1 May 2018: The Government announced in January 2018 that the Better Public Services programme would not continue in this form. These pages have been archived.
In the middle of Kaikohe, nestled between a dental surgery and the town's supermarket, sits the home of Ngapuhi Iwi Social Services - New Zealand's largest iwi-led social services provider.
This unobtrusive building in the heart of rural Tai Tokerau is at the centre of an ambitious plan to reconnect Ngapuhi children and young people in state care to their tribal roots.
Last year Te-Runanga-a-Iwi o Ngapuhi signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Child, Youth and Family to work together and make joint decisions when Ngapuhi mokopuna are placed into care or commit criminal offences.
Around 470 Ngapuhi tamariki mokopuna are currently in State care around New Zealand – about a quarter of all Mäori children in care. The runanga’s aim is to have every Ngapuhi child in Child, Youth and Family care placed with whänau or at least with hapu members who share a common heritage and culture.
Ngapuhi Iwi Social Services manager Liz Marsden says it’s about making sure Ngapuhi children in care can grow up “knowing who they are and where they belong”.
Liz, whose own whakapapa includes Ngapuhi, comes from a 20-year background with Child, Youth and Family. She says it’s about creating a service tailor-made for Ngapuhi whanau, beginning with the 81 Ngapuhi children in care in Tai Tokerau and then looking to the 248 in Auckland.
“There is a real potential to reduce numbers coming into care, and to reduce their duration in care, by being involved early. We want a continuum of support, from families putting their hands up for help to referrals by statutory agencies.”
That means stepping in before a family reaches crisis point; using whanau hui to challenge families to lift their parenting skills; and to have a network of approved Ngapuhi caregivers at the ready when a child can no longer live at home with its parents.
“Some of these caregivers may never be needed but we want to have them trained and ready, so that if a child needs care they can go straight to one of these caregivers, instead of a temporary placement with strangers they have no connection with.
“It’s not that we want to bring all 470 kids back to live up here [in Northland.] It means that if they have to come into care from, for example, Invercargill, we want to keep them with wider whänau within their area, near their schools and other networks.” Marae-based whanau hui also offer a way to work with parents to lift their game, says Liz. “By bringing the whänau onto the marae, we can safely challenge them to get their children back by sorting out their issues and making home safe for their kids.
Marion Heeney, Regional Director for Tai Tokerau Child, Youth and Family, says the two organisations are committed to working together: “This is a huge step forward for Ngapuhi tamariki. We believe it will really make a difference for vulnerable Ngapuhi children if they are able to safely maintain iwi and marae connections, and receive support from their wider whänau and community.
“What’s really wonderful is that not only will these children be connected back to their marae, but they will also have an adult in their life who cares deeply about them and will stick by them throughout their life.”