Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Fostering Maori Success

Shaking-Up CYF: Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, must balance the urgent need to "modernise" the delivery of New Zealand's child and family support services against the equally pressing need to improve the delivery of such services to Maori. Achieving both objectives without alienating large sections of the Maori community will not be easy.
 
FAR-REACHING CHANGES LOOM if the ideas of the Expert Panel set up to “modernise” Child Youth and Family (CYF) are implemented. Their just released report: “Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families” envisages both a new approach to child welfare, and a new set of structures to give their re-ordered priorities practical effect. At the same time, however, the Expert Panel was also asked to address the disproportionate number of Maori children requiring the intervention of child welfare professionals. Achieving both objectives without alienating large sections of the Maori community will not be easy. The Minister, Anne Tolley, does not want an embarrassing cultural stand-off.
 
At the core of most explanations for the appalling social statistics in which New Zealand’s indigenous people are enmeshed is the continuing impact of colonialism on the lives of Maori people. For one-and-a-half centuries, the loss of land, and the economic consequences of that loss, has not only impoverished Maori, but has also led to the tragic manifestations of that enforced poverty being used to justify the dominant Settler Society’s racist assumption of cultural superiority.
 
The problem with this argument is that, if it is true, then all the tragic manifestations of Maoridom’s enforced poverty: domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, criminal offending, chronic illness, homelessness and educational under-achievement; must also be true. That being the case, the most obvious solutions which present themselves to the dominant Settler Society, will all tend to involve extracting Maori from the negative consequences of colonialism, and replanting them in environments which reflect its more positive features.
 
In the words of the Expert Panel’s Final Report:
 
“There has been considerable debate in the past three decades on the place of children in Māori society and on the place of whānau. Much has been said in order to emphasise the differences in Māori society from others and this is not always accurate or true. Some interpretations have confused the issue. The safety of Māori children is paramount and any work we do must be child-centred. A well-functioning whānau provides a sound basis to help solve the problems that face these children at particular times in their lives, but a badly functioning whānau can be dangerous. We must never compromise the safety, security, and sense of belonging of any child in their care arrangements.”
 
Decoded, this paragraph signals the abandonment of the policy that the best interests  of vulnerable and/or abused Maori children will always be best served by keeping them in the care of their extended family group. The policy itself arose out of the grim experiences of both Maori and other indigenous people (most particularly Aboriginal Australians) at the hands of Settler Societies whose official child welfare policy held that it was in the afflicted child’s best interest to be raised in strict isolation from its parents’ culture.
 
This was the policy approach that led to such eugenicist tragedies as the so-called “Stolen Generation” of Aboriginal children. Maori nationalists were determined that such pernicious examples of Settler Society racism would never be repeated. CYF’s “Whanau First” approach, first implemented in the late 1980s, was intended to ensure that young Maori were not cut loose from their cultural moorings and transformed into Brown Pakeha.
 
In practical terms, however, CYF’s Whanau First approach all-too-often saw abused Maori children thrown out of the frying-pan and into the fire. With the toxic legacies of colonialism still at work across broad swathes of Maori society – how could it be otherwise?
 
How can Anne Tolley, and the new organisation she intends to erect in CYF’s place, square this vexing circle? At least part of the answer lies in that interestingly euphemistic phrase, “a well-functioning whanau”.
 
Logic would suggest that the chances of serious abuse occurring in a well-functioning whanau are reasonably slim. In all societies there are virtuous as well as vicious familial cycles. Could Ms Tolley be wondering: “If success breeds success, perhaps it can also foster it?”
 
As anyone who’s read Charles Dickens’ novels will attest, that is certainly how the Victorians viewed the problem. What better fate could there be for a helpless waif raised in an Orphanage than to end up as the adopted son of a well-to-do middle-class gentleman?
 
Is this how Ms Tolley and her Neo-Victorian colleagues propose to rescue the neglected and abused children of Maoridom? Not by replicating the racist horrors of the Stolen Generation, but by taking full advantage of the fact that the Maori Renaissance of the 1980s and 90s has given birth to a rapidly expanding Maori Middle-Class. Is she hoping to see them doing well by doing good? First, as the providers of the sort of “early intervention” and “wrap-around services” envisaged by National’s “social investment” strategy; or, if that fails, by offering Maoridom’s battered babies a well-functioning foster whanau?
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 April 2016.

13 comments:

peter petterson said...

No chance of success. Tories don't have the mindset to understand the problems of what I would call working class people. The majority of the poor and needy in Christchurch are caucasian, but lack any special support from iwi or other groups. 'Settler society' affects all, not just.Maori.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Logic would suggest that the chances of serious abuse occurring in a well-functioning whanau are reasonably slim. "

It is a bit of circular reasoning surely? By definition a well-functioning family does not abuse its children. Tolley's approach however is going to be interesting. Not sure if I mean that in the Chinese sense or not. Don't have a great deal of confidence in the government's ability to walk that delicate line. .

