Research highlights issues faced by whānau

By Ripeka Timutimu

The latest research from the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Superu) has focused on ethnic differences in how our families are faring and a greater understanding of who Mäori describe as their ‘whānau’.

Clare Ward, Superu’s chief executive, says that this research is important because families and whānau are the building blocks of our society.

"Whānau are a significant socialising influence in our lives, so their wellbeing is important," says Ms Ward. "One in five families includes at least one member who identifies as Mäori. Our findings have implications for social development, housing, education, health, Māori development and economic development."

This research draws on Te Kupenga (the Maori Social Survey) to give us a greater understanding of who Maori describe as their whānau. The analysis reaffirms the pre-eminence of whakapapa (genealogical) relations as the foundation of whānau.

This research also suggests that a number of factors are related to whether individuals see their whānau as encompassing extended whānau, such as demographic factors, specifically older age and place of residence, a basic connection to one’s ancestral marae and a high regard for being involved with Mäori culture.

Mäori with ready access to cultural support are also much more likely to see their whakapapa whānau in a broad sense, for example those who engage in kaupapa Mäori education and/or use Te Reo in the home are more likely to broadly define their whānau as including non-relatives.

"This body of research will help social sector agencies make better decisions to improve the lives of New Zealand’s families, whānau and their communities," says Ms Ward.