A synthesis of recent research on early intervention

Published: September 25, 2020

Oranga Tamariki is responsible for delivering or managing a range of early intervention programmes. 


Early intervention can be described as "identifying and providing effective early support to those at risk of poor outcomes".

The programmes and services examined in this synthesis report are: Family Start; Social Workers in Schools; Strengthening Families; and Children's Teams. Oranga Tamariki commissioned this synthesis when we noticed common themes and messages emerging from research and evaluation reports published during 2019 and 2020. 

Key findings

The following five key themes emerged from the analysis conducted:

1. Programmes have their own approaches but similar purposes

There are a plethora of early intervention initiatives in New Zealand. These four stand-alone programmes target 'vulnerable children' whose families/whānau are willing to accept programme requirements. To varying degrees they focus on providing support to disadvantaged people, reducing the likelihood of harm and/or improving wellbeing. 

2. There are commonalities in programme design across the interventions

There are more similarities than differences across programmes. All four are voluntary and based around a professional role that is almost always undertaken by an NGO employee. Programmes are relationship and strengths-based and are used for Māori and non-Māori children and families/whānau alike. 

3. The programmes would benefit from a supporting, common infrastructure

All four programmes operate their own programme infrastructure. Local governance arrangements, where required, are generally not strong. Professional development was found to be patchy, and information management systems were viewed by many as difficult to use and of little benefit. 

4. There are some common challenges in delivering these programmes

Current salary levels were reported to be having an impact on recruitment and retention, as was increasing case complexity and some families/whānau needing more than these programmes were designed to provide. Any interruptions and/or delays in service delivery also add pressure. 

5. Families/Whānau value these programmes and experience good outcomes

The programmes, and in particular the people who worked in them, were mostly highly valued by participating families/whānau and workers were often able to effect significant positive changes in clients' lives. However none of these reports examined longer-term outcomes.