Realising a better future

Last year TE KARAKA published an article (issue 82: Oranga Tamariki – where to from here?) acknowledging the signing of a strategic partnership between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Oranga Tamariki, a move that signalled an intention to truly step into the Treaty partnership and work together to create better outcomes for tamariki Māori. In this issue, kaituhi Anna Brankin speaks to several Ngāi Tahu kaimahi who have been working with Oranga Tamariki over the past two years, and learns more about the innovative, collaborative mahi that is beginning to turn the tide.

Shayne Walker (Ngāi Tahu – Awarua) is unreservedly excited when he talks about the opportunity for transformative change presented by the burgeoning partnership between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Oranga Tamariki.

“I’m stoked, like superbly stoked, that our iwi has lined up for this,” he says. “In signing the partnership, they’ve said: ‘We want to get on with this. We want to care for our own tamariki, as well as all tamariki in care in our takiwā.’”

More importantly, Oranga Tamariki is working alongside the iwi to realise that aspiration. “The CEO and senior leadership team are desperate for this to succeed,” says Shayne. “To me that’s the exciting part – my observation is that the national leadership team and the local staff that we deal with here in Dunedin, they turn up to be good partners.”

Shayne’s role on the Strategic Partnership Governance Group and his extensive experience in care and protection means that he is well-placed to comment on this increased willingness and capacity from Oranga Tamariki. After spending time in state care as a teenager, Shayne and his wife went on to foster 192 children over a 12-year period, for which he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 2020. He is currently a senior lecturer in social sciences at the University of Otago and serves on numerous committees and advisory bodies.

“I was a child in care, so my whakapapa in this goes back a long way,” Shayne explains. “Later, I was privileged to work with a group of Kāi Tahu caregivers who trail-blazed the work that is happening today – the likes of Hine Forsyth, Danette Stringer, Koa Whitau-Kean, Wendy Morris, David Miller, Wii Duff and Mary Parata, and many more. I have to acknowledge those people because I see the partnership that we have now as the enactment of the work that was begun in the 1980s with Mātua Whāngai and Pūao-te-ata-tū.”

Mātua Whāngai was a programme launched in 1983 by the ministries of Māori Affairs, Justice and Social Welfare that sought to place tamariki Māori in the care of extended whānau rather than in institutions. Pūao-te-ata-tū was a landmark report released in 1986 that highlighted institutional racism towards Māori, emphasised the importance of whānau, hapū and iwi and called for more funding to Matua Whāngai. Unfortunately, the report’s potential was never realised and Matua Whāngai was disestablished in 1992.

Since then, Oranga Tamariki and its predecessors – Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) and Children and Young Persons Service (CYPS) – have been criticised for a recurrent failure to meet the needs of tamariki Māori, who continue to be disproportionately represented in their care.

Recent reports such as the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency’s review of Oranga Tamariki, the Sixth Report from the Family Violence Death Review Committee, the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation Report and the Children’s Commissioner’s reports on the care of Māori children all paint a grim picture. But Shayne is determined to focus on the fact they provide a framework to address ongoing issues.

“My optimism stems from my hope that those reports will be believed and acted upon, and I see our partnership with Oranga Tamariki as having a role in that,” he says. “We are lucky to have some incredible people, absolute stars, leading out this work on behalf of the iwi. They habitually not just hold ground, but are more than happy to walk through new ground in partnership. There’s a fierceness and grace that has to go together to achieve that.”

“My optimism stems from my hope that [recent] reports will be believed and acted upon, and I see our partnership with Oranga Tamariki as having a role in that. We are lucky to have some incredible people, absolute stars, leading out this work on behalf of the iwi. They habitually not just hold ground, but are more than happy to walk through new ground in partnership. There’s a fierceness and grace that has to go together to achieve that.”
Shayne Walker Strategic Partnership Governance

Amber Clarke (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Tūāhuriri) is one of the wāhine toa working in this space who truly embodies these characteristics. As part of her role as Kaiārahi Hauora at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Amber carefully led the negotiations prior to the signing of the Strategic Partnership, and has since been overseeing the various pilots and prototypes being rolled out throughout the takiwā. In a testament to her mahi, Amber has since been brought on board at Oranga Tamariki on a part-time secondment, allowing her to continue to advocate for the iwi from within.

“It is important that we have framed this as a mana to mana relationship – not contractual. My job now is to hold onto the bigger picture, to make sure that we’re focused on the aspirations of mana whenua across our takiwā and making room for those conversations to occur,” Amber explains. “The signing moved Oranga Tamariki into the kaupapa Māori space, and our next step is to move them into our true vision – the papatipu rūnanga space. We’ve been really clear that this is how the partnership will truly be enacted – Te Rūnanga hold the framework but the tikaka and kawa is held locally by mana whenua.”

