Eighteen years ago, a group of mums in Lower Hutt Wellington, were at different stages of raising children – but were all aligned on one aspect of parenting. The need for more support.

Leanne Dawson, a first time parent, Susan Pattinson, a more experienced mum who saw how isolated some parents were; and several others with older children– decided to do something about it.

Together they started SPACE – Supporting Parents Alongside Children’s Education – a parenting and child development programme, offered through community services like playcentres and churches.

SPACE grew and grew and morphed is now fully integrated into the Parenting Place as its early years programme – offering more than three hundred courses throughout Aotearoa New Zealand this year and subscribed by more than 3000 whānau. NEXT funded the transition of SPACE into the Parenting Place as part of its investment strategy into the first 1,000 days of life.

“All the research shows that the first three years has the biggest impact on a child’s development and outcomes later in life. Parenting Place previously offered support for families with older children – but this crucial period, the first 1,000 days of life had been missing in our suite of support,” says Dave Atkinson Parenting Place CEO.

“Integrating SPACE into Parenting Place has made us realise just how crucial this period of a child’s life is. It’s made us understand how closely we need to form relationships with agencies who work in this area – like playcenters, early learning centres, social service agencies. It’s been a big shift for us but we are better for it – and appreciate the support from NEXT which allowed it to happen.”

Dave Atkinson says the 40 week programme is not just a playgroup – it’s a well structured course in step with babies developmental change; a safe haven with trained facilitators and fidelity key.

“We will continue to update the programme, so it is relevant to the diverse group of families that are represented in Aotearoa New Zealand, and it is in line with evidence based best practice.”

NEXT kaihautu representative Mike Ferrand says in the three years NEXT funded the expansion of the programme and integration into Parenting Place participation grew by more than fifty per cent.

“We are delighted by the growth – and the support the programme is offering new families in Aotearoa New Zealand,” he says. “Covid 19 has taught us how important it is to have support networks in place.

“NEXT invests in our land and our people – and there is no more important time for people than the first 1,000 days of life,” says Mike.

Co-founder Leanne Dawson says it’s hard to believe the programme she and her friends started eighteen years ago has become an integral part of Parenting Place.

“It’s amazing to think that tens of thousands of new parents and their babies have experienced support during their transition to parenthood as a result of SPACE – and some of those babies that were part of the programme are now 18 and venturing out into the world as connected young adults.”

Leanne and her fellow founders may have passed the baton on to Parenting Place but Leanne’s interest in the first 1,000 days of life continues. She is a recent recipient of a NEXT fellowship, where she explored systems leadership to better support children in the first three years and learnt about strategic philanthropy. But that’s another story. . .