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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/core-practice/working-with-maori/how-to-work-effectively-with-maori/whanau-searching/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Last updated: 11/11/2019

Whānau searching

Whānau searching connects tamariki to their whānau network and when done well may extend into hapū and iwi. It helps identify the right people to participate and be involved in whānau decision-making about tamariki wellbeing.

Upcoming changes for this guidance

This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from ​Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Our practice approach

What is whānau searching

Whānau searching creates a reference map for tamariki of their significant people, places and values/beliefs and ensures these resources are a key part of creating a plan to improve tamariki wellbeing.

Whānau searching involves an ongoing process of identifying and validating whānau relationships that are connected through whakapapa or genealogy (through the use of face-to-face discussions, genograms, chronologies, recordings and other mediums), a human map of those significant whānau relationships important in the lives of tamariki.

Whānau members help with strengthening tamariki Māori connection and security, identity and sense of belonging, and provide options and resources to support their wellbeing.

Whānau searching may also include gathering information about other significant people (considered as whānau and sometimes called kaupapa whānau) who provide support for tamariki Māori (including, for example, their church/faith, Te Kohanga Reo and those in their community network). However while kaupapa whānau relationships are important the whakapapa whānau connections of tamariki should be preferenced in decision-making.

The expectation is that these whānau searching efforts should in most cases have correct information but may also identify areas that need exploring further.

For example, where it is known that tamariki Māori come from Northland, where there are multiple iwi, further searching may be required to verify the iwi affiliation within that area.

When to do it

Whānau searching should begin at the start of our involvement with tamariki when there’s a report of concern to Oranga Tamariki. This information should be used to ensure active participation by whānau, hapū and iwi at the earliest point and ongoing throughout the process of assessment and planning.

Who does it

There’s an expectation that all social workers and coordinators will do preliminary whānau searches as part of their core work. This core work should at a minimum provide information about tamariki affiliation to iwi, and the placement and role of tamariki Māori within 3 generations of their own whānau structures (both maternal and paternal).

Whānau searching is carried out where possible by or with whānau themselves. Validation of the correct whānau information can be done with key whānau members/elders, kairaranga ā-whānau and others with knowledge and skills to confirm the information is correct. It should describe the nature and dynamics of these relationships.

The Te Toka Tūmoana framework and the Oranga Tamariki cultural framework can support guiding the practice of whānau searching.

Duties of chief executive in relation to Treaty of Waitangi (Tiriti o Waitangi) – section 7AA of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Working with Māori: Te Toka Tūmoana

Our Māori cultural framework

Specialist support

Social workers' and coordinators' core practice includes whānau searching. However at times other relevant staff may also undertake whānau searching (continuing to build on accumulated information to understand the dynamics of the whānau).

At times whānau searching might require specialised support when there are barriers to connecting tamariki Māori with their wider extended whānau. Barriers may occur for a range of reasons including:

  • disconnected whānau relationships
  • the impacts of historical trauma and abuse
  • whakamā or shame, such as not wanting whānau to know about their circumstances
  • whānau living out of their tribal area
  • estrangement from their whakapapa and culture
  • whānau who may be resistant to Oranga Tamariki
  • te reo Māori or te reo Pākehā language barriers.

A specialised whānau searcher can include people such as kairaranga ā-whānau or iwi whakapapa searchers who have the knowledge and skills to undertake work of this nature. The role may have different names depending on the tikanga or customs of Mana Whenua in that area. Examples are kairaranga-a-whānau, kairangahau-a-whānau, kaitiaki, or kaiwhakawhanaungatanga. The purpose of this role is to weave or connect/reconnect whānau members and often to reconcile damaged whānau relationships.

Kairaranga ā-whānau

How to do it

Tamariki Māori are part of a wider interrelated network of whakapapa whānau (biological connections with whānau, hapū and iwi).

There are 5 key processes to take into account when doing whānau searching.

1 Meaningfully engage whānau and build the relationship

Set up as soon as possible opportunities to meet kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) with tamariki and significant members of their world, and then use hui ā-whānau to identify and explore the dynamics of the whānau. 

You may use te reo and tikanga to engage with whānau Māori while remembering that many whānau Māori are disconnected from culture — therefore humility and awareness is required to apply tikanga to engage in a non-threatening manner. 

Working with Māori: Te Toka Tūmoana

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

See and engage whānau, wider family, caregivers and when appropriate victims of offending by tamariki

Hui ā-whānau

2 Place tamariki at the centre of the journey

Begin any construction of information with tamariki as the centre of focus. Build the relationship map outward on both maternal and paternal sides. Take specific note of those relationships te tamaiti identifies as most significant and the reasons why this is so. 

3 Gather initial information

An effective whānau search needs good initial information, which includes:

  • the purpose of the whānau search 
  • all known iwi affiliations
  • a genogram of both paternal and maternal relationships up to 3 generations from te tamaiti
  • a chronology of any previous involvement with Oranga Tamariki and previous social service engagements for help
  • demographic information, such as where whānau members live
  • the voice of te tamaiti using tools such as the Three Houses engagement tool
  • any known barriers to engaging whānau
  • the current whānau supports, such as whānau, friends, teachers.

The Three Houses engagement tool

Search tools and other mechanisms both locally and nationally can enhance the practice — for example, iwi registrations, birth, death and marriage records and internet search.

Another useful mechanism is to engage with the Oranga Tamariki site staff who are in the iwi geographical area that the whānau are from, such as Ngāpuhi (make contact and enquiries with the Kaikohe site using their local knowledge and networks to assist with and deepen the search).

4 Consolidate information

Social workers should map this information diagramatically (for example, genograms, life cycle chronology timelines) and consolidate and verify with support from their supervisors or cultural advisors, kairaranga ā-whānau or others.

5 Identify and contact significant whānau

You should inform the whānau of connections you have made and give them the information to support their strengthening of relationships and whanaungatanga.

This information will assist in engaging whānau participation into and throughout interactions such as hui ā-whanau and family group conferences and provide active involvement in good decision-making that supports improved outcomes for tamariki Māori.

Supporting whānau in maintaining these relationships, particularly if they are new, independently of Oranga Tamariki is a key factor in contributing to the whole-of-life oranga for te tamaiti.