Researchers are calling for greater partnership with Māori and a more whānau-based approach to tackle disparities in poverty and youth outcomes.

In an article published today by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (Māori Centre of Research Excellence) researchers called for a kaupapa Māori model for young Māori who came to the attention of Oranga Tamariki.

Researchers said a new law coming into force on July 1, requiring the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki to recognise and provide for a practical commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, gave an opportunity to develop more appropriate measures for Māori, rather than typically Western and Eurocentric measures of well-being.

The law change included an explicit requirement to set measurable outcomes for Māori children and young persons.

The original Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 made provision
for Māori children to be viewed and cared for in the context of their whānau, hapū and iwi, and provided a platform for the practical application of tikanga Māori in decision-making.


But despite the potential, in their paper Care and Protection of Tamariki Māori in the Family Court System researchers argued the Act failed Māori children, with the system in practice at odds with Māori values and "lacking respect for whānau, hapū and iwi, and as culturally alienating, disempowering and judgmental".

While the number of Pākehā children in state care decreased, the opposite was true for Māori.

In 2015 although Māori made up 30 per cent of the annual birth rate, 57 per cent of children within the-then Child, Youth and Family system by the age of five years were Māori, and six out of 10 children who remained in the system and ended up in state care were Māori.

These disparities continued into the youth justice system, where in 2015 although Māori made up 25 per cent of those aged 10 to 16 years in New Zealand, they comprised 60 per cent of those involved in the youth justice system.

This percentage increased further along the system, with Māori comprising seven out of every 10 young people placed in a secure youth justice residence by court order.

The researchers said kaupapa Māori models provided tools, grounded in tikanga and mātauranga Māori (knowledge/science), for measuring outcomes in a culturally safe and appropriate way.

Key themes included a focus on whānau, taking a more holistic approach rather than single measures, comparing Māori outcomes with Māori over time rather than other ethnicities, focusing on strengths rather than deficits, more hapū and whānau measures rather than individual, and promoting tino rangatiratanga or Māori control.

To achieve these goals, researchers recommended establishing more strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations.


The call echos comments from Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft, who said the July 1 law change allowed for a "revolution" in caring for Māori youth.

"Not only partnership, but devolving power, resources and responsibility, more Māori leaders, embed the Māori worldview, and have care by Māori for Māori," Becroft said.

A second article published by the centre today, Precariat Māori Households Today, called for broad societal and policy change to enable Māori whanau to be free from the cycle of employment, income and rights insecurity.

In 2016, about 30 per cent of Māori fell into the category of "precariat", defined as citizens who found themselves in and out of secure work, unable to make ends meet and constrained by aspects of welfare. This was compared to one in six of the general population.

Through interviews with Māori whānau in need and community workers researchers found those seeking assistance often felt blamed for the being poor, that it was a result of their own "reckless choices", and that seeking assistance was often "unobtainable" and a "humiliating" process.

"Blame is stereotypically laid at the feet of promiscuous single mothers, work-shy delinquents and 'defective' citizens lacking skills and motivation," the report said.


"When state welfare and correctional systems punitively converge, the outcome is that those receiving government assistance are managed and controlled in dehumanising ways that emulate the treatment of criminal offenders."

Researchers found in most cases precariat members would have numerous engagements with various government and non-government agencies, each time having to recount their life story, each time wearing them down further.

"All these elements combine to create fear, anxiety, humiliation and trauma for whānau who are seeking assistance at an already highly stressful time."

They found Māori precariat members were more responsive to organisations that took a more caring approach and gave more time.

Precariat whānau member Miriama said services she chose to go to had a more indigenous worldview, where she felt less judged.

"They live and breathe that holistic view. Indigenous people get Indigenous people. So
the assumption and the judgment is minimised... it makes things more effective and humane."


The solution to poverty was not simply employment, rather the researchers urged the Government to co-design a new inclusive approach reflecting Whānau Ora principles, and to work with whānau, and those who worked alongside them as advocates and service providers.

"Frameworks founded upon and driven by Māori cultural principles that prioritise care, relationship, unity, service and kindness can act as a starting point for the structural shifts necessary for addressing inequity, which in turn open up significant possibilities for whānau."