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Identity and culture – Tuituia domain

This domain explores culture and identity, including what culture and identity are, forming a sense of self-belief and the hopes, dreams and wishes of te tamaiti and rangatahi.

Update made to domain

We've strengthened our guidance relating to migrants and refugees.

Being Pākehā, Pacific or Tauiwi

What is the identity and culture domain

The identity and culture domain encompasses notions of identity including:

  • hopes, dreams and wishes
  • sense of identity
  • belief in self
  • culture and beliefs
  • being Māori
  • being Pākehā/Tauiwi/Pacific
  • sexual identity and gender
  • disability identity
  • considerations for tamaiti and rangatahi in care.

Check and align your thinking with the following Tuituia domains.

Attachment — parents, caregivers, family, whānau, hapū, iwi, significant adults, siblings and cousins, important adults.

Attachments – Tuituia domain

Behaviour — pro-social behaviour, right from wrong, taking responsibility, concerning or harmful sexual behaviour, substance abuse, sexual activity.

Behaviour – Tuituia domain

Health — trauma, grief and loss, emotional wellbeing, self-harm, suicide, physical wellbeing, development.

Health – Tuituia domain

Education — attendance, achievement and engagement.

Education – Tuituia domain

Learning — cognitive, motor skills.

Learning and achievement – Tuituia domain

 In completing the assessment of any cultural and identity needs for te tamaiti it’s important to:

  • seek the views of te tamaiti and their whānau or family
  • engage with the school, health professionals or other professionals involved with te tamaiti to seek their views and identify opportunities to work together, especially if te tamaiti is in care
  • review any specialist assessments including gateway or youth justice assessments or screens that have been completed or ensure these are undertaken if required
  • consider how the cultural perspectives of the whānau or family may influence the experience of te tamaiti and seek cultural support if required
  • seek the views of the caregiver if te tamaiti is in care
  • consider the relevant Tuituia domains to draw together your assessment.

Gateway assessments

The education screen


Identity is who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by others and the characteristics that define you answering the question: "Who am I? What does it mean to be me?" 

Identity relates to our basic values that dictate the choices we make, such as relationships, career. These choices reflect who we are and what we value. Identity may be acquired indirectly from parents, peers and other role models. Tamariki initially define themselves in terms of how they think their parents see them. 

A major task of self-development for rangatahi is establishing their own identity both inside and outside of their whānau or family. Also known as self-concept this is the view and understanding a person has of their self as a whole and calls on their social identities, such as ethnic, cultural, gender, sexuality, disability, how the individual makes sense of their experiences.

Belonging is simply about a connection to people and a shared understanding of the world.

Te tamaiti or rangatahi have their own views, values and beliefs. Some will reflect those of their whānau or family, community, culture and faith. For others, there will be some difference between their values and beliefs and those of their whānau or family. It’s important all tamariki or rangatahi and their whānau or family feel respected and supported in their cultural beliefs and personal identity.


Culture is the customs, traditions and values of a family, whānau, hapū, iwi, society or community, such as an ethnic group, religious group or nation. Culture is a term that refers to a large and diverse set of mostly intangible aspects of social life and consists of the values, beliefs, systems of language and communication, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a collective.

Every family, whānau or family group has a culture or a set of values, beliefs and language and communication regardless of, for example, their ethnicity or religious beliefs, that influence their interactions with the environment they live in. Simply said, culture is how you were raised. It developed while you grew up.

Be aware of your own cultural bias and if you do not feel comfortable in a situation or sufficiently knowledgeable about working with a particular cultural group seek supervision and advice.

There is a narrow sense in which 'culture' is only used for the arts: music, painting, literature. In a social work assessment we also consider all other human social activities as cultural. Greeting, eating, family interests and celebrations are all affected by culture. Activities such as art, drama, kapa haka and music are ways people reflect and take pride in their culture.

Being Māori

Being Māori means that anyone who has an ancestor who was Māori can identify as Māori. Being Māori is about the person identifying as Māori because they have the whakapapa to do so but it’s more than just biological connections and has whanaungatanga responsibilities.

