Whānau caregivers breaking the cycle

Published: April 23, 2024

A recipient of an Excellence in Foster Care Award in 2024, Maxine shares her experiences and what drove her to become a caregiver.

Maxine Chakani and Phoenix 4x3
Phoenix, Chakani and Maxine at the Excellence in Foster Care Awards held at Government House in Wellington, March 2024.

One of 17 children, Maxine (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) has been caregiving for most of her life.

Maxine, her daughter Chakani, and Chakani’s partner, Phoenix, are whānau caregivers to five of Maxine’s younger brother’s children, all aged between two and seven years when they came to live with Maxine in 2019.  

Rebuilding a sense of identity

Maxine’s siblings were raised separately, in different parts of the country, away from whānau.

“Most of them didn’t know what their whakapapa was,” Maxine says.

There were serious care and protection concerns for Maxine’s brother’s children, so Maxine agreed to become their caregiver with support from her whānau.

“The whole purpose of becoming their caregivers was so that these kids wouldn’t go through what their parents did. We’re breaking the cycle.”

Maxine, Chakani and Phoenix have raised the children to know their pepeha, their whakapapa, learn reo and waiata, and they’re all involved in kapa haka.

Phoenix supports the children with their Samoan whakapapa, language, and culture, sharing his heritage by taking them to church on Sundays, followed by sapa sui (Samoan chop suey) and a smorgasbord lunch which they really enjoy.

They also celebrate birthdays and special occasions with wider whānau. There were 28 people on a recent family holiday, - 16 adults and 12 children, including Maxine’s sister and her family.

Working as a whānau to get the right support

The first few years were particularly challenging. Maxine had some health issues of her own as well as lockdowns to deal with.

With each challenge, Maxine’s four adult children and their partners stepped up to help, making sacrifices of their own - all of them completing the necessary paperwork and processes to become caregivers.

Chakani, and Phoenix took the two older boys, while Maxine and another of her daughters looked after the three younger children.

Now, Maxine has the older boy, one of her own daughters and two moko living with her, while Chakani and Phoenix have the four younger siblings.

“It didn’t always go smoothly. We had to work to get the support we needed,” Maxine says.

“When they arrived, there weren’t enough beds for everyone, and we were initially only given set-up costs for one child. It also took a while to get enough devices suitable for schoolwork for the children to use during lockdown.”

Maxine can laugh looking back about some things now, like the day during lockdown when local Police called around to deliver a care package.

“When the Police saw all the kids faces up at windows, the officer said, ‘I’ll be right back with another box!”

It takes a village

Maxine’s background is in teaching. She encourages plenty of reading, creativity, and exposure to different experiences and activities, but once the kids sign up for something, they have to see it through.

“I’d rather give them the opportunity to do it and then say they don’t like it, than have them wishing they’d given something a go. But they have to finish the term off, they have to see it out, then they can decide whether to carry on or do something else.”

The whānau use a calendar app on their phones, with all the kids activities and appointments scheduled, and notes for whoever is taking them or picking them up.

“That’s the village working. Who’s doing what, who’s going to be at assembly when one of them gets a badge or a certificate, who’s going to see the teacher when someone gets into trouble.”

With all this activity, there’s a lot of fundraising involved, for school trips and competitions - basketball, cheerleading, soccer, rugby, choir, karate, ballet, swimming, athletics, badminton - the list goes on.

 “Now we’re at a point where we’re saying, choose one.”

Maxine Chakani and Phoenix were recipients of an Excellence in Foster Care Awards presented by ...
The 2024 Excellence in Foster Care Awards were presented by the Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro and Children’s Minister Karen Chhour.

Acknowledgement at the Foster Care Awards

Maxine says she’s grateful for the acknowledgement they received because they’ve worked hard to make things work for their whānau – after-school care arrangements, for example:

“We're a working whānau and after-school care wasn't working for our kids," Maxine says. "They were unhappy, acting up, and couldn't participate in after school sports activities.”

The whānau hired a driver to transport the kids to their activities. Then they put a proposal to Oranga Tamariki to be able to hire whānau members to provide transport for after school activities and to care for the kids until whānau had finished work.

 “It took a while, but we got there,” Maxine says.