So far papatipu rūnanga have been offered the opportunity to develop their own relationship agreement, work in the transition space and support rangatahi leaving care, as well as having access to an Oranga Tamariki fund to assist with building capacity. The role of kairāranga-ā-whānau continues to be of the utmost importance in working with papatipu to identify and engage significant whānau, hapū and iwi members to create a wider network to support tamariki already in the care system, and as a preventative to at risk tamariki entering care.

“The kairaranga are the most basic foundation Oranga Tamariki can have in place to meet their obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi,” says Michelle Turrall (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Tūāhuriri). “We are lucky in that every site in Ōtautahi and in fact across Te Waipounamu has access to one. They are actually pivotal in changing the culture of the organisation, and in fact Oranga Tamariki is starting to use our model in other parts of the country because it’s been so successful here.”

Michelle works at Oranga Tamariki in Ōtautahi as a Senior Advisor Iwi and Māori Engagement, a role that focuses on developing relationships with papatipu rūnanga and supporting local kairāranga and other Māori specialist roles.

“These kaimahi are steeped in community and have been doing similar work often for 30 to 40 years,” she says. “They’re well-respected by whānau and the wider Māori community and can work with them in a way that Oranga Tamariki staff previously couldn’t.”

She cites a recent example of a young Ngāi Tahu mother who had delivered prematurely leading to concerns about her baby’s health. Previous experiences with Oranga Tamariki made her reluctant to engage with their kaimahi, and she went into hiding with the baby. After several failed attempts to locate them using their usual methods, the site manager approached Michelle and asked how they could do things differently.

“With her support we were able to reach out to a member of the wider whānau – the baby’s taua – and reassure her that Oranga Tamariki weren’t going to uplift the baby, but that they needed to see that baby was safe and well and looked after,” Michelle says. “She knew where they were hiding and got in touch and convinced them to let a social worker do a check on the baby.”

The welfare check was carried out as promised and the baby remained in the mother’s care. Since then, Michelle and the local kairāranga and Whānau Ora Navigator have maintained an honest and transparent relationship with the taua, enabling them to provide further updates on the baby’s wellbeing. “It was a big risk for Oranga Tamariki to do things differently, but it gave us an opportunity to show them how crucial but fragile that trust is,” Michelle says.

According to Amber, trust and respect are two of the key things that whānau are looking for in their interactions with Oranga Tamariki. “The beauty of our whānau is that most of the time they are not disputing the fact that Oranga Tamariki needs to be involved in their lives,” she says. “What makes them feel well looked after is that connection and a sense of genuine care. They want to feel empowered that they can work with Oranga Tamariki to create a solution for their tamariki, rather than have decisions made for them.”

“The signing moved Oranga Tamariki into the kaupapa Māori space, and our next step is to move them into our true vision – the papatipu rūnanga space. We’ve been really clear that this is how the partnership will truly be enacted – Te Rūnanga hold the framework but the tikaka and kawa is held locally by mana whenua.”
Amber Clarke Kaiārahi Hauora, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

These learnings have been emerging over the past two years through the extensive whānau engagement that has been taking place across the takiwā as Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Oranga Tamariki co-design new models of practice. “It has become very apparent that in the past the word ‘co-design’ has been used too easily to describe processes that are actually closer to consultation,” says Amber.

“The important thing about these new initiatives is that we have really clearly set a process of co-design with whānau voice at the centre. We have worked on the premise that whānau and their communities already have the answers and solutions – we just need to facilitate their voice being central to anything we undertake.”

One of these initiatives is a nationwide intensive intervention model that is being designed in collaboration with Oranga Tamariki, iwi and the wider community of support for whānau. It recognises the potential to reduce the number of tamariki in the system by providing wraparound support to parents and wider whānau as soon as it becomes clear it is required. This model is being tested at four Oranga Tamariki sites across Aotearoa: Tokoroa, Horowhenua, Ōtāhuhu and Christchurch East in Ōtautahi.

“This is one of several programmes we have trialled at our pilot site, Christchurch East,” says Michelle. “We initially concentrated our efforts at that site because they had the most Ngāi Tahu tamariki in care when we first looked at the data. As a result of these pilots, they can now report that all of the tamariki Māori for their site are now in whānau care, rather than what we called stranger care.”

Successes like this are the reason that Christchurch East was selected to create an intensive intervention model, a process that Amber says has been a learning opportunity for Oranga Tamariki. “There has been some real honesty from their practitioners as they reflect on what their past and existing practices have meant for the whānau experience,” she says. “One thing that is becoming clearer is that you can have really good people in a system that doesn’t enable them to practise to the fullness of their profession. We see this kōrero in a lot of areas – with teachers, police etcetera. Engagement processes like this give them the flexibility to work in a way that is meaningful for Māori, and actually for all families.”

Another new model is Tiaki Taoka, a programme alongside Te Kāika in Ōtepoti that Amber describes as the “mothership”. Kerri Cleaver (Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, Ōraka Aparima) is the Kaihautū, hāpai-ā-whānau for this kaupapa, and much like Shayne
she points to her personal experience as motivation for her mahi.

