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  • Tariana Turia
Maori Affairs

Tena tatau e tau nei i tenei ra. Tena koutou o Waikato, o Tainui hoki.

Nga mihi ki a koutou, ki te kahui ariki a Te Ata I Rangikaahu me tona hoa rangatira.

Huri noa i nga mata waka e hui nei, tena tatau katoa.

Thank you very much for the invitation to open your conference today.

I am particular pleased to be involved in a Conference programme which is considering strengths focussed approaches to the building of alliances and relationships with communities and with whanau, hapu and iwi which will result in achieving better outcomes for all of them.

This is the fourth of four conferences and I look forward to the articulation and the resulting implementation of “strength focussed” social work practices.

I do have a few thoughts on what a “strengths perspective” might be for those of us involved in the delivery of social services.

For me it hinges around the concept of “development” and the harnessing of the skills inherent in every whanau, family and community regardless of the difficulties and issues they may be faced with.

Everybody, every whanau and every community has the ability to enjoy positive change.

The pre-requisit of course is a matter of BELIEF.

To be able to harness the strengths of people we have to BELIEVE that all people have abilities and have strengths.

To not BELIEVE is to continue the deficits model, which has plagued western social work practice paradigms and to which poor people and indigenous people have been subjected, in the name of care.

Continuing to focus on the deficiencies and deficits is to deny people power and the motivation to change.

How can people feel good if their weaknesses and deficiencies are continually pointed out?

How can we darn a sock if all we ever do is poke around in the weak part – the hole?

If we continue to do that we make the hole worse than it was originally.

Continually focussing on the problem does the same thing – it weakens the person and strengthens the deficit – people lose hope.

Denis Saleebey (1997:3) for example says that practising from a strengths based approach effectively means that everything we do as workers will in some way be based on helping to find and expand on, explore and use the strengths and resources of people for the purpose of assisting them:

·to succeed at their goals,
·make their dreams become realities and
·throw off the shackles of that which enslaves them, economically, emotionally, psychologically, culturally and spiritually.

It is an approach, which engages people in liberating themselves from their inhibitions and misgivings.

To have a strengths based approach means we have to see whanau, family groups and their communities differently.

Rather than being deficits focussed we need to take the opportunity to look at possibilities.

What we need to do is change our paradigm we need a set of principles from which we are able to construct a practice framework.

The following are a beginning set which I have taken from Denis Saleebey, these include:

·Every individual, group, family and community has strengths.

All families regardless of their academic, intellectual or other capacities are capable of making decisions that keep children safe.

The abilities of people become a reality when a worker accepts the people do know some things, have hopes and interests, and can learn from past experiences although these abilities may be obscured and hidden by the weight of the crisis, oppression or illness. Despite this the abilities still exist.

·Trauma and abuse, illness and struggle may be injurious but they may also be sources of challenge and opportunity.

Rather than ask family members what their problems are it may be of more use to ask what strengths each brings to the family and what they think are the strengths of other family members.

·Assume that you do not know the upper limits of the capacity to grow and change and take individual group, and community aspirations seriously.

When positive options are made available people will rise to the occasion. Given time people usually succeed in setting their lives straight.

·We best serve people by collaborating with and respecting them.
Believing ourselves to be the experts, the ones who know what the solutions are, limits our ability to appreciate the knowledge and expertise of others, particularly families.

·Every environment is full of resources.

Families have information and knowledge, which they will often not share with professionals.

They also have the keys to family stories and histories that are different from the histories held by professionals.

In every community there are individuals, groups and institutions who have something to give to others in need. This may include knowledge, support or time to listen.

In conclusion then I need to say that if we are serious about a strengths based approach to our work, we are by implication saying we are serious about change and different paradigms.

This means a change in the way we work with whanau, hapu, iwi, family groups and communities.

A change in the way we fund groups and whanau, hapu and iwi organisations.

It means a revamping of our training programmes and an addition of strengths based literature to our libraries.

With respect I am not talking about a “new direction” rather I am referring to a not so “old” way of working which was signalled by the Matua Whangai programme, by Puao-te-ata-tu, by Whanau Decision Making as a social work practice and by the Family Group Conference enshrined in the Children Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989.

We must ensure that the 90’s philosophy of managerial and anxiety driven social work practices accompanied by mean spiritedness and mistrust of whanau and family groups must not enter the social work landscape of the 21st century.

Na reira huri noa i te hui, tena tatau katoa.