Early Start targets at-risk families with newborn children up to age 5. Although it was designed as a mainstream program, the developers took steps to ensure that the model would be culturally responsive to the Māori, an indigenous population of New Zealand.
Early Start uses a three-stage eligibility determination process. First, Early Start administers a short risk assessment containing items on maternal age, extent of family support, whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned, substance abuse, family violence, and child abuse and neglect. Any family with two or more risk factors continues to the next stage of the process. Second, families enroll in Early Start for a one-month assessment period to become acquainted with the program and so Early Start can learn about the family. Third, families complete an in-depth needs assessment based on a modified version of the Kempe Family Stress Checklist and are fully enrolled in the program for longer-term services.