From a Māori worldview, your ancestors are part of you, and you are linked to the mountains, rivers, seas and lands of Aotearoa through them. You can’t have a fraction of that connection — it exists no matter what.

How people self-identify is entirely up to them. Identifying people by their colour is racist.

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Being Pākehā, Pacific or Tauiwi

Pākehā is not the only te reo word out there to refer to non-Māori – Tauiwi and Tangata Tiriti (literally, "people of the Treaty") includes all cultural backgrounds (not just European) and are also acceptable.

Pākehā is generally used for people of British or Western ancestry who were party to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi that forms the basis of bicultural relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Other ethnic or cultural groups are referred to as tauiwi. Being tauiwi is increasingly diverse, with many people from different ethnic and cultural groups from across the world calling New Zealand home.


Pacific communities in New Zealand have increased significantly over the years. Each island group has its own distinct cultural identity. The term 'Pacific peoples' is often used to describe the collective of unique cultures, languages, histories, aspirations, governance structures and sovereign status, who share the Pacific and the ocean as their home.

There is no generic 'Pacific community'. There is much diversity with Pacific peoples and families who have aligned themselves variously, and at different times, along ethnic, church, family, island, geographic, school, age/gender-based, youth/elders, island-born or New Zealand-born, occupational lines, or a mix of these.

Connections to villages, churches and island groupings within each Pacific nation are important. Accordingly, we must be aware of diversity as well as commonalities.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Migrants and refugees

There may be additional considerations for people who have immigrated to New Zealand or come to New Zealand as a refugee:

  • different mental health needs
  • migration stress
  • grief and loss.

Response to grief and/or loss – Tuituia subdomain

Colonisation and trauma

Developing greater understanding of Te Ao Māori is an individual choice but can help an individual and their whānau or family combat negative perceptions and link to a culture or identity they have not previously known.

There are different ways this can be done – kapa haka, finding whānau or family and whakapapa or finding whenua connections.  For some, the first step towards understanding and connecting can be as simple as registering with their iwi and beginning to make connections of support that are readily available at their marae.

When considering trauma, it’s important to be guided by the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. You may also wish to consider the Te Toka Tumoana practice principles and the Oranga Tamariki cultural framework.

Working with Māori: Te Toka Tumoana

Our Māori cultural framework

Trauma informed practice

If te tamaiti or te rangatahi and their whānau or family have whakapapa Māori and choose not to identify as Māori respect their choice. Never assume that the way someone looks defines their cultural identity.

For some tamariki their experience of growing up Māori has not been positive and the choices they have made may reflect this. It is our responsibility to support and help them to have more positive experiences of their culture.


The marae is an institution from classical Māori society that has survived the impact of western civilisation. It’s central to the concept of Māoritanga and Māori cultural identity. Māori oratory, language, value and social etiquette are given their fullest expression on the marae at hui and tangi.

Marae provide a political voice for the management of whānau and collective resources and are the place for vigorous debate about issues affecting the whānau.

Marae are sacred to the living and a memorial to the dead. For this reason, marae must be entered in a reverent manner.

Care partners (section 396 providers) and their caregivers — assessing culture and identity needs

When te tamaiti is placed with care partners and their caregivers the allocated social worker for te tamaiti, in the same way that they work with an Oranga Tamariki caregiver, will work closely with the care partner and their caregiver to:

  • assess the culture and identity needs of te tamaiti
  • agree on, and document in te tamaiti All About Me plan, the culture and identity support required, including who will undertake the agreed actions.

All About Me plan to meet the needs of tamariki

Hopes, dreams and wishes

  • Understand how te tamaiti or rangatahi perceives their future, consider whether it is positive and if they’re excited about it or is it negative and lacks direction, hope and a future focus.
  • How te tamaiti and rangatahi talk about their hopes, dreams, wishes and aspirations can tell us something about their present and how they feel about themselves and their lives now.
  • Keep in mind the age and developmental stage of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
  • Remember that the narrative entered here comes into the Hopes, Dreams and Wishes section of the Tuituia report and informs the All About Me plan. Ensure what you record here will make sense in the context of that report and plan.

