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The number of Māori children in care has remained stagnant for the past 10 years, which is more than half of the total number of children in care.

As of June 2013, 2121 of the 3844 children in CYF were of Māori descent.

Last year, two principal Māori advisors were hired to look at what needs to be in place to help social workers and the agency change the way they deal with whānau Māori.

Mani Dunlop spoke to the advisors, who have a strong background in social work both in and out of government agencies, as well as speaking with a non-government organisation in South Auckland which is working with CYF.

CYF seen as monster, not protector

Jonelle McNeill is a woman on a mission: the Manurewa Child Youth and Family (CYF) site manager wants all children in care to have a home for life.

CYF in South Auckland is aiming to cut the disproportionately high number of Māori children in its care by half; 61% of the children they work with are Māori and the agency has in the past been criticised for failing to deal well with whānau and iwi.

Ms McNeill wants to make a difference, and she's given herself and her staff a year to achieve it.

"The common goal is that every child will have a home for life. Every child will know what is going to be happening for them, and every Māori child will be connected back with their whānau."

But CYF could not do it alone, so it would work with experienced community groups to achieve the goal, Ms McNeill said.

Whare Ruruhau o Meri is a non-government organisation which has worked alongside CYF to get Māori children out of the agency's care and into permanent homes.

Kaihautu [director] Dee Wolferstan said would not be easy but Māori organisations and iwi needed to step up.

"It comes down to what our expertise and what CYF expertise (is) and how we marry that together," she said.

"It's not always an easy marriage. When you've got the people at the top with these big dreams and then you've got your operational stuff, trying to get the buy-in to get that done, it's not easy but it's been workable.

"I have to say it's because we're Māori, and we just get on with the business."

Māori advisers appointed

CYF last year hired two Māori principal advisers to help change the way the agency dealt with whānau and tamariki.

One of those advisers, Leland Ruwhiu, said the agency needed a critical voice on Māori issues.

He had worked with non-government organisations, and said whānau Māori viewed the agency as a monster rather than a guardian.

"One of the reasons why it's in the state that it is currently has to do a lot with the fact that Child Youth and Family is viewed by our whānau as the ngangara rather than the taniwha," Mr Ruwhiu said.

"There's a huge culture embedded in Child Youth and Family, and part of our task is to challenge what might well be seen as the normal way of engaging with our whānau and saying that there are better ways."

The other adviser, Moana Eruera, has worked as a social worker with both CYF and non-government organisations and said CYF had not always been consistent in dealing with whānau Māori. She was working to make sure that changed.

"So it's really about sustaining some of those processes, improving them and improving our internal staff capability in terms of the way that we work with mokopuna and whānau Māori."

Ms Eruera said they were already starting to see the agency embracing kaupapa Māori in their short time as advisers.