The Maori Affairs Minister, Pita Sharples, will today begin a new programme whose success he hopes will be underpinned by what he calls "the nanny principle".
Under Oranga Whanau, groups of three kuia will visit pregnant Maori women to identify welfare issues.
Speaking yesterday at a violence and abuse research symposium, Dr Sharples said the $1 million programme would roll out in Auckland, Northland, Rotorua and Hutt Valley.
Under the scheme, the three "nannies" will work in a team visiting mothers in their regions. Dr Sharples said it followed a smaller trial that iwi in Ngati Kahungunu undertook this year.
The "nanny principle" puts into practice the cultural way older people relate to younger people in the same non-threatening way that Maori wardens work.
"It works really well. One puts the kettle on, one natters about the whakapapa, the other one cuts the cake," the minister said.
"It is a catch-all - it's an opportunity to help people before issues become issues."
Dr Sharples said the programme had parallels with his own experience working with Maori families reaching back to the 1970s, where he dealt with those struggling with alcoholism, unemployment, domestic abuse and other issues.
A more recent example of where an early intervention programme such as Oranga Whanau could have had made an impact was the case of the deaths of the Kahui twins, Chris and Cru, said Dr Sharples.
"I walked into that house and I could see those needs, without being too heavy about it. It was obvious they needed simple things. They had no help."
Nga Pae o te Maramamatanga, the Maori Centre of Research Excellence, organised the symposium.
Sociologist Dr Tracey McIntosh called for researchers to re-evaluate what impact their research had in terms of changing behaviours and negative social indices.
Researchers needed to move towards using research models which didn't view Maori as victims and a recognition that gang, domestic and other forms of violence weren't isolated to Maori in New Zealand.
"Violence is a national and international problem but it is our problem," said Dr McIntosh. "We must own it."