The Tuituia framework and domains

All About Me plan to meet the needs of tamariki

 Assessment prompts

  • Understand the perception te tamaiti or rangatahi has of their future, whether it is positive and if they are excited about it or they have no sense of future goals and dreams.
  • How te tamaiti or rangatahi talk about their hopes, dreams and wishes can tell us something about their present and how they feel about themselves and their lives now.
  • Keep in mind the age and developmental stage of te tamaiti or rangatahi and the impacts of trauma on their ability to think in the abstract. Trauma impacts and disabilities, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can mean thinking is very concrete and about what is happening here and now with little or no concept of the future consequences or possibilities.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

Descriptors: Hopes, dreams and wishes

Age range

Over 5 year olds

10 — Te tamaiti has a bright outlook that reinforces a sense of positiveness about who they are; s/he is proud of being Māori. Te tamaiti is able to articulate in various ways their hopes, dreams and wishes that include valuing whānau or family. There are processes in place for quality whānau or family building time and a place where everyone in the whānau or family has the opportunity to korero around issues that impact on or are relevant to the oranga of te tamaiti and the whānau or family. Te tamaiti has the support and resilience to overcome challenges and difficulties.

They have a sense of self and where they fit in their world. S/he has access to all aspects of their history, whenua and important places, including marae. They respond positively to being in a whānau or family environment. They have a positive countenance concerning being in the world of Māori. Te tamaiti is supported to participate with whānau or family, hapū and iwi in culturally orientated activities – tangihana, kapa haka, haikinakina Māori (Māori sports). Te rangatahi is actively engaged in working towards their goals with whānau or family and whanaungatanga support and encouragement.

5 — Te tamaiti can identify some immediate hopes, dreams and wishes and is able to think about his/her future but whānau or family support is not always available. Whakapapa, whanaungatanga and marae supports are inconsistent. For tamariki Māori there is a sense of being okay about being Māori- Poipoia te kākanoa kia pūawai (nurture the seed and it will blossom). The vulnerability, capacity and resilience of te tamaiti and/or their whānau or family means s/he is not always able to meet the challenges and difficulties they face.

1 — Te tamaiti is unable to identify any positive goal or dream for his/her future. Te tamaiti and their whānau or family are disconnected from their marae, whakapapa and whanaungatanga links. Whānau or family involvement in crime, violence, mental health unwellness and alcohol and drug abuse means they are unable to support te tamaiti to make positive choices towards achieving their hopes and dreams. What hopes and dreams te tamaiti has involve anti-social behaviour and pro-crime elements.

S/he holds a negative view or are embarrased of who they are and their cultural background, and they do not know their whakapapa. They do not know where their ancestors are buried nor do they know about those ancestors achievements, characteristics and challenges.

Gender and sexual identity

Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex (based on physical body parts).

Gender identity is the gender someone identifies with most; a sense of being a man, woman, gender queer, trans, non-binary, gender fluid or something else.

Sexual orientation describes the type of sexual, romantic or physical attraction someone feels for others. People may describe their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, takatāpui, fa’afafine, queer, non-binary or something else.

LGBTTTIQ is an acronym sometimes used for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transexual, Two-spirited, Intersexed or Queer.


Transgender/trans — Sometimes people feel the sex they were assigned at birth does not describe their gender. They may change their name, pronouns they use and the way they dress and they may look for support, including hormones and surgery, to make their bodies better match their gender identity. There are many different words people use to talk about gender identity, including trans and transgender. Sexual orientation and gender identity is fluid, meaning that it may change over time.

Cisgender — is a term used for people whose sex and gender match. For example someone who has male body parts and identifies as a man. There is congruence with their birth or biological identity and their adult identity.

