Nearly a third of all children in Northland under the age of five are at risk of abuse, neglect, need to live in care or have an uneducated mother with addictions or mental illness.

After scoring higher than any other New Zealand region, Northland has qualified for a new wrap-around service for the target group of pregnant women and mothers of toddlers.

A shocking 29 per cent of all Northland children under 5 years old had two or more of the four risk factors used to determine which district health boards qualified for the Ministry of Health funding boost.

Northland is one of three regions to get $1 million a year for four years to provide more support for mothers of children under 3 years old and pregnant women with addictions, or were mentally unwell or vulnerable for other reasons.


The four at-risk factors were children under 5 who: suffered abuse, neglect or were in the care of Child, Youth and Family; had been supported by benefits for more than three quarters of their lifetime; either parent had a Department of Corrections history of prison or community sentences; or the mother had no formal qualifications.

The new service, called He Tupua Wai-Ora, was launched by Northland District Health Board (NDHB) yesterday.

Kaitaia mother Shelly Erstich was to be guest speaker but was unable to attend.
She had experienced first-hand the difference intensive support could make, she said.

"During pregnancy I become very mentally unwell, irrationally suicidal, and as a result there was a point when my children were removed from my care."

Strong support from her health worker was a major factor in her recovery and the return of her children, she said.

The He Tupua Wai-Ora service is based on evidence that parents with alcohol and drug problems often have difficulty providing healthy, nurturing and safe environments for their children, NDHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain said.

"We believe that the responsibility lies with all agencies to reach out and be engaged with parents for as long as it takes to ensure that the health and wellbeing of children is secured," he said.

"Rather than expecting the client to access services, agencies will actively engage with individuals and their families by taking the services to them and providing continuous engagement."


The other two health districts to get the special funding were Hawke's Bay and Tairawhiti.