In the past few years, Aotearoa-New Zealand has seen a dramatic shift in how government authorities deliver care and protection support and services to children and young people. Key to this is a greater focus on finding new ways to support families while also developing community initiatives that deliver effective support to families who need a helping hand.
As Deputy Chief Executive, Voices of Children at Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children, Hoani Lambert has been a keen advocate for this change in how care is provided for New Zealand’s children in need.
A large part of his role involves talking to Māori organisations, including iwi (tribes), about the roles they would like to play with families and children and how they can work with government to successfully deliver community support and initiatives. A key aim is to find new and effective ways of supporting families so they can keep their children at home.
“We have a Prime Minister who has put child poverty and the wellbeing of children at the top of her government’s agenda. The previous government also wanted to transform the way the government system responded to the needs of children, so there is good cross-party support and alignment that we need to do better to improve outcomes for children in New Zealand,” says Hoani.
The current approach has been brought into even sharper focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During COVID, local communities have stood up to support each other. As government departments, we are learning from that and thinking about how we can change the way we have traditionally thought about the delivery of government services to better enable communities to do the work themselves and be resourced to do that,” says Hoani.
“There has been strong advocacy from iwi and Māori communities to play a far bigger role in the delivery and support of services for their families and children. There has also been a big push by our agency to look for ways to delegate and better resource Māori and iwi communities to do more of the service delivery themselves, and to partner with us in how we make decisions that impact their families.”
A major challenge of this transformation has been demonstrating to the public, and specifically Māori communities, early progress and the ‘green shoots of change’. But already the results achieved are significant. In three years, the number of Māori children coming into the state care system has fallen by 52 per cent. But Māori children are still significantly over-represented in the number of children in care, so Hoani says there is a lot more work to be done. More than $90 million has been invested in Māori organisations working with the Ministry – an increase in funding of 65 per cent compared to the Ministry’s first year of operation in 2017/18.
“But it’s at community level that we’ve seen the biggest change. For example, in a community in the Far North of Aotearoa, when we have a report of concern about a child, we look at those reports in partnership with a number of Māori organisations in that community, and rather than making decisions in isolation, we are making decisions with our iwi and Māori social service partners,” explains Hoani.
Hoani was part-way through a law degree when he began working in government as Parliamentary Secretary to Tim Barnett MP. He then took on roles in public relations and social marketing before joining the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry and earning his first managerial position as Manager, Biosecurity Communications.
“I was encouraged to apply for leadership roles in communications, frontline operations and strategy and it was during this time the Chief Executive said he thought I was a great leader but if I wanted to go further, I needed to study,” recalls Hoani.
He embarked on ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) which he describes as “a life changing experience”.
“Because of the EMPA, I’m a public servant for life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It has given me great opportunities to work in diplomacy, biosecurity and now in the Ministry for Children. When I did the EMPA, I realised the public service was where I wanted to be,” he says.
“I’d come into the public service three or four years earlier and while I had good natural instincts for public sector leadership, I had no understanding why. The EMPA gave me frameworks, a language and helped me to understand that my instincts were based on well-researched models of public policy and evaluation. That work sat well with me naturally and it helped clarify why I was enjoying what I was doing.”
Successfully completing the EMPA also restored Hoani’s confidence in his ability to study at tertiary level.
“My previous experience of tertiary education studying law hadn’t been good but through the EMPA I realised that I wasn’t stupid - I just needed to study something I’m passionate about and I’m passionate about public service,” he says.
“I felt inferior without a tertiary qualification and the EMPA experience enabled me to become a senior leader in the public service and helped me build my confidence. I suppose I always felt I was an imposter and the EMPA gave me validation and affirmation. It had a profound effect on me.”
Deeply committed to his leading role in the Ministry for Children, Hoani’s key goal is making a positive difference for children and families in New Zealand by delivering more support through communities and working across government agencies.
“From a personal development perspective, we have very few senior Māori public servants in New Zealand and we walk in two worlds. We walk in the world of the Crown and the world of our ancestors,” he says.
“I was raised at a time when opportunities to learn my language were very limited and one of my goals is better reconnecting to my ancestry and history. Being Māori is in my heart and through this current role I’ve had the opportunity to learn more of my language. But I want to know more about where my people have come from, what that means for me personally, and what it means in terms of what I can achieve for New Zealanders and Māori, because I think we can deliver great outcomes for Māori and all New Zealanders.”
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