Non-binary people may identify as having two or more genders (being bigender, trigender, or pangender); having no gender (being agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree or neutrois); moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); or being third gender or other-gendered, a category that includes those who do not place a name to their gender.

Gender identity is separate from sexual or romantic orientation, and non-binary people have a variety of sexual orientations, just as transgender and cisgender people do.

A non-binary gender is not associated with a specific gender expression, such as androgyny. Non-binary people as a group have a wide variety of gender expressions.

It’s common for people to face homophobic discrimination and bullying based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can include experiencing health and social services that are not responsive to their needs or that misunderstand or make them feel uncomfortable talking about their sexual orientation and gender identity.

During adolescence, the idea of questioning one's sexuality or gender is not unusual.  It is a stage where exploration, learning and experimenting often occurs.  While some rangatahi have little or no issue in self-identifying many encounter a great deal of confusion and uncertainty at this stage. They may have issues in understanding their sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, or whether or not they fit into any preconceived social normative labels.

If te rangatahi has gender issues or concerns ensure they have access to medical support and assistance. If te rangatahi is transgender or is unsure of their gender identity the right medical interventions are important before puberty. Puberty blockers are medication used to delay the onset of puberty.

The body changes that happen during puberty can be distressing if they are not in line with the gender of te rangatahi. Puberty blockers can help relieve this distress. Delaying puberty gives te rangatahi more time to explore their gender identity, before changes happen to their body that can’t be reversed.

Be mindful that there’s a high risk of self harm and suicide associated with gender and sexuality identity issues as rangatahi learn to understand what they are experiencing and homophobic views can reinforce stereotypes and the confusion.

It’s crucial to listen to and take your cues from the language te rangatahi uses to describe themselves and be mindful of their use of the pro-nouns (he, she, they) to describe themselves. Be guided by their language.

Recognise your own level of knowledge and comfort when undertaking an assessment and seek supervision to work any concerns or challenges through.

Assessment prompts

  • Be sensitive and don’t assume when talking to rangatahi about gender and sexual identity.
  • Listen for words and phrases rangatahi use to reflect their sexuality and gender identity.
  • Explore the whānau or family and other peoples’ views about their sexuality and gender identity.
  • Gender identity is crucial in the development of a young individual as it is a big part of their personal and social identity – do they have positive and supportive peers and friends?
  • The confusion and questioning involved in forming gender identity can be influenced by the need to fit into gender binaries or adhere to social ideals constructed by whānau or family and mainstream society. Is te rangatahi feeling pressured or uncomfortable expectations of them?
  • This may be something te rangatahi has been unable to discuss with their whānau or family – be very mindful of privacy and personal choice.
  • Confusion about gender and sexuality can cause significant problems for rangatahi who may experience homophobia, bullying, self-harm and even make suicide attempts – listen for cues indicating stress and distress.
  • Some cultures may have very strong messaging about sexual diversity – be sensitive and respect the privacy of rangatahi.

Disability and identity

  • Don’t assume a disability is negative when assessing identity and culture. For many rangatahi their disability makes them unique and the disability in itself gives a sense of identification and community. For example deaf people identify as part of the deaf community with its own unique language and culture and don’t always identify as being disabled.
  • It’s also important to recognise that Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language are both official languages of New Zealand.
  • Most Māori disabled people generally identify as Māori first. The importance of their cultural identity, which encompasses language, whānau or family, cultural principles, practices and linkages to the land through genealogy, is paramount to how they live their day to day lives in both Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pakeha and as a disabled person.

Māori concepts of health are holistic in nature, locating individuals within the wider whānau context and emphasise interdependence and connections to the past and the present. Good health is seen as a balance between interacting variables that include the natural environment.

  • Be aware that disabilities aren’t always visible. For te tamaiti or rangatahi with invisible disabilities, such as neurological disorders their behaviour may be a presenting factor that indicates further assessment is required.
  • The Gateway or Youth Justice Health and Education assessments and screens will give valuable information.
  • Be aware that the views of wider society can create barriers and challenges for someone with a disability. These can be further compounded by environmental barriers that impact on mobility and accessibility.

