110 years of care for Otago's children & families in need

25 August 2016

Presbyterian Support has been supporting Otago’s children and families since 1906. Whilst our approach has changed over time, our motivation has not. Otago can be the best place to raise a child, with the right community support.

In the early years, orphanages and residential care for children in need were the norm. From 1907 to the late 1980s Presbyterian Support Otago managed residential care homes and cottages for children. The children in our care were from impoverished backgrounds, had lost one or both parents, or found themselves alone in the world for other reasons.

There are some happy stories from those days and some terribly sad ones too. One can’t help but be moved by the description of the first three children taken into permanent care by Deaconesses Mary McQueen and Evelyn Macadam in October 1906: ‘found huddled together with their mother who was dying of consumption.’*

Other recollections from that time include this happy memory from Valmai Northcoat, a former resident of Grants Braes Home:  There seemed to be a lot of laughter and that about the place…There must have been a lot of games and things going on. … I loved the kitchen, for some reason or other, I must’ve spent a lot of time in that kitchen… I was probably sneaking little bits and pieces… .”*

From the 1950s public discussion around how to best care for vulnerable children began to include alternative models such as foster care and more support for parents and families. Social Work developed as a professional occupation requiring training and specialist skills. These developments changed the way Presbyterian Support Otago worked and the services we offered. The importance of community, volunteers and donors grew as we sought to help children and families remain connected.

In 1963 Presbyterian Support Otago appointed our first qualified social worker, one of only two in Dunedin at the time. This was the beginning of a new approach and the foundation for what would become Family Works, our social services division.

During that time Presbyterian Support began winding down our children’s homes and selling the properties. Proceeds from sales helped support children still in our care and were placed in trust to fund new programmes and future social work.

A prudent move as demand for our social services grew sharply in the1980s. Group training courses for children, parents and teenagers became a focus, allowing social workers and trained facilitators to support larger numbers of clients. The focus of these groups, was, and still is, sharing knowledge, building relationships, developing resilience and keeping families together. Over time, the relationships participants build with each other have proven to be a significant benefit of group courses.

The truth in the old adage “it’s takes a village to raise a child” is highlighted in the role of community and volunteers in one of Presbyterian Support’s most successful and enduring programmes for children, the Buddy Programme. This programme relies on a veritable army of trained community volunteers. Established in 1989, the Buddy Programme pairs a child in need with a caring volunteer adult for one-on-one time, friendship, fun and encouragement. The programme is currently helping 200 Otago children every year.

The most recent evaluation of the programme reports: “The young buddies spoke admiringly of their adult buddies, looking up to them with respect, and for guidance. Through the interactions with their adult buddies, many of the young people in the programme felt the adult buddies had positively influenced their lives.**

Unfortunately, children and families in Otago continue to experience poverty and hardship. Today, more than 1 in 4 children in New Zealand live in poverty.*** The need for community support to help children and families has not diminished over time.

How we support and care for Otago children and families in need will continue to develop and change. Why we care remains the same. With you, we are working for a fair, just and caring Otago community, where children and families feel safe, strong and connected.

* “Making a Difference, a Centennial History of Presbyterian Support Otago”, 2006

** “Buddy Programme Evaluation”, Family Works 2015

*** “Child Poverty Monitor” Technical Report, 2015.