Working with Pacific Peoples — Va'aifetu

Updated: 14 March 2017

Bula Vinaka, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Fakatalofaatu, Halo ola keta, Kia orana, Malo e lelei, Malo ni, Mauri, Namaste, Talofa lava, Warm greetings.

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Introducing Va'aifetu

Va’aifetu provides cultural knowledge and insight to help us work more effectively with Pacific children and youth.

Va’aifetu has been developed in response to calls from Pacific communities for us to do better for Pacific children and families that come to the notice of our service. In setting us this challenge, community leaders, elders, Pacific academics,and professionals in the non-government sector walked alongside our Pacific practitioners to ensure this package of knowledge represented important Pacific values, realities and world views in a meaningful way.

Va’aifetu is a Samoan metaphorical term that is derived from the words 'va'ai' which means to take care of, look, see, observe, consider; and 'fetu' which means star or stars. Va'ai is the role of families, communities, practitioners and organisations. Va’aifetu is about the guardianship of people - their light, intelligence, wisdom, aspirations, strengths and potential. The stars are the children, families and practitioners.

The name Va’aifetu was inspired by the history of Pacific ancestors who explored and successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean (an area that covers about a third of the globe) and settled its islands. Archaeological evidence shows that these navigators travelled the Pacific Ocean by interpreting the positions of stars/fetu, the sun, the movement of the sea, weather patterns, and wildlife to guide them through long journeys.

The metaphorical significance of stars as guides is transferred in Va’aifetu to symbolise the importance of children, families and those who work alongside them in times of great difficulty and challenge.

The surrounding elements are often out of the control of the stars but are meaningless without them. The navigator’s practice of watching the stars to stay the course and not get lost encapsulates the foundational belief of Va’aifetu that practice must be guided by the people who are the experts in their experiences, aspirations, most importantly our vulnerable children.

Va’aifetu consists of two bodies of work.

Part I: Va'aifetu - Data, Literature, Practice Environment


is a reference source. This provides core issues and trends in relation to Pacific children in Aotearoa. The information is based on Oranga Tamariki and Child, Youth and Family data, research, practitioners' anecdotal experiences and other sources to provide context and cultural relevance.

The artwork was gifted by children in our care.

These pieces tell of values, relationships and connections that our children identify with and consider most important. They also signal the spiritual and emotional resilience that children hold onto through the challenges they face.

When young people were told that Va’aifetu was developed to better meet the needs of Pacific children, young people and their families, a robust discussion took place around how this can happen when there are so many cultures that make up the Pacific. The young people came to an agreement that any symbol created would have to be one that has significance across many Pacific nations. Members of the Te Au rere a te Tonga Pacific Island Network helped the young people brainstorm ideas and talked about concepts that were important to Pacific peoples.

The young people selected the themes of honour, responsibility, patience, faith, and the preservation of the environment. They then chose the symbol of the turtle to represent these themes.

“The turtle is a symbol of leadership, it tells me to be patient, be respectful and stay connected to my family”

The turtle holds a special place in many Pacific cultures and can be found throughout the Pacific. It represents honour, strength, responsibility and connection. The artists believed that this best represents what Va’aifetu is aiming to achieve.

In the middle of the turtle’s shell is a palm tree (birds-eye view). This represents the importance of preserving the natural environment because is a life source for an island. Lastly there are two spirals surrounding the turtle, one which consists of fish like symbols. The fish behind the turtle represent the many generations that preceded us. The fish ahead of the turtle represents the generations that are still to come. This serves as a reminder to preserve what we have and always honour and respect the traditions of our ancestors. The second spiral represents God’s influence as an all- encompassing power. It reminds us that God was with our ancestors in the beginning, is with us now, and will be with our children and grandchildren when we pass.

The young people believed that with honour, leadership, patience, the guidance of those who have passed, preservation for those to come, and the support of God; great outcomes can be achieved.

Va'aifetu - data, literature, practice environment (PDF 11 MB)

Part II: Va'aifetu - Principles, Cultural Frameworks, Guidelines

Va'aifetu - cover of the booklet

Va'aifetu is a practical guide on how to integrate culture into practice.

It contains eight specific frameworks to guide social work practice with children, young people and families of Cook Island, Niuean, Fijian (iTuakei), Indian-Fijian, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan and Tuvaluan cultures.