 Consult with your Regional Disability Advisor and seek supervision if unsure.

Assessing needs relating to any disability

Māori experience of disability and disability support services (PDF 567KB)

Gateway assessments

The education screen

Tamariki in care

Opportunities must be provided for te tamaiti or rangatahi to participate in activities and experiences relevant to the culture and identity of te tamaiti or rangatahi including maintaining or improving proficiencies in the language or languages of their culture or the cultures they identify with.

This also includes opportunities to develop a sense of belonging through connection with other tamariki or rangatahi in care.

Oranga Tamariki (National Care Standards and Related Matters) Regulations 2018

Subdomain: Sense of identity & belief in self

Assessment prompts

  • Does te tamaiti or rangatahi understand and know where they belong in their wider family, whānau, hapū, iwi and marae, Pacific community or other cultural group?
  • Do they identify with any alternative cultural and identity groups?
  • Do they know their whakapapa and whanaungatanga connections?
  • Do they have a sense of belonging to people and places?
  • Have you consulted with appropriate people to ensure you have made the right connections and are involving the right people?
  • Are you respecting mana tamaiti and mana whānau, hapū and iwi?
  • Does this whānau identify as a Pacific family and are they connected to their village(s), church or island group or any other groups that personify a sense of belonging and identity?
  • Is this a whānau or family with a strong sense of their culture and identity or do they see themselves as “not fitting in” or identifying with alternative cultural groups such as gangs, criminal associates, cults and communes?
  • Be aware of the language te tamaiti or rangatahi use to describe any sense of belonging or difference they may be feeling.
  • Be aware that if te tamaiti or rangatahi feels alienated or not understood within their whānau or family or cultural group this can increase the risks of mental unwellness such as self harm or suicide.

Descriptors: sense of identity & belief in self

Age range

Under 5 years

10 — Te tamaiti has a strong sense of who s/he is and where they ‘fit’ in their family, whānau, hapū, iwi and are connected to their marae. Te tamaiti feels good about being in their whānau or family space and know that they have loved ones around them who understand the importance of nurturing tamariki. S/he has age appropriate knowledge of who their cousins are and know they come from a large whānau or family. Their whānau or family has strong family, whanaungatanga and/or cultural links and are engaged in activities and cultural festivals that te tamaiti attends and enjoys. S/he has visited their marae and/or other significant places, and know that this is part of their world. Te tamaiti is affirmed and supported by whānau or family.

5 — Te tamaiti knows where s/he ‘fits’ in their family, whānau, hapū and iwi and is connected to their marae or hāhi (church) or urban community of Māori, but in times of stress and challenge the whānau or family can struggle to meet all the needs of te tamaiti leaving him/her vulnerable. Te tamaiti values their cultural background and is involved in  learning te reo/their language and tikanga/cultural practices.

1 — Te tamaiti lives in a home with a chaotic environment where the adults  constantly criticise te tamaiti and refer to him.her in hurtful or negatives ways. Te tamaiti talks negatively about him/herself e.g. “I’m dumb/stupid…”. The culture and beliefs of their whānau or family supports and promotes violent, abusive or offending, anti-social behaviours and te tamaiti needs are not important. There is no exposure to positive aspects of being te tamaiti, of their uniqueness, or of being Māori. No waiata/oriori is shared as they grow. There is limited understanding within the whānau or family of the needs of an under 5 year old tamaiti. There are unrealistic expectations of the development of te tamaiti by parents/caregivers/whānau/family.

Age range

Over 5 years

10 — Te tamaiti has a strong and healthy sense of self, and his/her connection and place in a whānau or family and extended whānau or family. Te tamaiti is proud of who they are and their cultural background. For tamariki Māori s/he is proud of being Māori, and has skill sets that emphasise competency in living in a Māori valued world. Te tamaiti is confident and happy about who s/he is and their marae, whakapapa, whanaungatanga and culture links them to  where they ’fit’ in their world. Te tamaiti has respect for te taiao (the natural world/environment) and wāhi tapu (sacred sites) and has been on those significant sites of engagement that whānau or family value. Te tamaiti recognises, believes in and uses their own strengths and is developing or has developed a clear view of themself, what they are good at and what makes them unique and special. Te tamaiti is able to communicate his/her ideas and is developing agency.  Whānau or family and marae connections support him/her in their dreams hopes and wishes.

