Working with Māori

The following provides guidance and resources for working with Māori.

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Te Whare Tapawhā: A model of whānau wellbeing

Professor Mason Durie’s work relating to Māori wellness and health provides important insight into how we can better support Māori families. Health is viewed as an interrelated phenomenon, integrated and harmonious with the environment. The whare tapa wha model of Māori health and wellbeing helps to illuminate this integration. The model demonstrates the interconnectedness of four areas of wellbeing: te taha wairua (the spiritual dimension), te taha hinengaro (emotional or mental dimension), te taha tinana (the physical dimension) and te taha whānau (the extended family dimension):

Te taha tinana relates to the importance of good physical health and reinforces the need for optimal conditions for growth and development. This is of huge importance to our children. During the early years, the brain develops rapidly. Good strong development makes such a difference to a child growing normally into a strong and healthy adult. A lack of optimal conditions for growth can impede a child's development and can have serious long-term outcomes.

Te taha hinengaro reinforces the inseparability of the mind and body, a key aspect being the person's capacity to communicate, think and feel. Children need to attach emotionally to people who will be there for them throughout their lives. People also need to have the opportunity to talk about the way they feel about what is happening to them and the impact their experiences are having on their lives. Whānau may feel ashamed having Oranga Tamariki involved in their lives. We need to recognize the impact we have when we become involved and develop ways of sensitively working through the things we need to do to help strengthen families and keep children safe.

Te taha whānau dimension places the individual within the context of whānau and recognizes the individual as part of a connected kinship system. Feeling part of, or disconnected from this whānau system critically impacts on our sense of belonging. Children who are disconnected from whānau can miss out on the protective capacity of the wider family. So strengthening and maintaining family connections is an important component of our work. Perhaps more than any other country, New Zealand draws on this dimension in the Children, Young Person's and Their Families Act (1989) when it emphasizes the importance of whānau, hapū and iwi participation in family matters.

Finally, te taha wairua connects the people to the spiritual side of life, reinforcing the importance of faith, health and healing being related to "unseen and unspoken energies" (Durie, 1998, p. 69). Central to the whare tapa wha model is the notion that these four areas of wellbeing are "basic ingredients" to good health, and that balance between them is important. This is critical in our work with children and their families. When out of balance, we may underestimate the importance of a child's physical of emotional needs and leave them at risk. Or we may underestimate the importance of whānau to the development of a child's sense of belonging. Paying attention to these four areas of wellbeing and the balance between them will help us to better understand and respond in ways that focus on the whole child: the safety, security and wellbeing.

Te Wheke (the Octopus)

The whare tapa wha model, and Te Wheke (the Octopus), another helpful model developed by Dr. Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere, can be found here.

Mana-enhancing practice

Dr Leland Ruwhiu's work supporting the development of mana-enhancing practice is also key to respecting indigenous understanding in practice (Ruwhiu, 2009). Recognizing the significance of historical relationships, and in particular relationships within the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, valuing the role of narratives in constructing and maintaining cultural identity, and being familiar with concepts of Māori wellbeing are important components of mana-enhancing practice. Mana-enhancing practice can be achieved by:

  • Engaging with clients through listening, understanding and respecting cultural difference
  • Valuing the contribution of whakapapa and cultural narratives to restorative healing processes through the generations
  • Reaffirming the ability and capacities of whānau to engage in self-determination and providing support to do so
  • Recognizing that the cultural wisdom embedded in Māori ideological and philosophical beliefs can generate solutions or resolutions to Māori welfare concerns (Ruwhiu, 2009, p. 118).

Tiriti o Waitangi

In New Zealand our practice needs to reflect our commitment and the obligations we have under the Tiriti o Waitangi. Oranga Tamariki is a Crown Agency and has a commitment to the treaty. As such we have a number of obligations to ensure we are responsive to the needs of Māori. As at Census 2006 Māori made up approximately 14.6% of the total population of New Zealand and approximately half of the children and young people we work with. It's important for us to not only understand our obligations but also understand how these obligations translate to our practice. We aim to provide services which are consistent with the Articles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Further information on the Treaty of Waitangi

Family Led and Culturally Responsive Practice

Working with Pacific peoples

Working with migrants

Pūao te ata tū

Further Reading

Connolly, M & Harms, L. (2009). Social Work: contexts and practice. (2nd edition). Oxford University Press: Melbourne.

Connolly, M. Crichton-Hill, Y & Ward, T. (2006). Culture and Child Protection: Reflexive Responses. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.

Crichton-Hill, Y. (2007). Family Violence and Cultural Context (PDF 2.2 MB), Social Work Now, 37 (September) 12-16.

Furness, S. (2005) Shifting sands: developing cultural competence, Practice, 17(4) 247-256.

Hanley, J. (1999). Beyond the tip of the iceberg: Five stages toward cultural competence. Reaching Today’s Youth, 3(2) 9-12.

Ruwhiu, L. (2009). Indigenous Issues in Aotearoa New Zealand. In M. Connolly, M. & L. Harms (eds), Social Work: Context and Practice (pp. 107-120). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Su’a Hawkins, A. & Mafile’o, T. (2004). What is Cultural Supervision? (PDF 552 KB) Social Work Now, 29 (December) 10-16.

Webber-Dreadon, Emma (1999) He Taonga Mo o Matou Tipuna (A gift handed down by our ancestors): An indigenous approach to social work supervision. Social Work Review, Vol 11(4), 1999.