I have worked in the New Zealand public sector for more than 30 years and consider that, in many circumstances, it is sensible for public agencies to work with families to promote well-being.
Eminent people on a taskforce chaired by Professor Sir Mason Durie certainly thought so. After the Government considered the taskforce's report, Whānau Ora was launched in 2010. The lead agency was Te Puni Kōkiri, supported by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.
I chose to report on Whānau Ora because it is an example of innovation and new thinking in service delivery. Whānau Ora was an opportunity for providers of health and social services in the community to operate differently and to support families in deciding their best way forward.
Whānau Ora has been a success for many families who now have a plan to improve their lives. For example, some whānau are working towards getting their young people living and working on their ancestral land. The government spending to achieve this has been small, but the importance for the whānau is significant.
Bringing whānau members together to prepare plans seems to have had benefits that are wider than the plans themselves. For example, reconnected whānau members not only provide each other with support but have also learned where skills and expertise already lie within the whānau. Some whānau have also gained shared experience in goal setting, planning, and managing projects and budgets to achieve their goals.
We wanted to clarify for Parliament and the public what Whānau Ora is, where the funding has gone, and what Whānau Ora has achieved after four years. It was not easy to describe what it is or what it has achieved.
We could not get a consistent explanation of the aims of the initiatives in Whānau Ora from the joint agencies or other people that we spoke to. So far, the situation has been unclear and confusing to many of the public entities and whānau.
Government agencies need to be able to explain what results are expected – or hoped for – and achieved from spending public funds. Clearly understood aims generally lead to clear accountability and good reporting. Good reporting is particularly important with innovation, because it allows changes to be made when required.
During the first four years, total spending on Whānau Ora was $137.6 million. Delays in spending meant that some of the funds originally intended for whānau and providers did not reach them. Nearly a third of the total spending was on administration (including research and evaluation). In my view, Te Puni Kōkiri could have spent a greater proportion of funds on those people – whānau and providers – who Whānau Ora was meant to help.
Whānau Ora also relies on appropriate support from other agencies and the community. Without strong support from other government agencies, such as the Ministries of Health and Social Development, Whānau Ora is unlikely to succeed.
Many providers of different health and social services in the community have been supported to form "collectives", so people can get easier access to a range of services. These providers have also been supported to move from a focus on individuals to a focus on whānau. Some have employed people to work intensively with whānau and help them move from crisis to resilience.
These are positive changes. However, the providers are mainly required by their contracts with government agencies to deliver services to individuals. When we did our work, the Ministries of Health and Social Development had no plans to change to a funding model that would take advantage of the effort and $68 million paid to providers to help them shift to whānau-centred service delivery. The signals currently sent by different parts of government are, at best, mixed.
I have said before that being in the public service means serving the needs of people, and this is not my first report to describe systems that are a burden for their users. Te Puni Kōkiri required whānau to be represented by a legal entity before funding them to prepare a plan to improve their lives. I question whether that requirement was necessary.
I have no doubt that some commentators will make light of the successes described in this report and make much of the criticisms. However, an innovative idea should not be abandoned just because of implementation problems. I earnestly hope that those involved with the next phase of Whānau Ora are able to take my criticisms on board and learn from them.
I thank everyone who shared their experiences with my staff, including whānau, service providers, community representatives, and consultants. I also thank Professor Sir Mason Durie, who met with my staff and commented on draft reports. I also thank Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministries of Health and Social Development for their help.
Controller and Auditor-General
1 May 2015