Building capacity to build strong families

By Tariana Turia

Over the past two years Whanau Ora has focused on building the capacity of the providers. It's time now to focus on building the capacity of families.

Last week I spent two days in workshops with people involved with the Whanau Ora team from right across the motu, including members of the Governance Group, Regional Leadership Groups, Whanau Champions and Whanau Ora provider collectives. Our mission was clear - to consolidate and build on the next steps for Whanau Ora.

We currently have 3000 families with 33,000 individuals participating in Whanau Ora, working with providers to develop a whanau plan with solutions that meet their priorities and aspirations.

The role of the providers is to assist families to achieve their collective goals. Instead of "fixing" the faults of individual situations, multiple agencies work in partnership to focus on family strengths and whanau are facilitated to address their own social, employment, economic and cultural developments.

Building capacity of the providers has been an important step in the development of Whanau Ora because it has required agencies to change the way they provide services and work with families.

Instead agencies under Whanau Ora must now work in partnership with each other rather than in isolation from each. This will continue to be a key component of Whanau Ora.

The contracting environment for social services has not necessarily encouraged cooperation in the past. But since the inception of Whanau Ora two years ago we have seen the growth of strong collaboration between providers in the best interests of whanau. In some areas, groups who may have been separate for over a hundred years, have come together, for the future of whanau.

I believe that whanau do have the capability and collective capacity to overcome crisis and can and will take responsibility if empowered to do so. This new approach is seeing families less reliant on state agencies and agencies acting as a facilitator rather than "fixing" a problem.

So how do we measure Whanau Ora success? It used to be that common measurements of success were seen in the number of home visits, health information booklets, immunisations, well-child checks or diabetes checks undertaken in a certain period. But what did the numbers ever tell us about the well-being of our families? During the workshop hui last week we heard from the chair of the Whanau Ora National Governance Board, Professor Sir Mason Durie who talked about how success was measured in the New Zealand social services climate. Measuring outcomes in social service programmes has traditionally been done by measuring volumes and activities rather than results.

For Whanau Ora the whole story is important - not just quantitative but also qualitative results. In this way, Whanau Ora is leading us forward to a far more accurate picture of how well whanau are doing.

There are many positive stories about families making progressive changes in their lives. One family in Taumarunui decided collectively if they all gave up smoking within six years the money they saved would be enough to meet their own housing needs. There's nothing quite as powerful as knowing you can determine your own destiny.

Our two-day workshop constantly reinforced how important whanau are as a source of strength for the New Zealand economy. The collective potential within whanau will bring benefits not only to Maori but also to our nation and for future generations. I have no time for allegations in some of the press that Whanau Ora is hurting New Zealand or is a waste of taxpayer funding.

Those types of statements are not only unfounded. They also miss the point that whanau are New Zealand taxpayers too - surely a stronger whanau leads to a stronger community leads to a stronger nation.

I think it's really important to remind ourselves that Whanau Ora starts from a position of strength. It was never envisaged to be a checklist to fix the problems of the world. Its intentions were to do all that we can to ensure whanau can be the best that they can be, to be orientated towards a productive and constructive future. What's so wrong with that?

- Wanganui Chronicle

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