Connecting parents in Waitakere

Waitakere, West Auckland has a diverse population of around 200,000 residents, a tenth of those under-five. The area has experienced massive population growth over the last 15 years, with a high number of new migrants. In such a large bustling place spread over a large geographical area, it’s easy for families with young children to feel disconnected and isolated.

SKIP supported local organisations to run a range of projects supporting Waitakere families over the years, including the popular annual festival Toddlers Day Out. In 2014 SKIP began sharpening its focus on child maltreatment prevention. We needed to look at whether initiatives we were funding were genuinely helping parents with the highest need for support.

What we did  

In 2014, SKIP partnered with Innovate Change, with the aim of using a whānau-centred approach to design new ways to support families at risk in Waitakere. Together we recruited a group of local community representatives with local knowledge and experience of supporting vulnerable families. We trained 11 local parents in peer-to-peer interviewing so that they could gather genuine insights from across the community. A large whānau dinner was also held to canvas parents’ views. 

“My first four kids were uplifted from me because of domestic violence… I wanted to do something for my area… I started up a group for mothers - single parents who’ve been through violence with their partner.” Parent leader

What we found

The insights from parent-to-parent interviews confirmed many were feeling lonely, isolated and judged by others. The cost of transport to family-friendly activities and events was also an issue. Families told us that rather than irregular large events or parenting programmes what they really needed was local, free ways to connect with each other and their own kids and have access to informal, non-judgemental support from other parents. 

What happened next

Using the findings, the idea took shape through a co-design process involving with a small group of parents and Waitakere community leaders. The concept involved recruiting parents to organise regular informal local activities for other parents in their community. 

The project started off with twelve parent leaders in late 2014, who all committed to running at least one weekly activity for the next 12 months. Each leader was given a food voucher for their time as well as support with promoting and evaluating their activity.  

A simple ‘SKIP Waitakere’ website was developed, which included an online parent leader sign-up form and screening process. Over the next year the parents met regularly for mentoring sessions where they could share ideas and support each other.  

What’s happening now?

Although some of the original parent leaders have left due to pregnancy, moving out of the area or other commitments, more have joined. The SKIP Waitakere network now involves 26 parent leaders who now run more than 26 different free weekly local family-friendly activities across Waitakere. Some activities have a specific focus such as fitness, craft, but the main purpose is to get parents to get out of the house, sharing their experiences and supporting one another.

Parent leaders use social media including Facebook pages to promote meet-ups to local parents. There is no registration required, attendance is on a casual ‘just turn-up’ basis. This encourages the involvement of families that tend to avoid conventional parenting groups, services and programmes. Groups are deliberately kept small to make it easier for local parents to get to get to know one another. This regular, free access to informal support and social connection is making a real difference to parents across Waitakere.

Read more about the project at http://www.innovatechange.co.nz/what-weve-done/msd