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People Making Changes Issue 9 -
Parents Centre Innovations

- Dorothy - 13/3/97

Diane Matsas and Parents Centre New Zealand
Do you work in a Family Friendly Workplace? Is the community where you live supportive of whole families? Parents Centre New Zealand is working to make changes towards Family Friendly Communities.

You may have heard of Parents Centre and think of it as a place for parents before and after the birth of their first child. You would be right, but from its first beginnings in this area Parents Centre has moved to wider ranging activities.

How Parents Centre began
Parents Centre began as an organisation run BY parents FOR parents - a support network for expectant parents and those with young children. The aim was for parents to learn about parenting through working with experienced people and sharing their experiences within the groups - an informal type of education.

Photo of Diane Matsas
Diane Matsas
Ante-natal classes have been run by Parents Centre for the last forty five years and have attracted many young parents to join as members. This is how Diane Matsas, the National President, first became involved. Diane, who was an occupational therapist, decided that she would not go back into the paid workforce because she wanted to share fully in the lives of her three young children. At the same time she wanted stimulation at the adult level as well, and involvement in the Parents Centre Committee filled that need.

Widening the horizons to meet more parents' needs
Two objectives motivated Parents Centre to move to Family Friendly Communities - to achieve what the name suggests and to increase the public awareness of the Centre's work.

A two stage approach - first the wider community and then the workplace
Issues that were highlighted included the provision of safe play areas in shops, doorways that admit prams and pushchairs easily, safe storage of items dangerous to children, safety belts in shopping trolleys, mother's rooms in shopping centres, wheelchairs in retail premises, ramps beside steps for prams and pushchairs and children's chairs and menus in restaurants. With the support of Johnson & Johnson, the principal sponsors, Parents Centre has lobbied for such changes in many parts of New Zealand - a campaign which has resulted in more "Stork parks" for new or expectant mothers or guardians, safe toy boxes in many businesses and safety belts in shopping trolleys.

Some pharmacies, supermarkets, doctors and shops have been awarded Parents Centre Family Friendly Communities Certificates because they have met the needs of families in their community.

Changes towaard Family Friendly Workplaces
The workplace was the focus of attention in the second six months. Many workplaces give little sense of support to their staff. If an employer wants staff to show commitment to the firm this can be strengthened by treating staff as members of families, not just individuals doing a job, and showing an understanding of their needs, especially in times of stress.

This does not always happen. Recently a man whose step brother was killed in an accident was refused compassionate leave to attend the funeral because the firm's policy on such leave did not extend to step relations. Often a woman returning to work and wishing to breast feed her baby has no place where she can sit and express her milk. Many employees face criticism if there is a phone call from a family member during working hours. Some are not permitted to take personal calls under any circumstances.

Supportive experiences
Contrast this with Diane's experience when her husband worked in Dodds Pharmacy. She and the children were welcome to join him in the staff room to eat lunch and they would sometimes use the room while waiting to drive home together after school. This type of arrangement builds staff loyalty. As a pharmacy manager her husband, Nigel, allows his staff to ring to check that the family have arrived home safely after school. This benefits the staff because they are freed of worry and benefits the business because they concentrate and work better.

When children are sick
This is a time of strain for working parents and communication is extremely important. Parents need to be able to use the phone at these times, and to keep in touch.

Some years ago parents with children in public hospitals could visit their children for only one hour a week on Sunday afternoon. Parents Centre lobbied strongly in this area and now parents can be fully involved in the care of their children, an arrangement which usually benefits everyone. The parents and children are happier, and the staff can hand over a lot of the tasks like feeding children to the parents, thus easing their work load.

Changes beneficial to ALL parents, mothers and fathers, at home and at work
In their campaign for Family Friendly Workplaces Parents Centre aims to help all parents - those at home and those in paid work. Particular emphasis is being placed on the needs of parents returning to work after child care. To be eased back through part-time work and gradual adjustment to full time can make the transition much less stressful. It benefits not only the workers, but also the businesses which stand to lose a lot if their skilled staff who are familiar with the business are unable to return to work. Maintaining communication during the time at home is another important aspect of easing the return to work and Parents Centre is encouraging Family Friendly Workplaces to include this in their programmes.

Parents Centre does not work alone. They have strong support from the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, in Christchurch they liaise with the Christchurch City Council Child Advocates, and in Dunedin with the Children's Issues Centre - like minded people looking at strategies to make change and ensure that communities are family friendly.

Sharing your ideas
If you have experiences which you would like to share about your community or your work place do add them in the area for comment at the end of this article.

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