Impact of the Family Start Home Visiting Programme on Outcomes for Mothers and Children: A Quasi-Experimental Study

Family Start workers make regular home visits and, using a structured program, seek to improve parenting capability and practice. Workers also actively work to promote breastfeeding, reduce home hazards, connect infants to immunisation and primary health services, promote children’s participation in early childhood education, and connect families to services that could help address family violence, substance abuse, mental health and other challenges they face.

The programme is delivered by contracted providers with the aim of ensuring services are provided in a manner that is responsive to each community. Providers include iwi, Pacific, faith-based and other Non-Government Organisations.

Families are referred to Family Start by a range of individuals and agencies including midwives, Well Child/Tamariki Ora nurses, Child Youth and Family (CYF) and Police. Families can also self-refer. Children are generally enrolled either before birth or in their first year, and can remain in the programme until the family “graduates” or the child reaches school age.

Family Start workers deliver services at varying levels of intensity depending on the family’s needs, and visits are weekly or fortnightly. A central programme component is delivery of a child development and parent education curriculum.

A number of studies and reviews of Family Start have been conducted over the years. These have tended to find that families selected to be interviewed value the programme. But they have also highlighted variation in practice and performance across providers. None of these previous studies has been able to establish the effectiveness of Family Start in improving outcomes. This new study was commissioned to fill that gap.

The results indicate that the enhanced Family Start programme that was phased in to new areas between 2005 and 2007 was associated with statistically significant positive impacts in a number of domains.

Positive impacts are found for Family Start children overall, and for Māori and Pacific children who participated in the programme.

Selected Extensions

Selected extensions were undertaken examining the impact of Family Start for additional sub-groups of participant children, and looking at the impact of the programme for Māori children when delivered by Māori and other provider organisations. Results show that the benefits of the programme are experienced by a range of different types of families, and provide some information that can help inform programme enhancements.