The Strengthening Families Programme

Published: April 24, 2020

The Strengthening Families programme supports vulnerable whānau/families by providing interagency service coordination, with a focus on early intervention.


The research was undertaken to better understand how the Strengthening Families programme operates across the country, what its underlying operating model is, and to inform the future development of the programme alongside other future early intervention and interagency initiatives.

A research report and accompanying literature review have been completed.


Strengthening Families is a free and voluntary service, supported by 11 key government agencies (Oranga Tamariki, Accident Compensation Corporation, Department of Corrections, Department of Internal Affairs, Te Puni Kōkiri, Housing New Zealand, Inland Revenue, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, and New Zealand Police).

The research used a mixed methods design and consisted of 22 semi-structured interviews with Strengthening Families professionals, a survey of all active Strengthening Families professionals (89% response rate), a short literature review, an analysis of the Strengthening Families Reporter Tool, and document analysis.

Key findings

  • Strengthening Families is a principles-based national framework rather than a programme per se. It operates a structured interagency case conferencing system for the coordination of services to families/whānau. The current operating model has 10 core components however it operates differently in different areas, and many of its key operating assumptions remain untested.
  • Strengthening Families has seen a number of incremental developments since its inception, although essentially the model remains the same today as it was in 1999. However, the purpose and context of the programme has radically changed since then, and it currently largely serves different children through largely, different professionals.
  • Nationally and locally there is ambiguity about who Strengthening Families is meant to serve, with some areas delivering early intervention and others focused on either less or more intensive cases. Consequently, there is a wide range in how long families remain in the service.
  • Across the programme’s lifespan, there have been significant changes in the degree and nature of national direction and there is a current focus on ‘contracts’ and ‘systems’. In the early years of the programme there was a much stronger focus on ‘training’ and ‘strategy’.
  • Many Local Management Groups are struggling and they no longer exist in seven or more areas.
  • There is significant variation in Coordinator role and functions across the country and variation in local delivery, including referral management and levels of support from participating agencies. A significant amount of change over the last 22 years has occurred in the context, purpose, and role of the coordinator.
  • Strengthening Families does meet the needs of some families/whānau including Māori, and there is evidence of effectiveness. The majority of interviewees believed the programme was appropriate and effective for Māori, however some feel that more work needs to be done.

Reports and appendices