Kids' refuge closes after 80 years

By Lindy Laird

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The doors to Tikipunga Children's Home in Whangarei will close next week, after being open for over 80 years.

Stephanie McMillan, chairwoman of the trust that runs the home, which has been at the site since 1925, described the closure as "a sad but inevitable move".

"The timing's pretty awful but financially we have no choice. Whatever happens with the property after this, we feel duty bound to see it continue to be used for the sake of the community, with the emphasis on children and young people," she said.

With the house due to be empty by Christmas there was no point trying to keep the inevitable at bay, Mrs McMillan said.

"Very few children are orphans these days but there are many in our community who have needed the kind of care we've offered in a real home situation, whether for a short period or a little longer. Some children's parents need respite time because of illness or other circumstances, but police can and do bring children to us in the middle of the night.

"Our mission has always been that we run the home as a safe and child-focused place. There have been a lot of sad children and a lot of difficult children stay there over the years, but we have always endeavoured to create the feeling it was a family home."

This week only two children are in the house, which has room for 10 or more at a time - and that is a sign of the times. It does not mean there are fewer children needing to be put into a safe "family home" environment for up to a month at a time; it means not many are being referred to the purpose-built Tikipunga facility these days.

Most referrals are from Child, Youth and Family (CYF) through a Ministry of Social Development contract, but CYF has two homes of its own in Whangarei.

Red tape and compliance issues meant the house parents' roles had become more administrative these days, Mrs McMillan said. Other reasons affecting sustainability were the high cost of relief staff and social workers' wages, food, fuel, electricity, telephones and maintenance.

Two full-time "house parents", relievers when necessary, a part-time social worker, cleaner and gardener are employed by the trust. The home was established as an "orphanage and home for destitute children" in 1925 when a childless couple, Mr and Mrs F Potter, donated the 10-hectare Corks Rd property.

In 1939, the Potters and the Whangarei council gave money to build the house that is in use today.

Through much of its history, the adjoining 10ha dairy farm supplemented the home's operating funds.

Mrs McMillan said the trust would now consider the best use for that valuable asset.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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