Challenges for Māori support workers

Amber Nicholson, Katherine Ravenswood, Fiona Hurd

02 Sep 2022

Amber Nicholson_Katherine Ravenswood_Fiona Hurd

A new report co-authored by AUT’s Amber Nicholson (Ngāruahine), Katherine Ravenswood and Fiona Hurd lays bare the challenges faced by Māori community support workers, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among a cohort of workers who already feel exhausted, isolated and invisible, Māori community support workers face even greater job challenges.

Shocking findings - but not surprising

As academic researchers, we were shocked but not surprised by the findings. Community support workers are the glue of our communities, both urban and rural. They bring skill, empathy and vast career and life experiences to enhance the mana of people in our communities who need support.

A community support worker is someone who provides care and support to people in their homes, this could be for older people, people with disability, end of life care, rehabilitation and more. These workers provide complex support to a range of clients, young and old, and in various stages of life.

Our research centred around workers who, for the most part, worked within corporate community support providers. Within these organisations we found a lack of Māori support workers, which therefore limited their offerings of culturally appropriate care.

Systemic challenges

We found that many Māori support workers feel their hauora  – a holistic sense of wellbeing that incorporates culture, spirit and whānau – is negatively impacted by discrimination and racism, lack of cultural awareness and support from their employer, and western models of care and support that does not allow the expression of tikanga Māori.

We saw how these challenges impacted the wellbeing not only of the workers themselves but their whānau and their clients.

For example, our report found little understanding of the ethic of whanaungatanga, which creates close bonds between support workers and the people they care for. The intimate nature of their role means community support workers have an obligation to respect the mana of the people in their care. There was a sense from Māori participants that the professional boundary that is stipulated by the working relationship between client and support worker is a construct that does not necessarily match up with the ethic of whanaungatanga.

Equally concerning, we found scant acknowledgement among employers and funders of how Māoritanga contributes to Māori community support workers’ ability to provide support and care. Some Māori support workers spoke about how they were often called to deal with clients that were deemed “challenging” by the organisation. These support workers spoke about how recognising the importance of culture was key in dealing with clients.

Report recommendations

How then, to ensure the cultural wellbeing of our Māori community support workers, their whānau and their clients is prioritised and embedded in the workplace?

The report makes several recommendations, including:

  • Integrate holistic models of care that include Māori concepts of wellbeing and are centred around tino rangatiratanga.
  • Recognising the role and needs of whānau, who should be involved in the development of care plans.
  • Procurement processes and funding should prioritise service providers that are Māori-led, offer te reo Māori-based community support or genuinely prioritise Te Tiriti in their practice.
  • Māori-led community support services should be available consistently nationwide.
  • Training for service providers in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tikanga Māori should be available nationally, and be undertaken by all members of the team, so that managers can encourage and appropriately support Māori employees.

Further recommendations

We also recommend that a national code of standards for the development of the Māori support workforce and provision of community support provision for Māori clients is implemented. To be effective, this work must be overseen by a dedicated Māori-led team and include a national point of contact and network for Māori community support workers.

These workers provided support services to over 100,000 New Zealanders in 2015 (according to the New Zealand Productivity Commission), allowing more people to stay in their homes within the community.

Without these changes, our community support workers – and particularly our Māori carers – continue to be a precarious, fragmented and invisible workforce. And that’s a problem that deeply impacts both the workers and the hauora of the communities they serve.

Read this commentary in The Spinoff

Useful links

Read about Amber Nicholson

Read about Katherine Ravenswood

Read about Fiona Hurd

Study at AUT Business School

Visit Piki Ake Kaipakihi Māori (Māori research in Business, Economics and Law)

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