Matua Raḵi August 2015 newsletter | Cover story

Parents can be referred to Wellington-based Te Matua Tamariki by Child, Youth and Family, treatment providers, or the courts. Sometimes they will self-refer. Parents stay with their children at a house in the suburbs for three months while they complete the Salvation Army’s Bridge programme. It’s been running for the last ten years and supports one family at a time. 

Te Matua Tamariki is managed by Major Carole Scott, who works with parents on their parenting skills while they also address their addiction problems. Parenting modules include self-esteem, assertiveness, setting routines and establishing boundaries. It is strengths-based, so Carole finds what they are doing well, and then moves on from there. She says sometimes it’s as simple as getting down on the floor so parents can experience what playing with a child is like.

“It can be a huge struggle for these parents to bring their children with them,” Carole says, “and they have to work harder than most other residential clients. They can’t just come back at the end of the day and chill out in their room. They have to pick up their kids and do their parenting.

Normally both the children and the parent are in crisis, so my role is making sure the children are taken care of. I play with them and help the parent get into a routine so the kids can have some stability.”

In many cases the children may be experiencing challenges related to aspects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Having an opportunity to intervene early and put in place some appropriate strategies for managing these challenges will give the children some good tools for the future.

Newtown School will take the children up to Year Six level, and Carole says this is really helpful. In most cases children on the programme must be under ten-years-old, though older children may be accepted if the need is great. 

At the end of the programme, parents leave with a very solid exit plan and a practical day care plan. Support workers will follow up with visits and calls and sometimes will even babysit so parents can attend AA or NA meetings. Graduations occur at optional fellowship evenings held for residential clients on Thursday nights.

“It’s an enormous undertaking and takes a lot of energy,” Carole says. “Often we get families where there’s been terrible disruption, and we really wish we could have received them two years earlier.”

But she finds the work wonderfully rewarding. 

It’s just amazing to compare a photo of the children when they first come in with one when they’re about to leave. You can clearly see the difference on their faces. Having consistency, routines and boundaries in place are just huge things for families.”

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