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A visit to the McKenzie Centre, which is located next door to Hamilton West School, is always a humbling and heart-warming experience.

Established in 1984 with donations from the McKenzie Education Foundation and the Telethon Trust, the McKenzie Centre is a haven for Waikato children from birth to school age who have special needs and developmental delays, and their families/whānau.

McKenzie Centre is a not-for-profit organisation and a registered Charitable Trust. It is also a licensed early childhood centre. It is highly regarded both nationally and internationally and deservedly so.  The centre employs health and education professionals to provide a child centred, play-based and family-focused Early Childhood Intervention practise. 

Early Childhood Intervention is a support system for children with developmental disabilities or delays, and their families, which enhances a child’s potential for growth and development, explains Centre Director Trisha Benge.   “At McKenzie Centre, our education and health professionals provide intervention by formulating specific strategies to support a child’s development and wellbeing, in partnership with their parents, so as to achieve the best possible outcomes for them before they start school.”

“A major feature of the way we provide intervention at McKenzie Centre is our focus on parent-to-parent peer support.  We actively encourage and facilitate opportunities for families to connect with each other for support, as a growing body of evidence is very clear about the benefits of this type of connection.”

The McKenzie Centre currently supports 115 children with special needs, as well as their siblings, parents and wider whanau.  In a typical year, they will support about 140 families from the greater Waikato region.

“Our tamariki with special needs are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities.  The extra challenges they face in daily life as a result of their disabilities can limit their potential for growth and development and place enormous strain and hardship on their families and whānau, both emotionally and financially,” explains Trisha.

Research has shown families benefit from early intervention by being better able to meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives.  Benefits to society include reducing the economic burden through a decreased need for special education and other support, and nurturing happier, more resilient families who contribute to their communities.

The dedicated staff at McKenzie Centre provide early childhood intervention and support for families who have a child with a developmental delay or disability from birth, or at diagnosis, to school age. “Children must have delays in their development across two or more developmental domains or be at risk of developing delays,” Trisha says. “This could include children with intellectual, physical, communication and/or sensory disabilities, as well as those children with delays although no specific disability can be identified.”

McKenzie Centre’s trustees have been looking at new ways to sustain and grow the organisation, to help even more children and families, and to ensure that their services will be around for a long time to come.

Recently, the McKenzie Centre entered into a partnership with Enrich+, which shares the same values and charitable purposes, while still being able to maintain their own identity and style.  “It gives us the scope to innovate and expand as we move into the future, and allows for greater efficiencies for both organisations, which will make us stronger in the long term,” explains Trisha.

“We are excited by the possibilities this collaboration offers us both, as two strong organisations who are committed to making positive differences in the lives of disabled people and their families.”

For McKenzie Centre and Enrich+, offering families a continuum of services throughout the lifespan of their children will be a key focus of this merger. Potentially, there is the ability to expand the reach of each organisation, and to provide a wrap-around service for disabled people throughout their lives, meaning children can be supported before school, through their schooling years and all the way through to adulthood.

We are fortunate to have such an outstanding service available in our region, with dedicated, caring professionals providing constant support, guidance and encouragement to some of our most deserving children and families.  They are our unsung heroes and I’m so grateful for all they do.

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