Māori centred social work practice

09 Apr 2021


This evidence brief looks at the following research questions:

A Māori centred approach

  • How does Māori centred theory and practice fit with other approaches?
  • What are the origins of a Māori centred approach and how has it further developed?
  • What are the core components of a Māori centred approach?
  • What are the origins of mana-enhancing practice and how has it further developed?
  • What are the defining characteristics of mana-enhancing practice and who is it relevant for?
  • How is mana-enhancing practice being implemented?
  • What enablers support a shift from a Western to a Māori centred position?

Approaches to assessment

  • What are the characteristics of international Indigenous assessment approaches in statutory and non-statutory child and family welfare systems?
  • What are the characteristics of Tangata Whenua assessment approaches?
  • What aspects of Western assessment ‘work’ for Indigenous/Tangata Whenua populations?
  • How are indigenous/Tangata Whenua/bicultural assessment approaches applied and sustained?
  • What are the key components of quality assessment for Indigenous populations?


The development of the evidence brief is described in this section of the report, including the search sources and search terms used.

Search tools

Between 22 April 2020 and 07 May 2020, the following academic databases were searched for relevant peer-reviewed journal papers:

  • ASSIA (Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts)
  • ProQuest
  • PubMed
  • Scopus

During the same period, the following websites/databases were concurrently searched for relevant peer reviewed material and for grey literature2:

  • https://natlib-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/search?query
  • http://www.maramatanga.co.nz/
  • https://nzresearch.org.nz/
  • https://www.waipareira.com/our-resources/te-Whānau-o-waipareira/
  • https://swrb.govt.nz/wp-
  • https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10092/13658/Social%20Work%20Pertaining%20to%20Maori%20in%20New%20Zealand_2017.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
  • www.tpk.govt.nz
  • https://nzvfc.org.nz
  • https://anzasw.nz/aotearoa-new-zealand-social-work-review-te-komako-tu-mau/

The grey literature was further searched using Google Scholar. Finally, we were provided with a list of reference material compiled by Drs Leland Ruwhiu and Moana Eruera in 2014 as a starting point for the development of the evidence brief. Titles included in this list of reference material were scanned and a number of sources were retained for further investigation in the course of developing the evidence brief. Other relevant material was additionally independently identified from our own previous and current work.

Search terms

Search terms included mana-enhancing practice, mana-enhancing social work (youth work, counselling, psychology, mental health) practice, Māori centred practice, Māori centred social work (youth work, counselling, psychology, mental health) practice, indigenous social work (youth work, counselling, psychology, mental health) practice, social work (youth work, counselling, psychology, mental health) assessment models/approaches, Indigenous assessment models/ approaches, Māori centred assessment models/approaches, Tangata Whenua assessment models/approaches Whānau Ora models/- approaches, bicultural social work assessment models/approaches/frameworks. These terms were used, both individually and in various combinations, to identify
relevant literature.

A rapid search was also carried out using the terms First Nations/First Peoples/Aboriginal/Native social work assessment models/approaches/frameworks. It is noted that the Evidence Brief: Assessment Models, Methodologies and Approaches prepared for Oranga Tamariki earlier this year (Allen + Clarke, 2020) does include at least some consideration of the literature in these latter categories.

Selection and review of material

Both the documents returned from the search, and additional material sourced as described above, were initially refined on the basis of their relevance to the key areas of interest. Assessment of relevance occurred through the review of article titles and abstracts with a considerable number being deleted following this review. Further refinement of the remaining list of sources was carried out iteratively by reviewing abstracts and deleting those of less relevance along with almost all of those published prior to 1999. Other criteria for exclusion included if more recent writing from the same author/s on the same, or similar, topics was available. Articles were either deleted outright or retained and included in one of a number of groups ranked in order of priority interest.

Finally, to further reduce sources to a manageable level only those in the most highly ranked groups were scan read. Following scan reading, a total of 119 sources were retained for inclusion in a priority list submitted to Oranga Tamariki for feedback. The Ministry added no additional sources to the priority list, though we were provided with a background paper, The Development of the Manaenhancing Paradigm for Practice, to further inform the development of the evidence brief.

In the course of preparing the brief, 19 sources were excluded from the priority list of 119 primarily because, following more in-depth reading, their relevance was considered less compelling. A further 20 sources were however, added as the review took shape, resulting in a total of 120 sources being used in the draft evidence brief. Following an Oranga Tamariki review of the draft, a further three sources were included in the final version.


The broad literature base referenced in this evidence brief was determined in consultation with the commissioner. The sources incorporated in the brief are reasonably extensive and were largely compiled by Whakauae Research for Māori Health and Development team members familiar with the Kaupapa Māori health research literature and, to a more limited extent, with the Aotearoa New Zealand social work theory and practice literature. Although it is unlikely that literature of critical relevance to the development of the brief has been omitted, it is possible that this may have occurred through oversight and therefore should be considered a possible limitation. Additionally, the evidence brief was developed over a relatively brief timeframe, which may have potentially limited the scope of the sources included.

Key Results

Māori centred approach

A Māori centred approach facilitates working with, and for Tangata Whenua in a way that resonates with Te Ao Māori from within a Crown context.

