SUPPORTIVE: Health Minister Dr David Clark announed a new service to help mums with addiction and mental health challenges in the Eastern Bay. Photo Troy Baker D8917-101

ABOUT 100 mothers who have mental health and addiction challenges, and their young children, will benefit from a new Pregnancy and Parenting Service that is being rolled out in the Eastern Bay.

Minister of Health Dr David Clark announced the new service, which aims to give children a better start in life, on his first visit as minister to Whakatane Hospital yesterday. He said $7 million had been allocated from the Government’s wellbeing budget to expand the successful Pregnancy and Parenting Service (PPS) to two new sites, and one of these was the Eastern Bay.

The service was already running successfully in other parts of the country, including Auckland, Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.

“The service supports mothers in their role as parents and helps them address their alcohol, drug and mental health challenges with skilled clinical support,” Dr Clark said.

The Eastern Bay had been identified as an area where people would benefit from the service.

“The project looks across folks who have challenges with the corrections system, who have had benefit dependency and mental health and addition challenges, and we look across different regions of New Zealand and where there are concentrations of people who can benefit from this type of service, people who have complex needs,” he said.

“The evidence we have is there is huge potential for Eastern Bay mothers and their children to benefit from this service and the advice I have is this service could help about 100 mothers and their children every year.

“Often the challenges of addiction and mental health are concentrated among a number of families and the beauty of having it locally-led is those involved know who those people are, know the history and know how to get alongside them to be the best parents they can be.

“Everyone accepts what we want here is to give everyone the best start in life and the support that is needed for parents to be the best parents they can be.”

Dr Clark said the Eastern Bay was also identified as a region where there was the necessary skill set to deliver such a wrap-around service.

The objectives of the service, he said, were to support mothers in their role as parents, reduce stress levels and strengthen their ability to minimise the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs.

“The service also aims to actively support the development of parenting skills and increase parenting confidence, deliver safety and an enhanced psycho-social environment for the infant.”

Dr Clark said it took a holistic approach, “looking at physical health, mental health and also addressing family violence and legal issues”.

“It can also work with wider whanau, community and appropriate agencies to address housing issues.

“We know changes to the immediate home and environment of the child can help the development of the child and can also have an inter-generational impact.

“The service has proven its worth elsewhere, with benefits to family members and already looking to the next generation.”

Dr Clark spoke about the Government’s aspirations to provide a more equal society, where every child had a fair chance to get ahead in life.

“There is more to being parent than making sure you have a house, and making sure there is food, shelter and warmth.

“There is also aroha, warmth and affection, and we acknowledge sometimes mums and dads have challenges that make it hard for them to express the love or aroha they have for children.”

Dr Fiona Miller, clinical director of mental health addiction services at Whakatane Hospital, said the programme was a no-brainer for the Government.

“The first 100 days in young people’s lives are all we hear about at conferences these days, from nutrition, warmth, housing, the basics in life, but also care and love and a house free of stress, free of major mental illness and free of significant addiction or problems of violence,” Dr Miller said.

“The importance of that is scientifically proven and it makes a huge difference. The benefits are significant in all the fields of functioning but socially it is just the right thing to do as well.

“Socially it is very hard to stand back and watch communities really struggle to just nurture their young.”

Dr Miller said such a programme made economic sense as well. “We will have less health problems, less chronic health problems, less mental illness, less addiction to treat. We will also have productive, useful members of our society who will go on and achieve as best they can.”

Dr Miller said they would be working closely with the other sites already running the programme and it would complement the services already running in the Eastern Bay.

Dr Clark also met recent Maori nursing graduates during a tour of the hospital.

kathy.forsyth@thebeacon.co.nz