Document Type

Positive Systems of Child and Family Welfare International Conference (2002)

Publication Date



Faculty of Social Work


Colonization involves the appropriation and disfigurement of resources, the most valuable of these being people. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, indigenous Maori experiences of colonization parallel those of indigenous peoples around the world. The British modelled child welfare system in particular has been held responsible for the fragmentation of Maori families/whanau and communities. In 1989, new legislation was heralded as a radical departure from the previous legalistic, coercive and punitive system. The ‘Children, Young Person’s and their Families Act’ (CYP&F, 1989) signalled a partnership approach whereby Western welfare authorities and indigenous Maori communities would collaborate to protect ‘the best interests of the child’. However, the radical changes promised have not always been apparent in the implementation of the Act and associated policies and procedures. Maori workers and analysts are now questioning whether the problems experienced lie solely within practitioners unwilling to relinquish the power that they have traditionally wielded over Maori communities in the name of child protection, or whether the partnerships approach in the legislation itself is faulty. The CYP&F Act (1989) incorporates Maori terms and refers to Maori systems and philosophy, however the Act itself is now seen by many Maori as a continuation of colonial traditions of oppression and family/whanau devastation. There are suspicions that the ‘new approach’ is part of a wider movement to ‘culturally sensitize’ Child and Family Welfare policies and practices in order to make them more palatable to Maori, to more efficiently access Maori families/whanau and communities, and thus to promote an ongoing child protection crusade, within which families/whanau and communities are frequently viewed as the opposition. Contemporary Maori experiences give rise to serious questions about the nature of ongoing colonization and to tensions around attempts to bring together two very different philosophies and approaches to child and family well-being.