Doctors and nurses are being recruited to run parenting programmes in a bid to intervene early before unruly children turn into delinquent teenagers.

The Ministry of Health is about to start a two-year, $4 million pilot programme in three regions to support general practitioners (GPs) and other primary health providers to work with parents one-to-one or in groups.

The programme will be aimed at parents with children aged 3 to 7 who have relatively low-level behaviour problems such as refusing to eat their dinner or refusing to go to bed.

Parents will be offered brief training over four 20-minute sessions timed to fit into a GP's consultation or a Plunket nurse's home visit.

Project manager Dr Sarah Dwyer, a psychologist in the ministry's mental health and addictions group, said the programme would be piloted from early this year in the Bay of Plenty, Mid-Central and either Waitemata or Counties-Manukau health districts.

Doctors and nurses will be trained in the "Triple P" Positive Parenting Programme developed by New Zealander Matt Sanders at the University of Queensland.

Auckland University's Triple P research centre and the university's Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health will organise the training.

"Lead primary care providers" will be contracted in each of the three regions to provide local backup.

Separate contracts are also being let to develop kaupapa Maori programmes through Te Ha o te Ora in Murupara and the Rangatahi (Youth) Court in Gisborne.

Dr Dwyer said the health-based initiative was designed to tie in with a more intensive 16-week programme called the Incredible Years, which is available through special education advisers in schools.

"The key people parents come into touch with are GPs and Well Child providers and teachers, so ideally it's those primary care providers we'd like to be delivering parenting support," she said.

"So our starting point is to offer it to primary care providers including GPs and nurses, recognising that GPs are providers of the B4 School check in some areas. In other areas it's Plunket [Well Child services].

"They are the people identifying children with behavioural and emotional problems, so they are in an ideal position to support parents to get whatever help they need."

The B4 School check, a comprehensive check of children's health and development before they start school, is still being established.

"The initial target is that the B4 School providers reach 80 per cent of children who are 4," Dr Dwyer said. "We are not at 80 per cent yet."

She said the primary health parenting pilot would be funded through the mental health budget as part of a cross-government strategy to tackle the social "drivers of crime" at an early age before children start to commit crimes.

The pilot will run until June 2013.


One-legged former Stormtrooper gang member Haare Ripia reckons that if everyone in Otara did the Hippy programme, it would be a different place.

Mr Ripia, 50, has spent half his life in jail. His Otara home is surrounded by a high wooden fence with a padlocked gate and a sign saying: "Beware: Dangerous Dog".

He has two children from a first marriage and had two with his current partner, Joan Raeina, 27, before a friend put them on to the Home Instruction Programme for Preschool Youngsters (Hippy) for their third child, Te Ao Marama, now 5.

"The other two, we just dropped them off before school and picked them up after school," he says.

"But when you get involved on a personal basis - it's like a gift."

Or, as Ms Raeina says: "It was like a miracle."

Hippy, brought to New Zealand from Israel by Dame Lesley Max in 1992, aims to help parents prepare their children for school.

Tutors, who are young mothers doing the same programme in the same community, work through books that teach the mothers how to do simple tasks such as reading with their children from a year before school through the child's first year in school.

Ms Raeina's tutor, Girl Komene, comes from a family that was "almost the same" as the Ripia family.

"Even to this day Haare doesn't read or write, so it was surprising that he let the whole programme into his home," she says.

"Before this I was haywire, through sickness and then through having young babies," Ms Raeina says.

She had no role model on how to parent because she came from "a broken-down family".

The first thing she learned from Hippy was "just having time for the kids". It started with 15 minutes a day of dedicated time with Te Ao.

"I taught Joan," Ms Komene says. "Haare would listen in and let us know what he was thinking."

A year into the programme, Mr Ripia quit the Stormtroopers - "to the surprise of everyone I've known for 40 years".

"I know now it's not what I'm here for on this earth," he says.

"This is the best thing I've done for my son in my life. It helps with your patience. It teaches you to be caring and, because you are helping him with it, you are doing it, you're involved in it. It's helping you as well.

"I wish it was around in my time. I would have made some different choices. If Hippy was to spread through Otara, man, the younger ones coming up would come right."