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Being the change

Telling the full and true story.

More than a century after it began, Plunket is going back to its bicultural roots, promising to deliver a more equitable and whanau Maori-friendly service. Andrew Ashton talks to Whānau Āwhina Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu about what that will mean for new mothers here . . .

New mothers using Plunket services will find the charity is now more bicultural and determined to ensure the achievements and experiences of women and wāhine Māori do not vanish from the official record.

The service’s new focus follows a five-year review that found over Whānau Āwhina Plunket’s 114 years its own story-telling had too often overlooked wahine Maori or portrayed them as bystanders to history.

However, now it is setting the record straight.

“The truth is, if it wasn’t for two Māori midwives and healers — Mere Harper and Ria Tikini — and the patronage and support of Lady Victoria Plunket, Whānau Āwhina Plunket would not be here today,” chief executive Amanda Malu said.

“It has long been the understanding that Dr Frederic Truby King single-handedly established the organisation that has been helping tamariki and whānau across New Zealand for 114 years. But that is only half the story.

“Mere Harper and Ria Tikini were both of Kāi Tahu and Kāti Huirapa descent, and often worked closely with their friend and neighbour, Dr King, to care for the ill in their community. They were also some of the first health professionals to work in the Karitāne Home for Babies when it opened in Dunedin in 1907. It was Mere and Ria who helped deliver Tommy Mutu in 1906 — and whose concerns led them to seek the support of Dr King to nurture him back to strength when breastfeeding issues were causing him to lose weight and become unwell. Tommy has forever since been known as the first Plunket baby.

“The history of Whānau Āwhina Plunket most of us know is — like much of Aotearoa’s history — incomplete at best, misleading and incorrect at worst. Stories have been told, but not the full story.

“This has rendered these founding wāhine toa invisible, and Whānau Āwhina Plunket’s bi-cultural origins have been forgotten.

“Whānau Āwhina Plunket is on a journey to reclaim its whakapapa; to fulfil the legacy of Mere Harper and RiaTikini by going back to its bi-cultural origins, ensuring equitable health outcomes for all whānau. Mere and Ria reached out to form a partnership to achieve the best outcomes for their pēpi and whānau. They centred on the needs of their whānau and built a collaborative and supportive system around them. For Whānau Āwhina Plunket, and for Aotearoa, it is time to get back to those foundations.

“By acknowledging and embracing our bi-cultural origins, Whānau Āwhina Plunket is creating a shared space and working to become a truly bi-cultural organisation that honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Whānau Āwhina Plunket is on the pathway to becoming what we were always meant to be: an organisation that partners with whānau, is helpful and doesn’t judge, is brave and thoughtful, and optimistic for the future,” Ms Malu said.

Speaking to The Herald Ms Malu said the charity had made a strong commitment to delivering services in a “more equitable way”.

That meant changes had to be made.

“I think it’s pretty fair to say we are taking our first steps. We have been doing a lot of work on ourselves.

“One of the first things we did was really look back, right the way back to where we began in Karitane and we lifted up the full and true story of our genesis and that was quite important because what we discovered when we did look back was actually, back in 1907, we were quite a different organisation. Our very roots were in biculturalism and partnership and collaboration, but over the years we lost that a bit.

“So, it was really important to acknowledge that and part of that was telling that story of Mere Harper and Ria Tikini really proudly.”

Charity 'ready to be held to account'

Ms Malu said the charity was ready to be held accountable.

“We want to do things differently and we are inviting people to hold us to account. Over the next six to 12 months it is our intention to really engage with iwi in more formal ways, through our board, and have those conversations.”

She pointed out the changes were intended to support Maori providers, rather than compete with them.

“When Maori choose our service, we want to ensure they are getting the best service we can give them — and if we don’t, we want to hear about it.

“Interestingly enough, we see nearly half of all Maori babies born each year, so we already see a significant number and so that in itself is really important because there is an obligation to be there and do better.”

At the same time, there were a significant number of whānau missing out on the Whanau Awhina Plunket service and who did not go to a tamariki ora provider either.

“I think the tamariki ora system being more collaborative and joined-up will hopefully mean fewer Maori miss out on a service.”

That would really shift the experience for whānau, she said.

“One of the key things we have been working on is educating our entire workforce and that’s a professional and personal journey.

“Every one of our staff is going through a series of modules online that we call ‘Being a Better Treaty Partner’. That’s absolutely designed to provide a more truthful education about the history of New Zealand, from pre-colonisation right the way through to now, and the impact that has had on whānau Maori.

“It’s about building people’s awareness, so they can see another world view and understand why that is important when as a nurse with a family it’s really important to acknowledge that world view.

“We are really conscious about making sure that very first engagement is one which is steeped in tikanga.

“What we want to see is mothers being heard and listened to and being able to talk with their Plunket nurse about what’s on top for them, rather than what we are there to do.”

For Gisborne and the East Coast, the charity would be building on already good relationships with tamariki ora providers. It had also just put a new Maori nurse in Wairoa.

‘We are really building our basic service and making sure that it is more responsive and more connected to the other services in the region.

“I think it’s really important that we are not duplicating services that are already there.

“It’s a work in progress and we are very keen to continue those conversations. Our staff on the ground there are really up for that.

“For us, what’s important is people understand that we are wanting to work differently. We are committed to prioritising outcomes for whānau Maori and that means that we are doing things differently — both to work with Maori but also, in the way we might work with other families.”

Clinical Leader for Gisborne Vicki Lidington said Whānau Āwhina Plunket was still working through what our service delivery will look like in the coming years and aims to deliver all its services equitably by 2025.

“We have a strategy that provides an equity roadmap and guides our responsiveness to whānau Māori.

“In Gisborne, we have a very experienced team with good links to all our local community organisations. Our nurses have a great relationships with all health care providers, and they work really closely with these services to make sure our whānau can get any additional support they may need.

“One of the ways we’ve been working with other local organisations is how we’ve supported the Tauawhi Tairāwhiti Men’s Centre and Wairua Ora Hei Tū Tangata on the Pāpāwhāriki hui, which celebrates dads and their tamariki. So we’re looking at all those social and cultural needs, as well as health support.

“We also have two kaiawhina within our team who provide an opportunity to connect with our services in a culturally appropriate way. They know our local iwi and Māori health groups, and can help whānau connect with local Māori support. It’s all about providing an appropriate service for what our whānau need, and our kaiawhina offer that wraparound service in a whānau-led way.

“Our kaiawhina provide an opportunity to establish whakawhanaungatanga with our whānau and really create a personal relationship. It’s a warm, welcoming introduction to our services, and our whānau are really happy to have someone making that connection with them. It’s a very seamless and personal way of welcoming them to Whānau Āwhina Plunket and letting them know how we can help in what is a very special time in their lives.”

FRONT AND CENTRE: Plunket Gisborne staff Jelaire Poi (Plunket kaiawhina), Kaye Foreman (Plunket nurse), Joanne Quin (Plunket nurse), Mana Bradley (Plunket kaiawhina), Vanessa Robertson (Plunket nurse) and Abi Douglas (Plunket nurse). Picture by Liam Clayton
FRONTING UP: Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu. Picture supplied
BEING SEEN: Mere Harper and Ria Tikini, Plunket’s founding wahine toa. Picture supplied
Plunket’s first premises at Karitane, Dunedin, in 1907.