A new iwi-led collaboration to care for and protect vulnerable tamariki in Hawke’s Bay could upturn the state’s Oranga Tamariki system.
Ngāti Kahungunu chairman Bayden Barber says its fast-developing Te Ara Mātua project was a chance to show the Government that traditional te ao Māori models of wellness work for whānau.
Oranga Tamariki is working in partnership with the iwi and says it sees the potential for it to grow. Influential figures focused on improving outcomes for children also appear confident.
Te Ara Mātua’s roots, and the idea of introducing “boutique” iwi-led models of child protection, can be traced back to 2019, when there was a stand-off at Hawke’s Bay Hospital during the attempted Oranga Tamariki uplift of a seven-day-old baby boy.
Former Ngāti Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana stated in the days following that “not one more child will be uplifted and iwi will intervene at all costs”.
Ngāti Kahungunu adopted the statement as their official stance.
The iwi held a series of wānanga with whānau to understand their stories and the personal experiences they had with Oranga Tamariki and the wider care and protection system.
From this, it commissioned a report, Kōrero Mai Whānau, and gave a series of recommendations for the Government.
Through work with whānau advocacy collective Te Tumu Whakahaere o Te Wero and Oranga Tamariki, it then began the process of designing, developing and implementing Te Ara Mātua.
It is described as “an integrated suite of services and support that ultimately aims to keep tamariki and their whānau out of the Oranga Tamariki system and to return those already captured in the system to the protection of their whānau, hapū and iwi”.
Barber said Te Ara Mātua was a huge opportunity.
“We’ve been serviced by Government departments for all these years and the outcomes haven’t been fantastic, as you will see in all these reviews and reports.
“Utilising innovation, technology and everything at our disposal in today’s world, alongside our traditional ways of delivery, I think you have got a winning recipe for whānau wellness and whānau ora.”
He said Ngāti Kahungunu did not view moving into the care and protection space as a potential risk.
“These are our people, we don’t see it as a risk at all. We see it as an opportunity, and one we are fully prepared to take [in order to] back our people.”
Children’s Commissioner Frances Eivers said decision-makers needed to be bold and courageous to enact change to tackle the disproportionate number of Māori in the state care system.
“We must transfer power and resources from the state to iwi, communities and NGOs that can enable mokopuna to be in their own community, with whānau who can be supported, who they trust,” Eivers said.
“Where mokopuna whakapapa Māori, it’s a matter of the state standing back and the resource and the decision-making being with Māori for their own.”
Eivers said the agreement between Ngāti Kahungunu and Oranga Tamariki would form part of “a bold path forward.”
“If we could really develop unique, and almost boutique, plans around these whānau and have the state work together with iwi in such a way that iwi leads the design of that support, I believe it would make a difference.”
Darrin Haimona, Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive of Māori partnerships, said Te Ara Mātua was in response to the recommendations made by the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisery Board in September 2021 and the Oranga Tamariki Future Direction Plan to “prototype new approaches to partnering to enable decision-making and resourcing to be made in closer proximity to whānau”.
He said Oranga Tamariki would be supporting Ngāti Kahungunu.
Te Ara Mātua was for Ngāti Kahungunu whānau at this stage, Haimona said, but would likely evolve to become an option for all other tamariki and whānau across Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungunu’s rohe.
“We have every confidence that Te Ara Mātua will deliver a strengths-based, prevention-focused, te ao Māori service for Ngāti Kahungunu whānau,” he said.
“For other tamariki and whānau, they will continue to receive the same level of support from Oranga Tamariki. We expect that as our staff adapt to Te Ara Mātua, there will be positive shifts in how we work with, and respond to, all whānau.”
Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said it became clear to him after entering his role that change needed to occur.
“The community knows what is best for its children, but has not had the power or resources needed to make those decisions itself,” Davis said.
“I’m proud of the work that Oranga Tamariki has done to support Ngāti Kahungunu and Te Tumu Whakarae o Te Wero to develop Te Ara Mātua.”
A Ngāti Kahungunu spokesperson said a launch date for Te Ara Mātua would be confirmed in due course.