The frameworks are shaped around relational principles particular to each culture.

The knowledge is also relevant to workforce development, research, policy, communications and non social work business to support good outcomes for children and their families.

The artist explains his work

"The flower represents me, the star my future. To my left is God, my ancestors and my family. To the right are all the bad things that surround me. The bad things are always going to be there but by staying with my family and placing faith in God I can see a pathway to my dreams" (Artist)

The artist further explained that the artwork represents the journey a young person takes from the start of life through to the attainment of their dreams.

At the top of the picture is a star, which represents hopes and dreams. A star never sits alone in the night sky. The star also represents Pacific concepts of reciprocity and social responsibility. It demonstrates that while one person can achieve great things, these achievements are linked to their family/island/ nation, reminding people to remain humble.

The large flower at the bottom of the picture represents a newborn child that represents a family's hopes, dreams and aspirations. This is a big responsibility for a child which is why the flower is large. Within this flower sits a lineage of wisdom, history and beauty, represented by the frangipani which is one of the most beautiful symbols in Pacific cultures..

"This picture makes me feel hopeful about my future"

To the right of the flower is a series of flowers contained within walls. These walls represent the ever present external pressures placed upon a child throughout their life. These pressures can confine, minimise and impinge on the great potential and beauty that a child is born with, and make it difficult for them to reach their full potential. Conversely, to the left of the flower are symbols that empower and support the child to achieve.

The first symbol represents the family. Immediately next to this is a symbol which represents the child's lineage and genealogy. The last symbol is a dove which is reference to faith and God. The dove slightly overlaps the genealogy line to show that this child is a child of God, and that there is an eternal connection between the two of them - a connection that started with the child's ancestors and sits within them. The flower touches both patterns to demonstrate that regardless of difficulties, pressures and obstacles that an individual encounter throughout their life; a connection must be kept with loved ones, one's lineage, faith, and God.

A clear pathway between the two is created which enables an individual to achieve their hopes, dreams and aspirations. "I want to fly high to reach the stars" (Artist)

Va'aifetu - principles, cultural frameworks, guidelines (PDF 2.3 MB)

Practice Policy

When to use Va'aifetu

  • Va’aifetu must be used when working with Pacific families alongside existing practice tools as part of best practice
  • The application of Va’aifetu must be reflected in case records
  • Application is to be woven through the Assess-Plan-Implement-Review cycle.

Voice of the Child

In all actions by practitioners, the paramount interest of the child is the primary consideration in accordance with sections 6 and 13 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, and Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). Accordingly:

  • Every child must be engaged in a manner, language, context, and timeframe that will enable her or him to engage meaningfully in return
  • The child’s dignity will be respected at all times, and their best interest upheld
  • Caregivers, family and collectives of significance to and for the child, will be engaged with respect and in shared purpose to achieve the child’s best interest.

The wider Application of Va'aifetu

Working Together

We know that when children come to the notice of the state, their needs and situations are often complex, and require the combined commitment of different parties to help them heal, build resilience, take opportunities, and have improved quality of life.

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 (VCA 2014) requires the Ministries of Education, Health, Justice, Social Development and Police to work collectively to achieve the Government’s priorities for vulnerable children. The domino expectations upon services’ contracted and funded by the state create opportunities for community stakeholders to take part in the ownership and development of solutions for children.

The spirit of the VCA 2014 resonates with Pacific peoples' beliefs and traditions about collective responsibility for ensuring and securing the best interests of children.

Culturally Responsive Practice

Every person is born with an identity, spirituality, dignity and significance - within all, culture is a core element. Culture is a core consideration in the pursuit of children’s wellbeing and outcomes under New Zealand law.

  • Section 5(g) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 states that decisions affecting a child should take into consideration, without limitation, the child's age, identity, cultural connections, education, and health
  • Section 6 of the VCA 2014 specifies child well-being to be inclusive of their physical, emotional, education, cultural, social and economic state. Va’aifetu offers a tool for interagency partners to develop standards of social work practice with Pacific children and families.

Va’aifetu will:

  • support cultural responsiveness in the application of duties and powers in accordance with the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, VCA 2014 and the Adoption Act 1955.
  • help grow practitioners understanding of Pacific cultures, and develop cultural competency to meet professional registration and accreditation requirements.



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