Mothers and babies in a Plunket PEPE class

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  One key member in that village for many Kiwi families is Plunket.

While it can be an overwhelming, sleep deprived experience having a baby, Plunket is there every step of the way; providing free support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under five years old and their whānau .

The charity works hard to achieve healthy tamariki, confident whānau, and connected communities through their services. Whether its home visits to discuss parenting and health issues, parent and play groups, toy libraries, parenting classes, advice on car seats, or the PlunketLine, a free telephone advice service, Plunket is there in the first 1,000 days to make the difference of a lifetime.

Plunket Supports Western Bay Families

Approximately 2,200 babies are born in the Western Bay every year. Over 90% of these babies are seen by a local Plunket nurse.

Plunket nurses not only provide developmental assessments of children between birth and five years, they also offer one-on-one practical support for families. Whether educating about topics such as breastfeeding and immunisations, supporting maternal, child and family mental health, or screening the home for family violence or missing necessities such as food and clothing, the Plunket nurse is at the coalface, ensuring the wellbeing of both baby and family. If a Plunket nurse sees a family that needs a bit of extra help, they will wrap around that family with the assistance of a Health Worker and the Community Services Team.

Lisa Bardebes, Plunket Community Services Manager says the days of a Plunket nurse just going into a home to measure and weigh a baby are gone.

“We see a lot of poverty, a lot of families struggling because of the rental market here in the Western Bay. There is also isolation and a lack of traditional support networks for migrants and those who have moved away from family. The Plunket nurses advocate for these families.  They’re helping get mums and babies out of domestic violence situations, they are fighting to get insulation to provide a healthy home.

“In the Western Bay and Tauranga, there is this perception that we are a particular type of community, but in reality, there are so many families struggling. The Plunket nurses and Health Workers see the stuff that no one else sees, a lot of which is really heartbreaking. There is more of a need now than ever for wraparound services.”

Babies lying on playmat

Community Services Facilitates Connections

Part of that wraparound service is Plunket Community Services. Once a family is feeling a bit stronger, a Community Services Coordinator works to connect them with other parents and their local community through activities, playgroups and parenting education classes.

Lisa says that Community Services fills the gaps, facilitating connections, educating on children’s development, and providing a platform for parents to share their struggles and learn from one another.

“We had a Health Worker who was working with a new mum who had mental health concerns and was extremely introverted. Over time she was able to build up the confidence of the mum and encouraged her to come along to a Parent Education course.

“Part way through the first session the mum said to the Community Services Coordinator that she needed to go to the car to feed her baby as she didn’t feel comfortable bottle feeding while all the other mums were breast feeding.

“The following week when the mum came back to the class, some of the other mums had expressed milk and were feeding with a bottle. They recognised that this mum was struggling—they really empathised and wanted to show their solidarity of support. That would not have happened if that group of mums hadn’t come together.

“We’re providing a safe space where people can open up to each other and guide each other through it. They realise actually everything they need is within them, they just need to believe in themselves to do it.”

Lisa says since the lockdown, they have seen a significant increase in families needing food and warm knitted clothing due to redundancies or receiving lower incomes. Their Community Services Coordinator has been rushed off her feet connecting with agencies who can help.

“She has been working with St Vinnies for any nursery equipment needed, and Curate Church for frozen meals – getting them where they are needed most to ensure families’ and babies’ safety.

“She has also started a special Facebook group, the Western Bay of Plenty Plunket Knitting Army to knit clothes for the families. We are short of merino wool as it is great for babies and young children plus easy for older knitters to use.”

Plunket has also been busy with a number of new initiatives. During lockdown, they adapted their Parent Education courses by hosting them online.

“This was really successful, and we are looking at offering some online courses for more rurally-based whānau going forward. We have also been handling a 60% increase in attendance at Parent Education courses so are expecting to add more to our schedule in the coming year,” says Lisa.

Funding Helps Fill the Gaps

TECT funding was sought to help run Plunket Community Services in Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty, with a TECT grant of $25,000 going towards the operational costs of the Parenting Education Programme and community-based services such as playgroups and support groups.

Lisa says TECT’s support is vital to the work they do in the Western Bay.

“We are so lucky to be able to do what we do and have support from donors and funders such as TECT. It’s really important to us that we can offer these services for free, otherwise we just can’t connect with the families that really need us.

“TECT’s funding allows us to be proactive and address the needs as we see them. If we didn’t have this funding we’d be out there doing a lot more sausage sizzles and bake sales, and spending less time supporting parents in their parenting role so all children can have the best start in life.”

To learn more about Plunket, visit www.plunket.org.nz.


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