Olwyn said...

"What better fate could there be for a helpless waif raised in an Orphanage than to end up as the adopted son of a well-to-do middle-class gentleman?"

That depended very much on the "middle-class gentleman" in question. Working class people of my grandmother's generation viewed adoption with fear and suspicion - they saw it primarily as a way by which the middle class acquired cheap, submissive farm workers and domestic servants, and stories of their cruelty to these children, and humiliation of them, abounded. The nice "specially chosen child" way of thinking about adoption seems to have emerged after WW2, when there was full employment, household consumption was on the rise, and the war had left a lot of extramarital children in its wake. Under current conditions, foster children are likely to become the new home-stays - sources of government funds which help to pay the bills and the mortgage.

Anonymous said...

Despite the negativity that the posts on the blog will attract I wish Anne Tolley all the very best.
Anne Tolley is not a bleeding heart liberal nor is she a politician who says money will fix all the problems, she is a lot smarter than that
The vast majority of Maori who are failing in our country come from single parent, broken and abusive home life.
Anne Tolly's experiment may or may not succeed, non racist New Zealand people will wish her good fortune and a successful voyage.

peter petterson, it is a fact of life that poor and needy European folk are looked upon more kindly in NZ society than a Maori person.
I find your post to be racist and fascist, you are not a New Zealander.

Charles E said...

Chris you talk as though we are still a colony.
Now I know Key has 50% support after eight years but surely he isn't that influential!

Flippancy aside, I probably should read your bit again as I'm not sure if you support the new policy thrust or not. Are you having a bob each way?

Charles E said...

Sorry I should have read it more carefully. You are wondering if the new policy is based on the idea that healthy environments in the now majority of Maori families might be better places to foster neglected Maori children than their own wider family.
And also if this isn't just another old colonial idea.
Well as history doesn't repeat, but rather echoes, it may well be related to a Victorian idea but so what? Whatever works from here is better than the current welfare policies which have been a disaster, it appears. Or perhaps they are not so bad, we just have good statistics now and a media that highlights child neglect, abuse and murder. Can someone tell me if as a percentage, there are more of those horrors in NZ now than before the Welfare State was invented, assuming we can accurately measure this? I suspect not but if there are then perhaps it's that that has failed a significant minority of the Maori population.
One thing that may get more attention if the answer to your questions is yes, is why happy Maori families exist at all if colonisation has been such a disaster. My impression is the majority are doing fine, so perhaps the answer for those who are not, does lie with their cousins and Tolley may be on to something.

greywarbler said...

I think that having the option of training for a real job with regular hours for the men, and the option of learning new skills in the weekend to widen their employment and self-starting horizons would help the unemployed especially Maori.

For young women the same, and if they become mothers, really good care and housing and paid education in childcare before the baby was born, and after would boost their abilities and confidence. Then the education would continue, along with a few hours in paid work to ease them into the work force much later when the children were older.

But anything that the present government does is likely to cause 80% disadvantage with at the most 20% positive. White middle-upperclass professional woman serving as a National Party hand-maiden overcomes long-standing social problems caused by previous disruption of economy and society from 1980s neoliberal revolution. I don't think that is a likely headline.

Nick J said...

Anon 13.43 you cast the epithets racist and fascist at Peter Peterson with simply no evidence. He has stated empirical facts about the ethnic origin of the majority of needy in Chch. The same might be said of Maori in Northland. Caucasians do not have iwi support or special specific to their culture support. Do you see pakeha maraes in Chch?

How you interpret what PP puts on the table is merely your opinion. To label him racist and fascist without questioning what he means to portray with these observations is both pre-empt and lazy. And then to say he is not a New Zealander....says who? It's just more offensive crap. Play the ball not the man.

Anonymous said...

Nick j, 7.47, please read his post again, my reply was not pre-empt or lazy, I was playing both the ball and the man.
He knows it.

Nick J said...

Thank you anon for your lack of justificacation. QED.

Anonymous said...

Nick J,
"lack of justificacation. QED", nothing lacking, perhaps "birds of a feather"?.

AB said...

Most likely in hindsight it will just look like another shuffling of ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. Swinging back and forth between the two ideological poles you identify Chris.
The conversation Tolley should have had is with Bill English:
"Bill -everything you do makes my job impossible. I need an economy with plentiful well-paying work. If the private sector won't or can't do this then the state will have to do it. I know it will hugely annoy our core National constituency, but there really is no alternative. TINA Bill, TINA."

Jigsaw said...

I notice that your article carefully tip toes around the Maori elite who have pocketed a huge amount from the TOW settlements while those lower down made do. I recall Sandra Lee in the house saying that Stephen O'Regan had personally made at least $4 million from the 1996 settlement of Ngati Tahu - not bad from a corporation that now claims that their negotiators in the early 1990's had to turn their car engines off when coasting downhill because of the shortage of funds. That in spite of the money they were already receiving every year from the 1944 (full and final) settlement.