Child, youth and family:  A review of reviews through the lens of cultural responsiveness

The guest blog post is by Miriama Scott no Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane a member of the Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association, currently working as Maori Cultural and Clinical Liaison, Mauri Oho, Whirinaki, Counties Manukau District Health Board.

Miriama’s post comments on the recent history of Child, Youth and Family policy reviews. She highlights key aspects of previous reviews by extracting statements referring the need for cultural responsiveness to Māori whānau and mokopuna. Miriama challenges the current ‘Expert Panel’ to address the historic failures of prior policy statements.

 Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose

The more the change the more the same thing

Reviews of child protection services are not new.  In fact social workers in practice for several decades will recall numerous reviews and restructurings.  Each has had lofty aims, changes have been made but the elusive perfect system has not yet been found.  This review of reviews takes a look back at the history of reviews through a lens of cultural responsiveness.


Pūao-te-Ata-Tū (1988)

In 1988 a Ministerial Advisory Committee was established to review the then Department of Social Welfare (now Child Youth and Family Services) which culminated in the document Pūao-te-Ata-Tū.  Pūao-te-Ata-Tū sought to resolve the inherent racism that was said to be apparent in the operations and practices of the Department at that time.

71. The emphasis on the professionalism of social workers and their academic training was seen as discriminating against Māori people who were often qualified by life and culture to do the work more effectively.

72. Māori people complained that social work practices in regard to court procedures, adoption and family case work contributed to the breaking down of the whānau system and the traditional tribal responsibilities of the Māori lifestyle. (Department of Social Welfare, 1988, p. 23)

The journey of Child, Youth and Family Services from the 1988 review to the current discussion of Tiaki Mokopuna (and now the current review)  exemplifies how an organisation, and the culture of an organisation, can influence, guide and perhaps determine not only the practice of employees but also the rationale for the organisations existence, which were evident in legislation and policy changes.

It is suggested these are historical challenges that the current Expert Panel needs to be mindful of but more importantly, to question and clarify how this review might add value to an organisation and its employees that have already been repeatedly reviewed. What is going to be the gain for the children, young people and families this organisation serves. Is it more of the same or an opportunity to add value?


The Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act (1989)

The intention of this act was to enable the Department to ensure that the child would not be dealt with in isolation from their whānau or environment. (Child, Youth and Family, 2001. p. 10).


Te Punga: Our Bicultural Strategy for the Nineties (1994)

Getting it right means understanding that our goal is not “to treat everyone the same”. Because everyone is not the same (the same as who?). In some ways each of us is like all other people and in some ways we are like some other people. At the same time each of us is absolutely unique. It is important to recognise all three dimensions if we are to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. (Department of Social Welfare, 1994, p.3)

Short Term Strategies (Year 1)Sensitivity to CustomersEach Business Unit to specify in Business Plans the minimum bicultural requirements for staff include

    • Correct pronunciation of basic Māori words
    • Knowledge of who is mana whenua in an area
    • Knowledge of Puao-te-Ata-tu
    • Knowledge of Treaty of Waitangi
General Managers, Regional and Area Managers
Make it a requirement to identify iwi affiliation of all Māori customers / clients. In cases where Māori customer/client is unwilling or unable to provide this information staff should make reasonable efforts to encourage them or assist them to find out themselves. All Managers and staff.
Medium Term Strategies (Years 1 to 3)Staff MattersEnable non-Māori staff to attend courses for developing understanding and knowledge of Māori culture. All Managers

Pūao-te-Ata-tū and the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act provided the momentum “for Te Punga, which became the anchor for policy, delivery and staff, and would enable the Department to be more responsive to the Treaty of Waitangi.” (Child, Youth and Family, 2001, p. 10).


Te Whānau o Waipareira Report (1998)

A claim presented by Te Whānau o Waipareira to the Waitangi Tribunal stated that the “Department of Social Welfare had breached the Treaty of Waitangi and other social obligations by failing to recognise and support Waipareira as the appropriate social service provider for its community. This report was to have an impact on how the Department would endeavour to work more collaboratively with Māori communities, whanau and children, and empower them to achieve outcomes in their own way” (Child, Youth and Family, 2001, p.11).


The Brown Report (2000)

This report identified three central themes:

  • Child, Youth and Family is under extreme pressure in many areas and that change is needed as a matter of urgency
  • The adequacy of the resourcing allocated to Child, Youth and Family
  • The adequacy of the department’s capacity and capability.” (Child, Youth and Family, 2001, p.11)

One of the recommendations stated:

The Department needs a change of culture in order to meet its statutory duties as well as becoming more sensitive and cooperative with communities and providers.