5 — Te tamaiti usually feels confident about who s/he is and how they participate and contribute in their world. The whānau/hapū/iwi can struggle in times of stress and challenges. Connections to significant places, including marae are not strong. This influences how te tamaiti views themself and their ability to manage situations. Te tamaiti can become anxious and reactive and their views of who they could be or what they could achieve are limited by their view of themself.

  — Te tamaiti is struggling with his/her own identity, such as gender, sexuality, culture, appearance, disability, and/or their whānau/hapū/iwi has negative views of te tamaiti and their world or are involved in criminal activities and negative social influences. Te tamaiti sees him/herself as being outside the norm of their peers and has poor social skills. S/he feels isolated, lacks hope and ambition and feels unsafe and unable to manage their world and can be easily led by others. There is an absence of connection to whakapapa and whanaungatanga.

Subdomain: Culture and beliefs

Assessment prompts

  • Have you consulted with the people who can help you understand difference?
  • Are you using a questioning approach to understand what te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family believe and what informs their behaviour?
  • Are you being respectful and seeking to enagage and build trusting relationships?
  • Have you been transparent about the concerns held through robust, critical thinking and discussions with the whānau or family?
  • Is your approach mana enhancing for te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family?
  • Respectfully ask and understand – having different beliefs and values does not mean te tamaiti or rangatahi are unsafe or their wellbeing needs are not being met.
  • Listen for the words and phrases te tamaiti or rangatahi uses and respect these in your assessment.

Descriptors: culture and beliefs

All ages

10 — The home environment supports the development of a healthy sense of self and healthy cultural, spiritual, religious, whānau or family connections. Te tamaiti understands where they ”fit” in their world and the significance of his/her voice to their siblings and adults in the home. Te tamaiti understands who the key adults are and their roles in their life. S/he  receives ongoing positive messages from within the whānau about who they are; about being Māori, acting Māori, valuing Māori ways of engaging, speaking Māori, thinking Māori, acting and feeling Māori. Cultural practices are experienced within the whānau or family and by te tamaiti. Tuākana-tēina (elder/younger siblings) support is exemplified, and whakaute (to show respect) for all is evident in the way whānau or family members engage with one another. Te tamaiti knows their whānau or family cultural, religious, spiritual activities, events, places and stories and their place in that wider context. The adults around te tamaiti are invested in ensuring these connections are part of the ongoing life of te tamaiti. Te tamaiti is understood and supported in their sexual and gender identity choices.

5 — The whānau or family provides some positive encouragement to te tamaiti but the views of the adults may be fixed or lack insight in to the wider challenges te tamaiti faces at school and in the community. The adults are fearful about the impact of outside influences and are struggling to adjust and adapt either within their cultural system or understand how to provide a balance between their cultural world view and the needs of te tamaiti. There is a positive vibe about things to do with being Māori that needs to be further nurtured. Marae connections are limited. Sexual and identity issues have created tensions and disagreements within the whānau.

1 – The whānau or family is entrenched in a culture of violence, drug and alcohol abuse and has significant anti-social and crime involvement that provides no sense of value and self-worth for te tamaiti outside this world view. Or the cultural, spiritual or religious beliefs are so fixed and inflexible that te tamaiti is unable to negotiate a pathway between the world views of his/her parents/caregivers/whānau and the goals and dreams they have and this has resulted in unacceptable responses, threats and violence. Sexual and gender identity choices are denied and dismissed by whānau and te tamaiti is vulnerable and distressed. There is a sense of negativity about anything to do with being Māori and/or in relation to their cultural identity.