Care and Protection – giving voice back to our whānau and tamariki

by The Social Worker

 I recognise that the core role of the Care and Protection (C&P) social worker is helping children and young people to feel safe and to be safe in their family. The New Zealand C&P is deeply rooted in the British model which focus on evaluating risk and keeping children safe from potential abuse and neglect. In contrast, European countries pay more attention to keeping children within the family of origin and providing families with support through community-based activities and programmes (Parton, 2009). To be frank, the Anglophone system that New Zealand adopts, which is adversarial and rights based, does not tally with legislation and practice or stated values of New Zealand indigenous people. Quite the opposite, this system keeps snuffing out Maori voices or at the very least, keep it on the side.

As a newcomer to New Zealand, I was encouraged to read about the Māori renaissance and the call for the nation to recommit to the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles of partnership, protection and participation. In addition, legislation like the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 introduced indigenous Māori values to the New Zealand C&P system, stating that “wherever possible the relationship between a child or young person and his or her family, whānau, hapū, iwi, and family group should be maintained and strengthened”. I believe these policies are trying to do the ‘right’ thing in shifting the power to Māori.

Emerging from the Act were incredible initiatives like the Whanau hui and Family Group Conference (FGC). These approaches highlight the importance of early intervention, giving families the ability to find solutions to most of their family welfare issues and looking for positive ways to keep children safe in their immediate family. The FGC has greatly contributed to the acknowledgement of other indigenous populations in child protection systems worldwide (Love, 2000).

To me, the Māori renaissance brought a family preservation framework to C&P that resonates more with continental Europe than the Anglophone child safety model. I am not saying that European countries have a magic formula for the massive problems of violence and child abuse, but that their emphasis on families and community seems to have prevented several of the persistent difficulties experienced in the Anglo-American world (Waldegrave, 2006). What the current New Zealand C&P system is doing, with all its demands of audit and the gathering of information, is transforming outstanding social workers into investigators, fully armed to detect potential harm and to apologetically remove vulnerable tamariki from their whanau (Hyslop, 2016).

If New Zealand were to take a more family services approach to child protection, there would need to be a considerable theoretical and practical change away from punishing ‘risky’ families to ensuring that parents are assisted to meet their responsibilities concerning the safety of their tamariki.

For far too long Māori have been topping the rates of child mistreatment (Cooper & Wharewera-Mika, 2009). I think it is time for social workers to show their allegiance to IFSW and ANZASW bicultural practices and grasp with both hands the opportunity to work closely together with Māori and to influence policy makers- giving voice back to our whānau and tamariki.


Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers [ANZASW]. (n.d.) Bi-cultural partnership. Retrieved from

 Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989, No. 24. (1989). Retrieved from

Cooper, E. & Wharewera-Mika, J. (2009). Maori child maltreatment: A literature review report. Retrieved from

 Hyslop, I. (2016, October 9). The political context of CYF reforms [Blog post]. Retrieved from

International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW] (2014). Indigenous peoples. Retrieved from

Love, C. (2000). Family group conferencing: Cultural origins, sharing and appropriation: A Maori reflection. In G. Burford & J. Hudson (Eds.) Family group conferencing: New directions in community-centered child and family practice, (pp.

Parton, N. (2009). From Seebohm to Think Family: Reflections on 40 years of policy change in statutory children’s social work in England’, Child and Family Social Work, 14(1).

 Waldegrave, C. (2006). Contrasting national jurisdictional and welfare responses to violence to children. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 27. Retrieved from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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