Whakapapa is critical to identity and belonging

Social worker Kaysha Whakarau brings a Māori perspective to her mahi, enhanced by her studies at Massey.

Working with a whānau to have their tamariki returned to them after years of being in ministry care was a pivotal moment in social worker Kaysha Whakarau’s career.

“That was one of my awesome achievements. We built relationships back up between the whānau and children. We had monthly meetings with agencies to make sure we were all sticking to the plan and doing what we said we would do.”

Whakarau, 27, Ngāti Raukawa rāua ko Ngāti Ruanui, has been a care and protection social worker for Oranga Tamariki in Lower Hutt for the past four years after graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Social Work in 2017.

Growing up, Whakarau was the oldest of 10 siblings with the four youngest whāngai (adopted from extended family). Her whānau welcomed them into their loving home and it was while observing social workers interacting with her younger siblings that she began considering a career in the field.

Her motivation is for no Māori tamariki to be placed in state care and she is proud to say she has never had to do this.

She is currently studying towards her master’s with a focus on navigating mainstream social work from the perspective of kaimahi – Māori social workers and the opportunities and challenges they face.

“As a social worker today there’s a lot you can learn and apply to practice. I want to do my master’s to broaden my horizons but to provide a platform for Māori social workers to
have a voice and complete research that will benefit Māori.”

Ensuring tamariki stay connected with their whānau, and making sure there are culturally appropriate practices for the families Oranga Tamariki works with, is a focus for her. Her goal is to one day be in a leadership position so she can help to guide decision making.

“Whakapapa is critical to identity and belonging. Being a Māori social worker, my focus is ensuring whānau have the option of receiving practice that is Te Ao Māori-focused and mana-enhancing.”

Utilising waiata (song) and karakia (prayer) at the beginning of a whānau hui (meeting) at Oranga Tamariki can make a big difference to setting the tone for the meeting, she says.

“Bringing families into our office can be intimidating for them. They’re here because it means they’ve done something, so often they can be angry or upset. The use of karakia and waiata doesn’t take away these feelings but it acknowledges them, makes everyone feel grounded and sets the scene for why they’re here: to ensure their tamariki are safe.”

Studying with Massey has provided her with the skills and knowledge to face “the daily challenges in the life of a social worker,” she says. “I can apply what I have learned throughout my degree to help my whānau, friends and clients.”

She says studying social work has changed the way she views relationships and responds to certain things: “It makes me a better and stronger person”.

“When you see a family get out of a dark place and see the children and family thriving, it’s worth everything.

For more information about health qualifications at Massey University click here.

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