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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/practice-framework/whai-matauranga/knowledge-and-research/systems-theory/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Whai mātauranga

Last updated: 30/08/2021

Systems theory

Systems theory prompts us to consider the contexts and environments of tamariki and their whānau. It aligns with our practice approach.

What is systems theory

Systems theory is based on the idea that all things exist within a system, and systems are interrelated and interdependent.

Why they're important

Systems theories prompt us to take a closer look at the contexts and environments of tamariki and their whānau. This is important when we are determining the challenges, opportunities, needs and strengths of those we work with.

The theories challenge us to consider:

  • what we do
  • the decisions we make for tamariki
  • the affect these may have on the wider family system as a whole
  • how we can work more effectively with others to provide supportive systems.

Key points

Bronfenbrenner's ecological model

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model is one of the most widely understood theories about systems amongst practitioners working with tamariki.

It explains how a child’s development is influenced by different layers or systems in their environment, which all interact to influence how they will grow, develop and thrive.

Bioecological model | Te Kete Ipurangi

Interrelated and interdependent systems

A central and common idea in theories about systems is that all of the layers that exist in the system are interrelated and interdependent. Changing one thing in the system impacts on another, eg moving tamariki to different schools, placements or communities will have downstream effects.

When making decisions for tamariki, it is important to consider the system they live in and the key relationships, activities and services they interact with, and how these interactions will be affected. Introducing changes will always have impacts downstream that may be positive or negative for tamariki.

Structural bias

Structural bias refers to the structure that sits inside the macro-system (like an internal architecture). This structure is built on the dominant cultural norms, values and experiences of the group who have the most power and who design how most of the system works. This means it can be biased towards a certain socio-economic group, culture or set of norms. Sometimes people are conscious of these biases but often, they are not.

People may see the system as a ‘one size fits all’ but often patterns of outcomes for certain tamariki and whānau in the system show us that the system’s norms and culture fits some better than others.

At its very worst, structural bias produces structural inequality. This is evidenced through repetitive patterns of poverty and inequitable outcomes for certain groups inside the macro-system. These biases can be difficult to unravel and address without significant critical reflection.