The Government's flagship welfare policy for Maori, Whanau Ora - worth $40 million this year - is designed to lift families out of poverty and dysfunction, but it has been criticised as a waste of money and an opportunity for some to rort the system. In a four-part investigation reporter Simon Collins speaks to those at Whanau Ora's frontline.
Hamilton mother-of-eight Jackie Tamaki says Whanau Ora made her realise that face-to-face time at home with her children was more valuable than money for the internet.
Ms Tamaki, 39, has worked for much of her life as an early childhood teacher while raising her own children, who are now aged between almost 4 and 17.
But fulltime work became difficult after her relationship broke up, and she finished work this year. Unpaid bills began piling up.
"Because my children come first, I'd rather spend the money on food for my kids instead of paying the bills," she says.
About a year ago, staff at the general practice she attends, Te Kohao Health, suggested doing a whanau plan through Whanau Ora.
"We worked out a family plan consisting of me and my children, covering areas like our health, our goals for the future, budgeting and social issues."
She attended a Whanau Ora Day at Kirikiriroa Marae, learning new parenting techniques and getting involved in a community garden.
A professional budgeter at Te Kohao Health helped her sort her spending into "wants" and "needs".
"For example, the internet, a landline - I cut it out," she says. "The reason why I got the landline and the internet was for the children to do homework, but my landline got into debt because [of] teenagers being what they are.
"It came down to - they can access the net at school, I don't have to provide everything for them."
Ms Tamaki takes her youngest son Hoturoa out to Ngaruawahia every day to attend a kohanga reo, which she chairs.
The whanau plan also helped her set goals for her own learning. After her parents separated and her father died when she was young, she grew up knowing her mother's family but not her father's.
"During this whanau ora plan I came to the realisation for myself that I want to know who I am. I want to know my whakapapa, my identity," she says.
Relatives on her father's side have started running monthly Friday-night-to-Sunday wananga around the Waikato, and Whanau Ora gave her $200 towards the cost of transport, food and koha for these events.
The only thing she has not ticked off yet on her whanau plan is a return to paid work. She has had offers of employment but they do not suit because of baby-sitting costs.
"That is about the only one that is left on my plan," she says. "I have a few ideas, but I'm unsure on whether I might need to upgrade on some skills. I know being on Whanau Ora they can help me. I'm exploring those areas."
WHAT IS WHANAU ORA?
Whanau Ora (Well Families) is a Government welfare policy initiated by the Maori Party. It is open for everyone but its focus is on Maori families.
HOW IT WORKS
Social agencies work with whanau to help identify and improve problem issues such as poor housing, health, education and legal problems. They also ask the family to plan a future which moves them from state dependency to become financially independent and healthy participants in their community.
It is funded in two parts:
* $33.2m this year for agencies to form consortiums to work together with whanau to improve all elements of their wellbeing.
* $6.4m this year directly for whanau to form their own plans to improve their wellbeing.
We have travelled to four of the areas where the services are most in demand.
Monday: Tai Tokerau (Northland)
* Urgent review follows abuse of scheme
* Disabled uncle has new hope after 14 years on benefit
* Doors open to decent housing and a better lifestyle
* More cash the key to better lives, says CEO
Wednesday: Te Arawa (Rotorua)
Thursday: Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)
NEED MORE INFO?By Simon Collins Email Simon