A review of the Māori and Pasifika-focused Whānau Ora development agency says providers are overwhelmed by demand and often dealing with crisis situations better dealt with by the likes of medical professionals and social workers.
The long-awaited review of the agency, carried out by a panel headed by Caren Rangi, said demand for Whānau Ora outstripped the funding and resources available to partners, providers and whānau entities to provide support.
"In some areas, the level of demand was overwhelming, and fundamentally impacted on the approach being taken by partners and providers ... This raised concerns that in some cases, navigators were required to address situations that should be the domain of clinicians or qualified social workers," the review said.
That diverted resources to situations that should be the responsibility of central government agencies and/or the non-governmental organisations they contracted to provide such intervention.
The review also criticised government agencies, saying they should be meeting their own service delivery responsibilities instead of leaving them to Whānau Ora.
"There have been difficulties in building understanding among government agencies (in Wellington) about the Whānau Ora 'story' – what it is, how it works and how government agencies can work with Whānau Ora.
"We were most concerned that central government agencies are opting out of their own responsibilities. We were told of numerous occasions where not only were Whānau Ora partners meeting the service delivery responsibilities of other agencies, they were also expected to do so," the review said.
The review panel suggested the reach of Whānau Ora be even wider, such as more localised commissioning options in some areas to keep the agencies close to the whānau and communities they serve; and further into rural and deprived populations.
It recommended Te Puni Kōkiri work with other agencies to capitalise on opportunities and address the perceived barriers that inhibit the uptake of Whānau Ora.
Whānau-centred approaches should also be embedded in the machinery of government through mechanisms such as Budget 2019, the Living Standards Framework and legislation.
Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said he had asked Te Puni Kōkiri to work with other social sector government agencies to see how the Whānau Ora approach could be implemented.
He will report back to Cabinet later this year with its findings.
Additional funding for Whānau Ora was put on hold last year while the review was carried out. That was despite Labour's pre-election promise of an extra $20 million over four years.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has been a harsh critic of the agency, calling it a "bro-ocracy" and a "waste of taxpayers' money".
The agency, a flagship policy of the Māori Party, was created in the previous National government's term.
The initiative aims to improve Māori and Pasifika wellbeing and provide opportunities for development by building whānau capability and commissioning provision of social sector services.