Ngāi Tahu led prevention programme to reduce tamariki in care

Oct 26, 2021

A bold new prevention programme designed, developed, and led by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Te Rūnanga), aims to reduce the number of Māori tamariki and rangatahi entering the Oranga Tamariki system.

Minister for Children, Hon Kelvin Davis, today announced Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu would receive $25.9m of Oranga Tamariki funding over three years to improve outcomes for tamariki and whānau in the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (tribal area).

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai says Whānau as First Navigators is both an iwi led response to whānau wellbeing in Te Waipounamu, and an exemplar of what a modern Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership should look like.

“Whānau as First Navigators is a huge game changer for our people. It’s about taking a by Māori, for Māori approach to ensure the heritage, mana, whakapapa and cultural identity of our tamariki and whānau are thriving.”

Whānau as First Navigators will help to grow and strengthen Ngāi Tahu and Ngā Maata Waka health and social service providers to build on the work they are already doing to support whānau.

“Our kaupapa Māori providers do amazing mahi, caring, supporting, and advocating for our most vulnerable whānau. But they have told us they feel like both the ambulance and the emergency room, within a model that is too Pākehā focused, which is not working for our tamariki,” says Lisa Tumahai.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaihautū (CEO) Arihia Bennett says the funding is focused on helping whānau find solutions that suit them, before tamariki end up in Oranga Tamariki care.

“We will work together with our providers, rangatahi and other whānau Maori, to co-design services which meet the needs of all Māori within our takiwā. Prevention mahi could include, specialist support, respite care, arrangements with extended whānau, or engaging tamariki with sports and cultural experiences.”

In the last financial year, around 68% of tamariki and rangatahi in Oranga Tamariki care were Māori.

Arihia Bennett says since first signing a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Oranga Tamariki in 2018, the number of Ngāi Tahu tamariki in Oranga Tamariki care had decreased from 362 to 262, by the end of June this year.

“Our whānau face barriers to engage with mainstream support services, such as a lack of access, mistrust or whakamā (embarrassment). Previously, Māori haven’t received the right support to prevent a significant event from happening, until after Oranga Tamariki has already intervened.”

Lisa Tumahai says the name of the new programme, ‘Whānau as First Navigators’, recalls the historical story of Rākaihautū, the helmsman of the waka Uruao, who made his journey from Te Patu nui o Aio to Aotearoa.

“This name reflects the strength and resilience of whānau to lead their own journey and to make the best decisions for their tamariki. This programme will strengthen and enhance whānau rangatiratanga, while providing whānau access to the services they need, when they need them.”

Over the next three years, Te Rūnanga will look at how it can influence and support the cultural development of social workers working alongside whānau Māori within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā.

“We are the kaitiaki of our takiwā, so Whānau as First Navigators will go beyond Ngāi Tahu whānau to reach all Māori within our tribal area. Likewise, reducing the number of tamariki and whānau in care must be a goal for all of Aotearoa,” says Lisa Tumahai.


  • Accredited Ngāi Tahu and Ngā Maata Waka health and social services providers will be initially funded to support whānau as part of the programme.
  • While Whānau as First Navigators is managed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, the bulk of the funding will go towards growing and strengthening Ngāi Tahu and Ngā Maata Waka health and social service providers to build on the work they are already doing to support whānau.
  • Since settlement, Te Rūnanga has invested $197m in oranga (health and wellbeing), culture and identity, and matauranga to support Ngāi Tahu whānau to improve their wellbeing, relationships and living environments.

About Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu is the entity that represents 18 Papatipu Rūnanga which make up the tribe of Ngāi Tahu. The tribal takiwā, or territory, covers most of Te Waipounamu. We have more than 73,000 registered tribal members. In 1997, we reached a settlement with the Crown that acknowledged our historic grievances. The Office of Te Rūnanga delivers a range of programmes that support our tribal members. For over 20 years, we have focused on supporting the cultural, social and economic aspirations of our people.

The 18 Ngāi Tahu Papatipu Rūnanga uphold their own rangatiratanga and mana motuhake in decisions relating to their whenua, awa, moana, resources and whānau aspirations.

Our tribal whakataukī is: mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei (for us and our children after us). This intergenerational approach underpins everything that we do. Protecting legacies and creating opportunities for future generations is at the heart of who we are as an iwi.