A Māori centred approach is consistent with Te Tiriti obligations, statutory functions, mana tamaiti objectives and values, and the outcomes Oranga Tamariki seeks for tamariki and whānau Māori. A Māori centred approach sits between the Ministry’s current mainstream approach and one that is Kaupapa Māori. The current mainstream approach is largely informed by Western theories and practices which have been challenged in recent decades, both nationally and globally. Worldwide, Indigenous theories and practices are increasingly influencing the social work profession.

A Māori centred approach has evolved that draws on Māori concepts and promotes Māori values.

A Māori centred approach was first explicitly described in the mid-1990s in relation to research, and health and social services design and delivery. The approach puts Māori at the centre of activity and involves Māori at every stage, though it is generally carried out under the control of mainstream organisations. It is strongly imbued with Māori values and aims to enhance Māori wellbeing.

Core components include:

  • an overarching philosophical foundation grounded in Te Ao Māori concepts of wellbeing and care
  • recognition of the rights and obligations Māori possess as a Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner
  • understanding that Māori centred approaches occur in a relational space between Māori and Tauiwi (non-Māori)
  • recognition that the locus of control resides, for the most part, within the mainstream system and not with Māori.

Mana-enhancing practice.

Mana is the force that binds together the human (he tangata), natural (te ao turoa) and ideological (wairuatanga) dimensions of a Māori worldview. It is central to understanding and enhancing the wellbeing of mokopuna and their whānau. Mana-enhancing social work practice has been explicitly developed by a growing number of Tangata Whenua social workers since the early 2000s.

Key principles of mana-enhancing practice include:

  • valuing Te Ao Māori, concepts of wellbeing and cultural identity
  • understanding the historical relationships embedded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • relationships defined by authenticity, respect, integrity and dignity
  • emphasising the roles of whakapapa and cultural narrative in healing processes
  • reaffirming and supporting whānau self-determination.

Mana-enhancing practice is relevant for all social workers, and those who design and monitor services.

It is critical that the principles of mana-enhancing practice are understood and actioned by all those whose work impacts on frontline social work. The origins of mana-enhancing practice in a Te Ao Māori worldview position it well for Tangata Whenua social workers working with Māori. The approach has relevance for Tauiwi as well, as its underlying concepts and values promote the enhanced wellbeing of all peoples.

Implementing mana-enhancing practice includes mutual respect and commitment to caring for each other’s mana.

A rich tapestry of Tangata Whenua practice stories informs a shift from ‘imagining’ mana-enhancing practice to ‘doing’ it. Mana-enhancing and related terms convey expectations around how practitioners and services will work with individuals and their whānau. The competent use of Te Reo Māori and of Māori practices and protocols supports a mana-enhancing approach, as does appreciation of keeping the mana of whānau intact. Whānau Ora practice is consistent with manaenhancing practice, as it is instilled with Māori values and a Māori worldview.

Shifting to a Māori centred approach and mana-enhancing practice will require systems change.

A successful shift from the current Western/mainstream approach to a Māori centred approach will require the coordinated implementation of comprehensive, multi-faceted enablers across the four dimensions of systems, practice, workforce development and social work practice supervision.

Approaches to assessment.

Internationally, Indigenous peoples, including Tangata Whenua, have identified Western assessment approaches consistently fail to meet their needs Indigenous peoples advocate for the development of Indigenously-led assessment processes or development of assessment processes undertaken in partnerships with child protection services; prioritising culturally appropriate relationship building in assessment; and culturally competent assessment, within culturally secure environments.

Assessment with Tangata Whenua requires time to build trusting relationships.

Establishing rapport and culturally relevant relationships takes time, and needs investment from the outset. Te Ao Māori principles underpin and drive the assessment process. While frameworks provide guidance, application on a day-to-day level in specific practice settings needs to be made explicit.

Success requires the meaningful involvement of whānau, having supportive organisational policies, and providing culturally responsive environments. To work effectively with Māori, basic knowledge and skills in Whānau Ora philosophy and whānau-centred practice are invaluable.

Tangata Whenua social workers are equipped to practice Biculturally, but few Tauiwi social workers are.

That lack of Bicultural competence in Tauiwi social workers negatively impacts the wellbeing of Tangata Whenua. The place for Tangata Whenua, as an equal Tiriti partner with Tauiwi, needs to be assured if Bicultural approaches are to further develop. Despite Biculturalism being recognised as a general principle of governance, there is only emergent evidence of Biculturalism in policy and practice. There is arguably traction being gained in the development of Bicultural practice competencies among Tauiwi social workers.

Sustaining Tangata Whenua assessment approaches requires supporting Tangata Whenua social workers to further develop their cultural knowledge.

A significant increase in awareness and knowledge of Tangata Whenua theories, how they inform practice and how they benefit Māori clients is necessary. At funding, planning, design and delivery levels a commitment to a Bicultural approach needs to be in evidence. Bicultural capability development among Tauiwi is an organisational responsibility, not the responsibility of individual Tangata Whenua social workers.

Key components of a quality collaborative assessment model for Tangata Whenua

  • embedding mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and tikanga (processes and settings that are culturally appropriate)
  • meaningful whānau involvement in co-constructing ‘the story’
  • appreciation of a wider whānau context
  • knowledge of Whānau Ora philosophy and whānau-centred best practice
  • recognising diverse Māori realities and identities
  • recognising it is Tangata Whenua themselves who define how they see themselves as Māori
Page last modified: 27 Oct 2023