Developing effective Māori centred social work practices

Developing effective Māori centred social work pra…
16 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:


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

Assessment models, methodologies and approaches found a wide range of decision-making frameworks and tools were being used within child welfare and protection contexts. This report found that structured empirical tools are best used in combination with more qualitative approaches, such as shared decision-making and practice experience.

The report also found that there are many factors that play a part in caseworker decision-making, including having adequate time and resourcing, and organisational support, and caseworkers’ own beliefs and attitudes.

Māori centred social work practice found the following were key components of a Māori centred approach to social work practice:

  • A philosophical foundation grounded in Te Ao Māori concepts
  • Recognition of the rights and obligations Māori possess under te Tiriti
  • Māori centred approaches occur in a relationship space between Māori and Tauiwi 
  • Recognition that control largely resides in the mainstream system.

Mana-enhancing social work practice modelled mutual respect and commitment and was considered applicable for all social workers and people working in service design. In terms of a quality assessment model, key components included:

  • Embedded mātauranga Māori and tikanga
  • Meaningful whānau involvement
  • Knowledge of Whānau Ora philosophy and whānau-centred best practice
  • Recognition of the diversity of Māori realities and identities.
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