Making a Positive Difference Early On

  • Tariana Turia
Whanau Ora

Today is the first day of the school holidays.

For my nine year old mokopuna, my decision to speak at this conference was perhaps not the positive intervention she considered most appropriate for the first day of her break. There were plenty of other options she thought far more attractive than coming to the Theatrette at Massey University.

Fortunately for her, our life revolves around our whanau, and so there were actually choices that we could make, which were far more appealing.

But tragically for other whanau around our country, they will never forget these holidays – the holidays in which their world was changed forever by other events.

In my heart of hearts, I really wish all our children woke up today having no bigger problem facing them, that what to do on their first day of vacation.

The crisis, the uncertainties, that confront so many of our children are challenges that we must address together– they are part of our collective context which shape our lives whether we be academics, politicians, teachers, parents, or public servants.

How can any of us plan for events which no-one saw coming? How do we develop the strength we need to endure situations which penetrate even the most confident of families? What is it that creates the basis for resilience?

It is my belief that no matter how well grounded our prevention and early intervention strategies may be, the ultimate and enduring solutions will be found in whanau – and in particular the collective capacity to take care of each other. I am proud to say the State and its agencies are not part of my extended family.

And so I want to congratulate the organizing group – Professor David Craig, Professor Cindy Kiro, Professor Ritchie Poulton and Dr Tracey McIntosh – for your collaborative venture, your shared vision and your passion for making a positive difference.

Your programme for this seminar demonstrates the expansive outlook we must take in addressing the issues of our day. It is fantastic to see the commitment made to bringing different voices together – from Kings College in London to Te Kopae Piripono Centre of Innovation in Taranaki.

In many respects what has happened today, in bringing together the best minds from across many different institutes, is really what I see occurring in the transformation that we see with Whanau Ora.

Whanau Ora is about recognising the importance of self-belief, confidence and reliance as the basis of supporting whanau to create their own solutions. Whanau Ora providers and collectives are charged with working with whanau to identify their aspirations and to work towards achieving outcomes that they set for themselves.

The separation of traditional silos is broken down - the emphasis is on utilizing whatever supports are needed to build on whanau strengths, while all the time using whanau processes, and enabling whanau responsibility and control over processes of change.

Late last year I launched the Whanau Ora Integrated Services Delivery Study which examined the way that Maori health providers deliver integrated services across health and other sectors.

Without exception it found that the Maori health providers studied recognized the importance of delivering a clinically sound and culturally competent service. Compromising one for the other was not an option.

The study revealed that the majority of clients served by many Maori providers present with multiple and complex needs and that Maori providers meet those needs in comprehensive and integrated ways.

An essential factor in the success of any provider was how whanau perspectives are embedded in the design and delivery of services; and how well service providers can collaborate and work together.

Another set of contemporary wisdom is found in the article, Indigenous epistemology in a national curriculum framework by Waiariki Grace, Wally Penetito, Sonja Bateman, Angus Macfarlane and Ted Glynn.

That study found that the numerous cultural constructs encountered within the work of Maori educators should be seen as opportunities for improving the quality of education of all New Zealanders through enrichening the quality of education for Maori.

One example they explored was the concept of whakawhanaungatanga – building and strengthening relationships. This goes well beyond simply recognizing connections.

It is about learning to take responsibility for supporting and caring for others on a much deeper level – reflecting the group’s worldview, cultural norms, expectations, lifestyle, communication and interaction styles, spiritual beliefs, historical and geographical location; tuakana-teina status, amongst other things.

Of course Whanau Ora is not new.

Anyone who comes from the days of Puao-te-ata-tu will recall the foundation of that oft-quoted Daybreak Report that the physical, social and spiritual wellbeing of a Maori child is inextricably related to the sense of belonging to a wider whanau group. The report also suggested that social work practice should be based on an altered philosophy that studies the needs and responses of the whanau, hapu and iwi.

So I come back to the brief I was given for this day – that it was to construct a cross-sectoral, translational dialogue around issues such as prevention science and evidence based approaches to childhood conduct.

I have deliberately referred to current and past thinking in three sectors - health, education and social development - to demonstrate that Whanau Ora is inclusive of all sectors. Indeed it springs from a shared universal belief in the unifying strength of whanau as the basis for change.

And I want to just reflect on our early days in the implementation of a whanau ora approach, when there was often reference to a need for evidence. My response was always threefold.

Firstly, there is abundant evidence about what is not working for Maori. It wouldn’t take long to list a range of educational, health and social outcomes for Māori that are the result of current approaches but fall far short of expectation.

Why would anyone be content to do more of the same, when the evidence is clear that it isn’t working?

Secondly, innovation is about creating evidence. Why would we rely on current evidence when we seek to be innovative?

With Whanau Ora we have the added innovation of measures that capture collective outcomes as well as those for individuals; where interventions are holistic and comprehensive; where programmes of action are coordinated and seamless.

Thirdly, we must recognise that there are many examples in current practice where the ‘evidence’ is patchy. Despite poor data, limited evaluation, and mixed evidence for effectiveness, some interventions still seem to be supported.

In some cases, Māori are particularly affected by the choice of evidence or the framework chosen to understand an issue - conduct disorder being a classic example.

The focus on conduct disorder has lead to a new wave of imported programmes, including multi-systemic therapy and treatment foster care; programmes which focus on the treatment of an individual rather than address, or prevent the multiple sources of stress.

Yet as Professor Mason Durie suggests, any attempts to reduce rates of disorder in Māori adolescents should focus on the development of integrated and multi-compartmental prevention programmes that address school, family and social factors with culturally appropriate interventions.

In other words, a comprehensive, integrated and holistic approach. An approach which takes into account the circumstances of peoples lives – the impact of poverty, housing, employment, health, education. Sounds a lot like Whanau Ora.

Finally, I am pleased to be engaged in a conversation in which we each bring our collective wisdom to the fore. Our children, our whanau need us to be working together, in their interests. They need us to know we believe in them; that we are prepared to trust in their solutions.

I truly believe that if we can support whanau to restore to themselves their collective roles and responsibilities then we will Make a Positive Difference which is good not just for Whanau but for our nation as well.