Whanau Ora: Turia to head welfare shake-up

Tariana Turia has been appointed Whanau Ora Minister. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Tariana Turia has been appointed Whanau Ora Minister. File photo / Mark Mitchell

A Maori Party co-leader is to be in charge of what could potentially be the biggest shake-up of the welfare system in decades.

The taskforce report into the Whanau Ora policy was released today and Prime Minister John Key in a statement announced Tariana Turia, who is behind the initiative, would be the minister in charge of implementing the policy.

"Mrs Turia will work closely with other relevant government ministers and the Whanau Ora Governance Group (which would manage the programme) to oversee the roll-out and progress of Whanau Ora," he said.

The appointment was effective immediately.

Today's discussion document has been with the Government since February. It said billions of dollars have been poured into social services, but Maori still had lower standards of health and education, and higher rates of criminal offending and inter-generational unemployment.

The taskforce suggested money currently spent by health, education, justice and social development agencies be pooled into a Whanau Ora trust.

This trust would in turn set up regional panels that would fund a single agency or person to work with families facing problems.

The taskforce argued that the current system dealt with an individual's problems, with sometimes multiple agencies dealing with the same person, and the system would work better if there was one agency focusing on an entire whanau's problems, either directly as provider or as a broker for other services.

The document envisaged these Whanua Ora providers giving a wide range of services including employment advice, family welfare counselling, family re-union assistance, and economic development and cultural advice.

Acting Prime Minister Bill English said the Government would announce its response to the report in about a month.

The Maori Party appeared to initially believe it would be for Maori families only and the taskforce report talks solely about Maori families, tradition and agencies that work with Maori, even suggesting urban Maori groups such as the Waipareira Trust in west Auckland as an example of the policy in action.

Mr English today said while the policy could help Maori "it will be available to all families in need".

Mrs Turia agreed: "I am confident that Whanau Ora has the potential to help all families, right across New Zealand."

Mr English said traditional approaches cost a lot of money and did not always produce results.

"We believe there is a better, more effective way of using the many hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars already spent in this area. Whanau Ora will also deliver better results for the families themselves," Mr English said.

Ministers agreed that Whanau Ora would be financially neutral - paid for by re-prioritising existing funding in health, social development and Maori affairs budgets. Those details will be set out in the Budget.

The report noted there might be resistance from government agencies, which would need to support the trust so it could work.

The taskforce also said some social service agencies feared they would lose money as they would be too small or too specialised to cater for an entire family's needs.

The report recommended the trust be operational by July 2010 working with Te Puni Kokiri and answering directly to a new Whanau Ora Minister.

From there it would set up regional panels and work with existing social service providers to get single contracts to provide services.

The taskforce said the new approach would minimise agency fragmentation, reduce costs and target positive development and allow struggling Maori families to become self managing, healthy and full participants in society.

The Whanau Ora governance group would include three members of the taskforce; Rob Cooper, who chairs a Maori health provider, Professor Sir Mason Durie, who chaired the taskforce, Nancy Tuaine who is on the Whanganui District Health Board. Also in the group were Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer, Ministry of Social Development chief executive Peter Hughes, and Health Ministry director general Stephen McKernan.

Example:

The Whanua Ora taskforce gives one example of how the new welfare policy might work.

It describes a single mother in part-time employment who finds it hard to make ends meet and who has lost contact with her extended family.

She has three children:

* A 16-year-old son who has been caught repeatedly driving without a licence and has stopped going to work because he is scared of telling his boss about his offending;

* A 12-year-old daughter who has been referred to the Strengthening Families programme because of repeated absences from schools; and

* An eight-year-old son who has been picked up by police roaming the streets at night and returned to a home with no adult present, which has led to a referral to Child, Youth and Family.

The woman is working mornings and nights meaning she has to rely on the older children to look after the youngest and she is unaware that her daughter is being bullied at school.

In this scenario the mother is dealing with at least police; Work and Income; Child, Youth and Family; schools, and Strengthening Families.

The Taskforce said the Whanua Ora policy would result in one provider dealing with the family in an open and frank way at possible solutions.

This could include:

* Helping the mother get more suitable employment;
* Reconnecting the woman with her wider family for greater support;
* Working with the 16-year-old to get his licence and talk to his employer;
* Support the mother in talking to the school; and
* Identify the bullies and talk to their families to allow the girl back to school.

"Ultimately this mother is capable of leading change in her whanau. However, her economic realities have prevented her from fulfilling this role. Whanau Ora would help her work through and resolve these issues and enable her to focus on being a carer and protector," the taskforce said.

- NZPA

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