Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Whanau Ora: Scheme's navigators steer two mothers towards their goals

Te Rau Aroha Karakia with her family (left to right), Tiraha Karakia, 5, Te Rau Aroha Karakia, 7, Helen Haimona, holding Tatana Wharepapa, 2, Te Rau Aroha Karakia and Te Kura Karakia. Photo / Alan Gibson
Te Rau Aroha Karakia with her family (left to right), Tiraha Karakia, 5, Te Rau Aroha Karakia, 7, Helen Haimona, holding Tatana Wharepapa, 2, Te Rau Aroha Karakia and Te Kura Karakia. Photo / Alan Gibson

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.

Helen Haimona was living in a caravan with her two toddlers outside her mother's house near Rotorua when the family was referred to Whanau Ora last year.

She had broken up with her partner, a logging trainee in Murupara who was the father of her two boys.

Her mother, Te Rau Aroha Karakia, made her welcome, but her house was already full with three other grandchildren whom she was raising.

Mrs Karakia, 52 and a widow since her husband died in a car crash in 1983, had heart problems which made her short of breath and unable to lift anything - "basically no hard work".

A nurse at Te Runanga o Ngati Pikiao, one of Rotorua's two Maori health clinics, referred her to the runanga's Whanau Ora service.

The runanga's two Whanau Ora navigators, former mental health workers Ange Tipu and Kim Richards, came out to see the family. They took time to build trust and find family connections.

"We talk about their dreams, their goals, their aspirations, what would they like to see for their whanau," Ms Richards says.

Mrs Karakia had clear goals - finding Helen a house, getting Helen's children into a kohanga (preschool), and then helping Helen into a course.

The navigators found a house, collected donated furniture and bedding and helped Ms Haimona get help from Work and Income.

Ms Haimona is trying to get her children into a kohanga. She has learnt more about her family history and has got to know her aunties on Facebook.

Mrs Karakia is also less stressed.

"After Helen left my life came back to normal," she says. "Me and my kids can just juggle, but we couldn't juggle with extras. That was too much."

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.

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

Today: Waikato-Tainui
* Dream of life in Oz unites family
* Children put first with help of family plan
* Engagement and support replace expulsion at school
* Tainui seeks investors to help build $20m centre

Today: Te Arawa (Rotorua)
Thursday: Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)

Email: Whanau Ora
Visit: Te Puni Kokiri

- NZ Herald

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