.

This young man, whose friends told Brian that “he would never change”, now has plans for the future which include staying drug free and maintaining the great relationship he has with his children and partner.  Recently Tom and his partner were able to have a weekend away by themselves to the V8’s – something Tom would only have dreamed about a few years ago.

Brian continues to visit Tom every week and is welcomed by the family as a trusted friend. The trust and friendship is exmplified by the fact that Brian will be marrying Tom and his partner next year.

Contact: Family Start Taupo: 073765961