Māori centred social work practice

Published: April 9, 2021

An evidence brief designed to look specifically at Māori centred theory and practice and approaches to child and family welfare assessments.


Oranga Tamariki leadership, through its Professional Practice Group (PPG), has committed to move frontline social work practice to a Māori centred approach. The purpose of the evidence brief is to inform the development of a Māori centred approach to social work practice, using a mana enhancing paradigm.

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?

Key findings

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.

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.

  • Mana-enhancing practice is relevant for all social workers, and those who design and monitor services
  • Implementing mana-enhancing practice includes mutual respect and commitment to caring for each other’s mana

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

Approaches to assessment

  • Internationally, Indigenous peoples, including Tangata Whenua, have identified Western assessment approaches consistently fail to meet their needs
  • Assessment with Tangata Whenua requires time to build trusting relationships
  • Tangata Whenua social workers are equipped to practice Biculturally, but few Tauiwi social workers are
  • Sustaining Tangata Whenua assessment approaches requires supporting Tangata Whenua social workers to further develop their cultural knowledge