The Brown Report advocated moving from “the concept of a stand-alone agency to one which contributes to a continuum of service through strong relationships with the community, including resolving the current fragmentation between direct and indirect service delivery.” (Child, Youth and Family, 2001,p.12)


Te Pounamu: manaaki tamariki, manaaki whānau (2001)

Section one: A new direction stated that:

All Māori children will be safe and have opportunities to flourish in their communities. (Child, Youth and Family, 2001, p.4)

…. The Department learned from Puao-te-Ata-tu that we must repair our relationships with communities through partnership, justice and equity. Now we must move forward and build on these partnerships with one single-minded purpose – to ensure that ALL Māori children are safe. (p.4)

All our relationships, our partnerships and our contracts will have this single-minded purpose, and will be shaped around how we achieve that outcome. That means that all of our existing and future operational strategies, all of our contracts, and all of our community partnerships must be able to demonstrate how they support us in achieving this outcome. (p.4)

The principles upon which our work is founded:

  • That wherever possible the relationship between the child or young person and his or her family, whānau, hapū, iwi and family group should be maintained and strengthened
  • That consideration  must always be given to how decisions affecting the child or young person will affect their welfare and the stability of the family, whanau, hapū, iwi, and family group
  • That intervention into family life should be the minimum necessary to ensure a child’s or young person’s safety and protection”

Interdepartmental strategies include:

  • Developing conceptual tools for social workers to better identify, assess and develop effective solutions which improve engagement with Māori children and whanau
  • Developing contractual empowerment strategies for providers and communities.”

Workload and Casework Review: Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management (2014)

Key findings

  1. The findings showed limited evidence of a different approach to working with mokopuna Māori and their whānau based on their cultural needs and identity.
  1. Additional time needed to increase culturally responsive practice for mokopuna Māori was not currently available or formally quantified in existing measures of caseload or resourcing.
  1. To build on its existing commitment to cultural responsiveness, it will be important for Child, Youth and Family to continue to strengthen and seek new relationships with iwi, Māori social service providers and communities.

Recommendation 4

Ensure that Child, Youth and Family’s culturally-based practice and strategic frameworks include:

a) policies, procedures and systems to support staff and develop practitioner and manager capability in culturally responsive practice

b) recognition of the time and expertise required for culturally responsive practice

c) partnerships with iwi, Māori social service providers and communities

d) culturally responsive governance arrangements. “ (p.61)

Section Nine: Working with mokopuna Māori in context

9.2 Child, Youth and Family’s commitment to improving its responsiveness to mokopuna Māori is set out in its strategic vision mā mātou, mā tātou, which builds on the foundations laid by Pūao Te Ata Tū and the CYP&F Act 1989.

9.3 The principles of the CYP&F Act 1989 that underpin and promote best practice for working with Māori reinforce key aspects, such as:

  • maintaining and strengthening mokopuna and whānau connection with their whakapapa
  • promoting active and inclusive whānau, hapū and iwi participation in decision making\
  • supporting mokopuna involvement in decisions that affect them, by ensuring their voices are heard and acted on
  • ensuring culturally appropriate processes and practices when working with mokopuna and whānau Māori.

9.4 The Act and Pūao Te Ata Tū paved the way for changes in statutory social work that would lead to more culturally appropriate services and delivery for Māori children and young people. These included frameworks and models of practice based on te reo me ōna tikanga Māori, such as family group conferences based on whānau hui or hui a whānau.” (p.62)

Review findings

9.5 The review considered the extent to which social workers working with Māori and Pacific  children and young people were actively using cultural advice and expertise to support good  quality culturally responsive practice.

9.8 The review also looked at how frequently social workers consulted kaumatua or matai in relation to their work with Māori or Pacific children and whānau, to support good quality, culturally responsive practice. This consultation occurred in fewer than one-quarter of cases, although Child, Youth and Family policy does not explicitly require this.

9.9 The review identified a general lack of policy and procedure to help staff work responsively with mokopuna Māori. It also identified the need for more resources, support and tools to reinforce the expectation of improved practices for working with Māori.

9.11 Enabling social workers to work in a culturally responsive way with children and young people may require more time for casework in some circumstances. This would need to be factored  into resource and caseload allocation. Child, Youth and Family would also need to consider building staff and manager capability in this key area of work.” (p.62)


Indigenous people continue to culturally invigorate the development and delivery of social work …. This is a critical lifeline for statutory social work, because effecting organizational cultural change to be more responsive to indigenous needs continues to be a source of contention for main stream social work theory and practice. (Ruwhiu & Eruera, 2014).

