Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Whanau Ora: Dream of life in Oz unites family

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.

Joe Morrell and Shannon Madden on the couch with 18-month-old Akaydia Madden-Morrell and Jkhan Hulena-Madden, 4. Terekia Madden sits behind.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Joe Morrell and Shannon Madden on the couch with 18-month-old Akaydia Madden-Morrell and Jkhan Hulena-Madden, 4. Terekia Madden sits behind. Photo / Christine Cornege

Whanau Ora has brought one Hamilton extended whanau closer together - and helped them realise they want to move to Australia.

Shannon Madden, 32, got her family involved after she sought help from the police with her 13-year-old daughter.

"It was just average teenage stuff, wanting more freedom than I was prepared to give her," Ms Madden said.

"I went to police, I didn't know how to discipline a teenager. You can't smack them any more and you can only do so much grounding. That's when she wouldn't come home.

"I said to the police: 'You can discipline her'."

The police referred her to Te Ahurei a Rangatahi, a youth health agency that received $100,000 from the Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund to develop at least 15 whanau plans with its clients' families.

Ms Madden said her daughter was badly affected when her parents separated when she was 10. "She had her dad for 10 years, then all of a sudden she had nothing," her mother said.

Ms Madden works fulltime in a pet shop and her two younger children Jkhan, 4, and Akaydia, 1, are in fulltime daycare.

Although the pet shop is close to home, and the teenager had activities after school most days, no one was at home for her when she got back there.

Ms Madden's partner Joe Morrell, 24, was working night shifts at a meatworks near Morrinsville.

"When we were awake, Joe was asleep. The kids only saw him on weekends," Ms Madden said.

In February, they tried a change. The teenager moved in nearby with Ms Madden's brother Terekia, 27, and his partner. As they both still study, one of them was always home after school.

"She had to be home by 4pm," Mr Madden said. "We were harder on her."

She had counselling sessions at Te Ahurei a Rangatahi, but eventually manager Eugene Davis suggested that a whanau plan could help. They all filled out forms and discussed what whanau meant to them, their strengths, their goals and a plan to reach their goals.

The teenager's goals included getting fitter and doing better in school.

Mr Madden and his partner aimed to finish their study and support their niece to stay on track.

Ms Madden said she wanted to "strengthen me and Joe", work hard and get out of debt.

Mr Morrell's goals were to "get a day shift job so I can spend more time with my family", and "move the family to Australia".

In April, he left the meatworks and now works part-time as a concreter.

"It just opened our eyes and made us realise what we wanted to do - that I wanted to go to Aussie, and how precious my family is to me," he said.

Ms Madden wants to go, too, but won't go without her teenager, who has moved to Nelson to live with her dad.

Mr Madden and his partner want to go after finishing their studies.

The whole process has brought the two households together.

"We have a lot more to do with each other now," Ms Madden said.

"This week, we've had two combined dinners with our sisters and our cousin and his kids."

Hori Awa of Huntly-based Waahi Whanui Trust, who chairs the Waikato-Tainui Whanau Ora consortium, said many local miners and railway workers who lost their jobs in the 1980s had also moved to Australia, and three-quarters of those still living in some Huntly streets are unemployed.

He is working with Solid Energy to train miners, but accepted that many would be lured across the Tasman.

"We don't mind training them for Australia," he said.

"If that's where the wellbeing takes a family, where they can enjoy a good life, then so be it."

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.

THE SERIES

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
Today: Waikato-Tainui
Wednesday: Te Arawa (Rotorua)
Thursday: Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)

NEED MORE INFO?

Email: Whanau Ora
Visit: Te Puni Kokiri

- NZ Herald

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