A $30 million programme for New Zealand's most vulnerable families will be regeared to focus on families which need it most, especially where there is a risk of child abuse.

Family Start has been under a cloud since researchers found a Hawaiian programme that inspired it had failed to reduce child abuse.

But under the revamp, it will get a fulltime director in the Ministry of Social Development and a team of specialist advisers who will work with the agencies that provide the service in 32 local areas.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was "getting ready" to close Family Start down but changed her mind after attending a conference of similar home visiting programmes in Washington last month.

"I believe in home visiting," she said. "But we could do it better.

"Family Start was designed for children aged zero to 5 and I really want the focus to go on those children and what needs to happen around them for them to be safe and have the sorts of opportunities that together we want them to have.

"I expect [providers] to be far more consistent in their practices. There are around eight programmes that are excellent and have quite amazing service that they are giving, there is a big group in the middle that are doing okay but could do better, and there are seven or eight that are probably doing harm."

Family Start Manukau chief executive Colleen Fakalogotoa said the 32 local agencies would be grateful for the new advisers.

"Providers have done the best they can with as much as they know, but there is a lot of other information out there that we haven't been able to access."

She said the 13 criteria for selecting families for the programme were too wide and did not include the risk of child abuse.

"You can come in with a baby under 12 months under any one of those criteria," she said.

"For example, a housing problem. It's very hard to gear up a child abuse programme when all they want is a house."

Wilson Irons of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children, which runs the programme in central Auckland, agreed it needed "a more targeted approach".

"At the moment it's a broad approach which tries to cover everything from preschool education through to health through to child neglect and abuse," he said.

"There are other services that Family Start could work in conjunction with to meet those needs."

FAMILY START
* $30m cost

* 32 local agencies involved

* 13 criteria for selecting families to aid