I wonder if the review panel has heeded what has gone on previously, or has listened to the words of the two Māori cultural advisors to the Chief Social Worker (cited above) as reported in the Native Affairs programme on Māori Television? Or is this review simply a cost cutting exercise? The unique position of statutory social work is challenged by history (the numerous reviews) and perception (the uplifting of children) while currently, the demands require ongoing consideration of cultural responsiveness, the acuity associated with intergenerational abuse and violence while acknowledging the complexity of whānau, ai’iga and family dynamics within an ever changing world.

These considerations require an organisation to be mindful of the demands of work, staffing capacity, the skill building of the practitioners and more importantly the service delivery to children, young people and their families. While this commentary has focussed on cultural responsiveness, it is endeavouring to pick up on the statistics quoted by the two Māori cultural advisors in tangata whenua / Māori children and young people being over-represented in all statistics pertaining to statutory social work.

This then begs the question is this current review seeking to change or streamline service delivery for budgetary considerations; or is there a real intent to ensure the increasing demands of statutory social work are met effectively and with absolute commitment to children, young people and their families, as well as the social work practitioners who carry out this very important work?

(The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent the views of my employer, or any association to which I belong)


Brown, M. (2000). Care and protection is about adult behaviour: The Ministerial Review of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Government.

Child, Youth and Family (2001). Te Pounamu: manaaki tamariki, manaaki whānau. Wellington, New Zealand; Child, Youth and Family.

Department of Social Welfare (1988). Pūao-te-Ata-tū: Day break. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Social Welfare.

Department of Social Welfare (1994). Te Punga Our Bicultural Strategy for the Nineties. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Social Welfare.

Eruera, M. and Ruwhiu. L.A. (2014). Ngā karangaranga maha o te ngākau o ngā tūpuna: Tiaki Mokopuna. Ancestral heartfelt echoes of care for children. Retrieved from:

Office of the Chief Social Worker (2014). Workload and Casework Review: Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Social Development.

Waitangi Tribunal (1998). Te Whānau o Waipareira ReportWellington, New Zealand: Waitangi Tribunal


4 replies on “Child, youth and family:  A review of reviews through the lens of cultural responsiveness”

It is great to see all these reviews collected in one place Miriama – it is easy to see the clear themes running through and to have some evidence to justify our frustration! I read the Brown report (2000) not long ago for this very reason – to reassure myself that I wasn’t missing something and to confirm my perception that the same things are being said over and over again. In Chapter Three for example: “Social work in a situation of fiscal restraint – overworked and under-resourced……”(p. 52). A Chapter Five recommendation: “consideration be given to 16 years olds in care… being supported constructively through their transition to adulthood at least to the age of 20″(p. 107). You know those movies where you see old university professors take out their tired old lecture notes year after year? Well, actually, for anyone teaching about this topic these days, this would be exactly the right thing to do!

Kia ora Miriama, I agree with Deb that this is an excellent chronology of documents that hold a Maori lens to state child welfare. This is a timely contribution with the announcement of the Child Youth and Family Review and the risk that it doesn’t take recent history into account. The other message from this post is that we should go even deeper into our history and examine the effects of colonisation and the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi if we are truly committed to effective change.

Kia ora Collective

Wonderful article Miriama, Brought back some memories. No doubt many of the RSW collective are aware that social policy presented to Government, whether officially instigated or not, is in the form of ‘recommendations’. In other words the Government (through its Ministries) can choose to act on it, ‘appease’ the public with it or they can choose to ignore it. I wonder our politicians sit? I would be very surprised if the New Zealand Government wasn’t aware of the ‘shortfalls’ in its own social policy, lord knows they’ve been told many times from all sectors! Perhaps the Government simply don’t have the resources to fully address issues that are ‘beyond the scope of its fiscal capacity’. Little wonder. Government sold its ‘businesses’ back in the 80’s (and thus its security and social capital), and it appears to me that the human service field is a ‘business’ that is steadily being sold back to the community, but without the cheque. No surprises there. Its a global trend. I believe that Maori well-being (that’s what were talking about here) wont see any significant recovery through ‘hollow words’ contained in more of the same ‘hollow policy’, but by the Maori community (once again) leaving the Government little choice but to see Bi-cultural policy iniative organised and implemented by the Maori community themselves. Makes good sense to me.

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