Dr Sneha Lakhotia, New Zealand's first accredited SROI practitioner. Photo: Katene Durie-Doherty

The early-intervention parenting project that’s worth its weight in gold

A landmark study has shown the true value of tikanga Māori-based early-intervention childcare using research from a parenting programme in West Auckland.

Corrine grew up in a wonderful household; her parents never so much as swore in front of her. In her own words, they were “amazing role models,” but when she became a teenager Corrine started rebelling.

“I ended up doing a lot of naughty things. I became a drug addict. I had gone through some abusive relationships and violence and I had my baby and was still in that cycle.”

Now a mum of two, Corrine thanks Incredible Years Parenting, an early-intervention parenting programme created to address conduct problems in children, for teaching her to be the parent her children deserve.

Incredible Years is an international early-intervention initiative. The West Auckland version, renamed Ngā Tau Mīharo o Aotearoa, is adapted to suit the specific needs of Māori families with a tikanga-based approach. Over its six years, the programme is credited with helping hundreds of parents like Corrine become better equipped to understand and properly deal with the challenges they face.

“There are things that you learn there that we do every day anyway but we forget them because we’re so caught up in life and business and time and we forget these things like child directed play and praise.”

Now a landmark study has proven the programme’s value through a methodology known as Social Return on Investment (SROI). It’s the first internationally accredited SROI study to be conducted in New Zealand, and shows that the social return of the Incredible Years programme was almost quadruple the investment put into it.

The difference with the SROI framework is that it takes into account not only the monetary returns of a programme, but the lived experiences of those who participated in it, says Dr Sneha Lakhotia is New Zealand’s first accredited SROI practitioner. She says the framework provides an important distinction between monetary and social value.

“SROI is an outcomes-based framework, in the sense that it looks at change in terms of real change and not mere numbers. It’s beyond economic changes… In layman’s terms, it is basically seeing something from a broader perspective: social, environmental and economic, and it’s turning the real change away from the normal numbers reporting.”

The research is important to understanding the value of early intervention parenting programmes, and importantly, the value of programmes tailored towards Māori. The overwhelmingly positive results of the report, Lakhotia says, are beneficial for people right across the board – from the whānau taking part to the people delivering the programme, and even the government.

“We often discount the importance of parenting considering there are other things going around, but if you do not take care of your caregivers and your parents then they are not guided well. If they are Māori, non-Māori, they are poor or rich – everyone requires [good parenting]. It has a multi-factorial effect across the child’s life span, and it really defines the way the journey is going to be. It’s very important from a policy perspective that we don’t just use this as a remedial programme, but as a toolbox for parents.”

Piripi is another parent who went through the Incredible Years programme. His four children are currently in state care, and he’s not shy about his past issues with drugs that landed them there. Piripi joined Incredible Years on the advice of a friend three years ago, and says it was the first step in changing his life.

“I needed changes. I needed something to do and the guy I knew was very convincing that this was the way to go. Incredible Years was my foundation, and I worked from that and started growing and getting into other courses, other parenting ones. Incredible Years was the one that opened that door up to getting me motivated to get out there and do these things.”

Corrine spreading the word about Ngā Tau Mīharo o Aotearoa. Image: supplied

The success of the programme can, in part, be put down to the tikanga Māori approach which both Corrine and Piripi say was important in making them feel welcome and open to learning in the class environment. “There is a big difference between having Pākehā facilitators and Māori facilitators. It is just more like a loving, whānau environment that you’re walking into,” says Piripi.

Corrine explains that while there were parents there from all different backgrounds, the tikanga setting helped everyone to find connection.

“Right from the very beginning of the programme it’s about coming together and realising that we’re all parents and we all struggle and go through difficult times, and we’re here to learn to make that better. You go in there thinking you’re going to be doing all this hard work and you just end up meeting people and you make your own rules. We do whanaungatanga, and we do a kawa, and make rules together and make those bonds and then we get to start work next week.

“The Māori environment really helps to show that we’re all the same and I may not have known that. I look at other people and I think they have it all figured out, but then I go to these lessons and I realise it’s all the same, we’re struggling together and it’s wonderful that we can all connect on that.”

Being aware of cultural differences can make a huge change in how people react to a programme like Incredible Years, says Lakhotia. “Simple things like keeping your shoes outside, which is a specific Asian culture too – recognising things like that which may offend one but not offend the other, is important.”

The inclusion of tikanga Māori doesn’t exclude other ethnicities. Corrine says in her class were “Indians, Africans, Mexicans, Chinese, English. I’ve been in there with every culture and we’re all the same, no matter where we’re from.”

Anecdotal evidence backs up the report’s findings that the programme’s worth greatly outweighs its cost. For Piripi, it played a huge role in his journey to hopefully getting his kids back.

“I’ve amazed myself, actually, just learning the things that I can do. There was so much I didn’t really know about how to be a father.

“I learned how to talk to my children, and it’s not just talking down on them, it’s getting down on your hands and knees and talking to them at their level. I learnt how to listen to them. I learnt how to praise them for good things that they do, I learned about giving them treats but not all the time.”

It’s a similar story for Corrine, who says the most important lessons she learned were about her own behaviours.

“What it ended up coming down to was the way that I reacted. [The programme] ended up teaching me a whole different language and how to speak to my children. I was a yeller. I would get my kids to do things and if they didn’t listen, I would yell at them

“Now my children can tell me anything – and they do – and I’ve learned to be able to handle that without having a negative reaction so that they can continue to talk to me.”


This content was created in paid partnership with the National Urban Māori Authority. Learn more about our partnerships here



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