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Te Aho Takitoru – An indigenous social work framework


Background. Māori are the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of Aotearoa New Zealand. Te Aho Takitoru enables social workers to work with Māori whānau /families in a culturally appropriate manner using intervention strategies generated from Māori knowledge and world-view.

Te Aho Takitoru has enables our organisation to work in partnership with Mäori whänau to find the most culturally appropriate care solutions for their vulnerable children. Te Aho Takitoru actively promotes whänau/family well-being and self determination. Te Aho Takitoru enables our organisation to fulfil our obligations to our New Zealand treaty (between Māori and the government) by offering culturally safe interventions.

Purpose. Open Home Foundation provides foster care and social work from 14 centres nation wide. 30% of families seeking care and protection assistance are Māori (Māori are 12% of the population of New Zealand). Māori are over represented in all areas of social services due to poverty, poor education and high unemployment. Te Aho Takitoru addresses societal structural issues for Māori that have arisen through colonization, injustice and institutional racism.

Source of information. Te Aho Takitoru was created from the practice wisdom of our Mäori staff of Te Whare Kaupapa Āwhina / Open Home Foundation. We noticed Māori social workers best practice outcomes occurred when they retained their own cultural patterns in their practice. These cultural patterns and the underlying values they express were explored in the context of social work in Aotearoa/New Zealand and became the basis for this unique practice approach with Mäori that enables both Mäori and non-Māori to engage in a culturally appropriate manner using intervention understanding generated from Mäori knowledge and Māori worldview.


Te Aho Takitoru (the 3 stranded cord) is about strengthening and weaving together three key aspects of whänau life: 1) our identity and sense of belonging, which is fundamental to a sense of well-being, 2) the values and beliefs which guide our attitudes and behaviour and 3) our relationships with one another.

Te Aho Takitoru supports whänau on a Journey of Hope to discover their rangatiratanga ability to make the changes they believe necessary to promote their whänau well-being. This journey is taken in three stages:

Powhiri (engagement in collaborative partnership),

Hui (addressing the issues together), and

Waka (undertaking their planned journey of change).

A Köpü (matrix) of 9 Te Ao Māori life principles (Tapu, Whakapapa, Tumanako, Houhanga Rongo, Mauri Ihu, Aroha, Kotahitanga, Mana, Whakapono) is used to provide whänau with a framework to shape the perspective about the problem and its solution.


Key findings and implications. Since implementation in 2005 the following positive outcomes for Māori whānau and Māori children in Open Home Foundation (OHF) have been recorded:

  • Te Aho Takitoru training on Marae has strengthened agency's connections to Māori community,
  • social workers have appropriate Māori whānau assessment tools,
  • Whānau Intervention Outcome Scales and best practice are recorded,
  • OHF policies and procedures now support Māori values,
  • OHF has a cultural services team to support social workers and Māori whānau,
  • OHF has one dedicated Māori Service Centre operating in partnership with indigenous people group,
  • OHF is seeing growth in employment, retention and support of Māori staff,
  • the emerging bi-cultural practice environment within OHF facilitates access by Māori to OHF services (measured by increased cultural endorsement of practice by Māori leaders and elders working alongside OHF and referrals).

Key references

Durie, M. (1998). Whaiora: Maori Health Development (2nd ed). Oxford University Press.

Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Ministry of Social Welfare (1988). Puao-te Ata-Tu. Wellington, New Zealand.

Contacts: Takiri Cotterill, Open Home Foundation, 107a Tararu Road, Thames, New Zealand, E-mail:tak.cotterill@ohf.org.nz, Phone 027 229 4218.


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