Minister for Children Kelvin Davis was in Whanganui on Thursday, visiting local Oranga Tamariki staff tasked with ensuring the care of some of the district's most vulnerable children.
The Whanganui area, which includes Waverley, Bulls, Marton, Waiouru and Raetihi, is currently home to 120 tamariki (children) in care, with the crown agency dealing with a total of 378 young people across the region.
Around 60 staff play a role in the care of these children, ranging from well-being and legal teams to the Police Child Protection group, which is also based out of the Oranga Tamariki office on St Hill Street.
The government department has faced several issues in recent years including the uplift of a Māori newborn on the East Coast, the 'reverse-uplift' of Māori children from a Pākehā family in Canterbury, as well as the resignation of Chief Executive Grainne Moss in January after months of heavy criticism.
Davis, a former teacher, took over the role of Minister in October last year and said his first goal was to change the way the agency delivered for Māori.
Davis told the Chronicle that while the organisation did its best to support Māori, there were shortcomings that need to be addressed.
"Our job as Oranga Tamariki is to make sure that regardless [of ethnicity] those children are supported and they have the love and support they need to grow up to be good adults who can contribute to this community."
In November, the Chronicle reported the comments of of South Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui's Tumu Whakaae (chair) Haimona Maruera, who said Oranga Tamariki was based on a "colonial master-servant model."
"Oranga Tamariki say all the right things but do not deliver on the ground," Maruera said at the time.
Davis said those concerns were the reason he asked for the job.
"That's why I asked for the job, to turn these things around. The future of Oranga Tamariki is going to be more community, iwi and hapu driven, rather than Wellington having good ideas saying 'have we got a deal for you'," he said.
"We need to work out what the local region's needs are and tell Wellington."
Davis said there would be "greater devolvement" of resources and decision making to Māori and local regions.
A strategy is being put together by Oranga Tamariki officials, attempting to supply both regional areas and Māori with the resources for what's best for them and their area.
Davis has also appointed a Ministerial Advisory Board - a group of accomplished, senior, and well-respected members of the community - who have come together to provide the Minister with advice on organisation.
On the Whanganui visit, Davis said it was a good opportunity to talk directly to staff at the coal-face, laying out the new strategy for the organisation as well as hearing local concerns.
"It's been a very short visit, but I have to say, people are very committed and dedicated, and want to do the best by the children. They're looking forward to the new direction.
"There's no shortage of dedication and committment to the children of Whanganui."