This Government supports Whānau Ora, and acknowledges that it has proven to make measurable improvements on Māori wellbeing.
Nevertheless, investment in the approach, as established under the former National Party-Māori Party coalition, was limited and has led to Whānau Ora's current existence as a fringe initiative almost exclusively supported through Te Puni Kōkiri.
Whānau Ora in practice today has strayed some way from original intentions. It has been left to myself, and this Government, to try to make the changes necessary to grow the approach and ensure whānau are properly supported throughout the motu.
The whakapapa of Whānau Ora can be traced back as far as 2002. The current approach takes its underlying principles more directly from the report of the Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives, commissioned by Dame Tariana Turia, and published in 2010.
The taskforce made important findings including the idea of collaborating government agencies, providers, practitioners and whānau. It recommended investment and buy-in
for the Whānau Ora approach across government, established key whānau outcomes to be pursued (which are now at the core of the Whānau Ora Outcomes Framework), and outlined the characteristics of whānau-centred services.
The taskforce report also made specific recommendations for the delivery of Whānau Ora to ensure transparency and accountability to whānau, communities and the Government. These included the development of a trust, which would manage Whānau Ora funds and collaborate with whānau, communities, Government to ensure success, and regional panels to ensure positive contributions in local communities.
These recommendations, along with the ideal of cross-government buy-in and cross-sector collaboration to lift whānau wellbeing, were never realised.
Instead, what we now have is three limited liability companies with charitable status almost wholly supported by Te Puni Kōkiri.
When I came into office I acknowledged public concern over the transparency and accountability in the delivery of Whānau Ora and commissioned a review.
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The Whānau Ora Review was completed in 2018, after broad engagement with whānau, providers, and agencies, and reaffirmed that Whānau Ora results in positive change for whānau. It noted, however, a lack of support across government and there were instances where whānau and providers did not feel it was adequately responsive or transparent.
The review made a number of recommendations: Increasing investment in the commissioning approach; increasing cross-agency engagement in Whānau Ora; and exploring localised commissioning opportunities in the North Island.
These recommendations have provided myself and the Government with a strong basis to strengthen the Whānau Ora approach over the years to come to ensure the kaupapa is best placed to support whānau.
This Government has two key drivers with Whānau Ora: Ensure whānau maintain tino rangatiratanga while Whānau Ora remains responsive, transparent and accountable to those whānau and communities it is intended to serve; and Whānau Ora and whānau-centred approaches be integral to policies, programmes and services across government to improve the wellbeing of families.
These things will take time to achieve as Whānau Ora has drifted so far from these aspirations originally intended. But, since my Budget announcements in 2019, this work is now well and truly under way.
Through the Budget, the Government allocated an additional $116 million over four years to grow Whānau Ora. A large proportion of this funding has been allocated to the Whānau Ora commissioning agencies to continue to grow the great work they do.
However, the review recommendations and original intentions of Whānau Ora cannot be ignored. Funds are also being allocated to place greater decision-making in local communities, and increasing cross-government collaboration and buy-in to the approach via both direct investment and the development of new initiatives such as implementations of a whānau-centred approach in the Corrections system.
We have made strong progress towards setting the foundations for each of these initiatives to ensure whānau-centred support remains responsive to the aspirations of whānau. The Government is set to make a number of announcements this year as the design of new Whānau Ora initiatives are completed with whānau, community and agency involvement.
While we make these important gains, it is important to also acknowledge the substantial work ahead. Beyond Budget announcements and new initiatives, this Government will strive to ensure that all government agencies with responsibility for any aspect of whānau wellbeing commit to Whānau Ora principles and support the approach, as originally envisaged by the taskforce.
The fundamental components of our communities will always be whānau, and our country will only thrive when whānau thrive. We know Whānau Ora works, and we know we have responsibilities to whānau.
It is now time to start honouring those responsibilities. Watch this space.
Tihei Whānau Ora.
• Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare is the Minister for Whānau Ora.