Services and Support for Families and Whānau in Christchurch

The research seeks to understand the kinds of services, support and information that Christchurch families and whānau affected by the earthquakes need to maintain resilience and aid their psychosocial recovery. It also focuses on identifying the most effective channels, access points and referral pathways required to reach families in need.

The research aimed to gather new information regarding a group of people about whom relatively little was currently known. It explores the needs of families and whānau who were less likely than others to have had experience with government agency support services prior to the earthquakes but, because of the stressors resulting from the earthquakes, may now need to connect with those services and are inexperienced in doing so.

The chosen research method and this report give voice to the parents who shared their stories of families and whānau living through extraordinary times. Taken together, the focus groups provide a collective personal narrative as to what has worked and what has not worked to date for the selected group of Christchurch families and whānau, including from the perspective of those providing services to these people.

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Methodology

The Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Superu) within the Families Commission contracted Opinions Market Research to conduct six focus groups with families and whānau living in the most damaged areas of Christchurch, with 6-10 participants in each group. In addition, two focus groups were conducted with representatives of 12 current providers of support services in Christchurch. The focus groups were convened during May and June 2014. Two complementary reports were produced, one of which summarises the kōrero of the whānau focus group and the Māori service providers’ focus group. Both reports are included in this publication.

The small samples were drawn from people who were currently experiencing one or more stressors as a result of the earthquakes (in terms of housing, education, relationships, mental health, financial and childhood/behavioural issues). People were selected on the basis of whether they considered themselves currently to be coping or not coping with their set of circumstances. Given that the research was focused on uncovering and exploring the needs of parents who currently had issues, the sample was deliberately weighted towards the latter.

All the participants in the five families focus groups were home-owners and parents, in families with incomes of less than $120,000 p.a., where at least one person was in paid employment, and with dependent children aged up to 17 years. Participants in the whānau focus group met all the same criteria except home ownership. All but one of the Māori parents participating in the whānau focus group were living in rental accommodation.

Key Results

Families represented in this study were strongly affected by ongoing housing, accommodation and home insurance issues, nearly four years after the first earthquake in September 2010. Some had had to relocate several times. Overcrowding of whānau homes, although not uncommon pre-quakes, had become a necessity rather than a choice. The lack of control around these issues caused frustration and emotional stress.

The research shows that many aspects of family wellbeing - e.g. health and safety, family relationships, economic security, social connections – have been disrupted as a result of the earthquakes. This disruption is impeding the ability of some families to move through the recovery process effectively. Their need for support varies. Some parents whose families have the most complex needs are so fatigued that they need intensive support. Others don’t know where to start looking for help or have given up after looking unsuccessfully. The findings indicate that families need a coordinated services approach that pro-actively offers support to the whole family.

The two reports have very consistent themes about the nature of the services and support needed by families and whānau at this stage of the recovery process. These are:

  1. community based
  2. multi-faceted or wrap-around or with the ability to work collaboratively with one another
  3. individualised to help navigate through the myriad of issues
  4. mobile – the services come to you.  

The research found that community-based support services are vital for the need of families to feel a sense of ownership and control over the services, support and information from the ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top down’. They are seen as the "next best thing" to family support. Families talked of the importance of being able to trust the source of advice for them to want to engage with the services. Being treated with respect and having a relationship of trust was particularly important to participants in the whānau focus group. Having the right kinds of people delivering the services was essential. Staff should be responsive, understanding, empathetic, non-judgemental, and treat you like a person not a number.

The whānau group was aware of and could describe services provided by Māori service providers and the churches but was less aware of other family support services. Two community supports that were most identified across the focus groups were local schools and Red Cross.

Parents identified informal channels using existing structures such as schools as being the most likely way for them to engage with support. Social media are also an important way of communicating with other people in similar situations, particularly on issues related to earthquake-related insurance claims.

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