“I’m care-experienced myself. As a young person I went through care in my teenage years and exited with very little connection to my whānau and struggled through my early adulthood as a result,” she says. “I became a social worker to address what I saw as a need for some better systems for our whānau and mokopuna in care. I always think it’s interesting that I was in care when it was the Department of Family Welfare (DFW), then I was a social worker when it was Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS), and later became the rūnaka representative for Puketeraki when it became Oranga Tamariki.”

“We initially concentrated our efforts at that site [Christchurch East] because they had the most Ngāi Tahu tamariki in care when we first looked at the data. As a result of these pilots, they can now report that all of the tamariki Māori for their site are now in whānau care, rather than what we called stranger care.”
Michelle Turrall Oranga Tamariki
Senior Advisor Iwi and Māori Engagement, Ōtautahi

This longstanding relationship with statutory care and protection means Kerri is well-placed to lead the co-design of Tiaki Taoka, a process that wraps up at the end of June meaning this innovative new service will be operational as soon as they receive their Social Services Accreditation.

“The role of Tiaki Taoka is to work with Oranga Tamariki to provide care and support for caregivers, whānau and our mokopuna in care,” Kerri explains. “The way the system works is that Oranga Tamariki assess the needs of children, before matching them up with caregivers if necessary. These caregivers are mainly sourced through Oranga Tamariki and more recently through a number of Pākehā NGOs. Tiaki Taoka is the first iwi whānau provider in Te Waipounamu.”

Like the intensive intervention programme at Christchurch East, Tiaki Taoka differs from existing services because it represents a totally new way of working, in which whānau input is woven through the entire process.

“I’m super excited about what we’re developing, because throughout our co-design process we’ve been engaging with whānau who are system-experienced – as caregivers, as whānau of children in care, and with rakatahi who are in care themselves,” says Kerri.

“Out of that has come a strong message that Tiaki Taoka needs to provide whānau advocacy. That means protecting the rights of parents, but it also means supporting them to better meet the needs of their tamariki. That’s actually written into our strategic partnership with Oranga Tamariki – the understanding that mokopuna wellbeing is intrinsically linked to whānau wellbeing.

“The co-design process has also shown us that we need to provide wraparound support tailored to the needs of each individual child, so that we can have services in place to meet those needs and support our caregivers,” she says. “The caregivers all indicated that they need us to provide really good training and ongoing support, as well as connecting them to one another so they can share information with one another and coordinate.”

The team at Tiaki Taoka are confident they can rise to the challenge and provide an effective service for tamariki, whānau and caregivers because their framework is centred on Ngāi Tahu tikanga and values.

“There are some really beautiful possibilities to work with the expertise we’ve got in our wider Kāi Tahu community around whakapapa, language and culture revitalisation. Our caregivers want to do their training on the marae, they want to build up their knowledge to support our Kāi Tahu mokopuna to grow up immersed in their culture. That grounding is significantly different to any other model out there.”
Kerri Cleaver Kaihautū of Tiaki Taoka

“Because it is steeped in Kāi Tahutaka, and because we are Kāi Tahu, we can connect up to all those people and systems that can support us. There are some really beautiful possibilities to work with the expertise we’ve got in our wider Kāi Tahu community around whakapapa, language and culture revitalisation,” Kerri says. “Our caregivers want to do their training on the marae, they want to build up their knowledge to support our Kāi Tahu mokopuna to grow up immersed in their culture. That grounding is significantly different to any other model out there.”

Although the primary focus will be on supporting Ngāi Tahu tamariki and their whānau, Kerri explains that the services provided by Tiaki Taoka will be available to others. “We see our responsibility to be looking after everyone that lives in our takiwā, but first we need to get it right for mokopuna Ngāi Tahu,” she says.

Tiaki Taoka is mandated by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to provide a model of care across Te Waipounamu. Kerri explains that they will be working closely with other papatipu rūnanga to identify how the model could be used in their takiwā. “On one hand we want to offer this service that we’re really proud of to everyone, but on the other hand we want to support each rūnaka in their own decision-making,” she says. “We’ve had to defer that process due to COVID-19 but will be having those discussions soon.”

As Kerri looks forward to operationalising Tiaki Taoka, she acknowledges the change that she is seeing amongst Oranga Tamariki kaimahi. “There is a willingness to engage in a different way of working. The conversations we’ve been having with staff in Dunedin have been really positive.”

This positive engagement has been growing across the takiwā, with Shayne, Amber and Michelle all agreeing they’re witnessing a shift in attitudes from Oranga Tamariki senior leadership and frontline staff.

“I’ve walked alongside whānau and battled from the outside with people that I now work alongside within Oranga Tamariki,” Michelle laughs. “I can tell you that there is an absolute commitment to change and to get it right for our tamariki – and that’s something I’ve seen grow during my involvement. It is going to take time for that change to filter down, but it’s happening.

“We are ahead of the game. We have the right people in the right places at the right time,” she says. “Now we just need to use that to influence, to role model, and to ensure the iwi voice is truly being heard.”