Whanau Toko I Te Ora: A Parenting Skills Programme

Publication Details

The Māori Women's Welfare League undertakes a parent support & development programme: Whanau Toko i te Ora. This is an evaluation of the progress of whanau moving though the programme. It involves an overall account, based on the database held at the Māori Women's Welfare League; and includes the write up of 16 case study interviews.

Author(s): Ian Livingstone, Chartwell Consulants for the Māori Women's Welfare League.

Date Published: January 2002

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Executive Summary

Whanau Toko I Te Ora is a national parenting programme for Māori whanau delivered under the auspices of Te Ropu Wahine Māori Toko I Te Ora (the Māori Women's Welfare League). Delivery of the programme began at the end of 1999, in three trial sites (Tairawhiti, Ikaroa, and Tamaki Makaurau), and this has since been expanded to six regions with the addition of Aotea, Taitokerau and Te Waipounamu. The services provided are child-centred and whanau-focused, using a holistic approach that integrates Māori tikanga into all aspects of child development, with an emphasis on the first five years.

The programme is aimed at whanau with medium to high needs and is delivered through home visiting, a whanau learning programme and group support. The service is rendered by local kaitiaki (managers) and kaiawhina (support staff), with a good knowledge of the communities which they serve. The main objectives are to promote and improve:

  • positive parenting skills
  • confident family functioning, relationships and mental outlook
  • learning and development opportunities for children.

The programme offers wide-ranging, individualised support, involving other community services, but not duplicating them. It recognises that continual incremental change is often the most effective, and that the mana of parents to decide what is best for their children needs to be upheld. Services include:

  • linking whanau with suitable early childhood services
  • networking with and linking whanau to appropriate health and social services
  • advocating on behalf of whanau
  • role modelling positive parenting behaviour
  • supporting whanau in achieving their goals as described in the individualised whanau plan
  • providing group support to whanau where immediate whanau are not living nearby
  • providing appropriate cultural whanau learning sessions based on the needs of the whanau.

The whanau learning programme includes sessions on topics such as:

  • literacy
  • house care, cooking and hygiene
  • financial management
  • child development
  • resource production
  • Māori values and concepts in child development
  • Māori cultural topics.

Sixteen case studies form the major part of the evaluation. Two of them are double case studies, in which a grandmother is the primary caregiver of her mokopuna, but in which a natural parent is also being worked with by the kaiawhina, as a separate case. They were compiled from information drawn from a national database, set up in 1999 and modified in mid-2001, combined with information from in-depth interviews conducted in late November/early December, 2001.

The results from the case studies were drawn together and synthesised, leading to the following general findings:

  • The health environment of whanau on entry to the programme in general was poor. Asthma was prevalent in many homes; most parents were smokers, and many were on drugs. Some improvement, particularly in child health, occurred over the period of the evaluation, through the efforts of the kaiawhina putting whanau in touch with appropriate Māori health services. However, half the adults still had health concerns at the time of the interview.
  • Two-thirds of the whanau had improved their housing and transport circumstances over the period, either by reducing overcrowding in their existing homes, or by moving to another home with better facilities and services.
  • Virtually all the caregivers in the study were on a benefit. A few managed to earn a little extra income from part-time work. Finance was one of the major concerns of all whanau, and a distinctive feature of the Whanau Toko I Te Ora programme was its introduction of sound budgeting practices. Almost all whanau recorded measurable improvements in financial management over the period surveyed.
  • Nearly all those in the study had left school by the end of the fifth form, without formal qualifications. Most had attempted some form of training since leaving school. Further education in te reo Māori was a high priority for many. The main form of education for these caregivers was through attendance at sessions of the Whanau Learning Programme, which taught such things as parenting and home management skills. This was an area of consistent improvement for virtually everyone on the programme.
  • The whanau in the study encompassed a wide range of ages, but half had at least one child of preschool age, in most cases attending a kōhanga reo. Parental and sibling interactions became generally more positive during the time of the evaluation, with a reduction in emotional stress, whanau discord, yelling and other inappropriate methods of behaviour control and discipline. Marked increases were recorded in parenting skills and confidence, which was one of the major thrusts of the programme.
  • Every home had a TV, and in almost every case, caregivers said they monitored their children's viewing. Children's cartoon programmes were the most popular. The kaiawhina recorded improvements in child development in all areas over the period of the evaluation - cognitive, emotional and social.
  • Very few of the caregivers were fluent in te reo Māori, but during the programme most whanau began to identify more strongly with their Māori heritage, learning the language, and using it more often and naturally in conversation.

Five specific features of the support being provided by the Whanau Toko I Te Ora programme could be seen to have a major effect on its success:

  1. it is broadly-based, established on goals negotiated with each individual whanau by the kaiawhina working with them;
  2. it is incremental, given over a period of time, opening the way for gradual, self-motivated change on the part of the whanau;
  3. it is targeted, directed to those in major need, and thus having the potential for efficient delivery;
  4. it is flexible, allowing the timing of visits to be varied, and resources to be moved back and forth according to specific needs;
  5. it reflects commitment on the part of the kaiawhina, who were regularly regarded not only as support people, but as counsellors and admired role models.

This is an outcome evaluation, but by virtue of its design it is unable to demonstrate that it is the programme which is solely responsible for causing the positive changes observed. But with such an injection of resources into a high-needs group it is unlikely that significant change would have occurred without the intensive input of the kaiawhina, who are undoubtedly its key component. Some problems encountered in matching interview transcripts with database records, in recording information retrospectively on the modified database, in consistent recording of goals, in sample choice for interviewing, plus the possibilities of halo effects on group interviews are, in my view, unlikely to seriously invalidate the conclusions above.

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