Over the last two years there have been some changes at Tararua REAP – a move to work more holistically, the appointment of a new parent support worker, collaboration with a local iwi and of course more recently, responding to Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Tararua REAP is one of the smaller REAPs. Its base is in Dannevirke and it serves a largely rural population from Norsewood in the north to Woodville in the south.

Claire Chapman, the General Manger, came to the organisation about two years ago after 22 years working for the Primary (previously Agriculture) ITO. She was amazed at all the incredible work that the staff were doing in the community and, like many new managers, started thinking about what changes she wanted to make to the organisation: “I thought it might be good if we had a more seamless approach, so our staff could work across the different silos created by the different funding contacts, such as TEC, MSD or the Ministry of Education. So, we set up ways for staff to work more closely together, enabling us to provide wrap around support for the individuals and whānau that we were working with. That allowed us to help them to develop some goals, ones that picked up on all the challenges they were facing.”

This new approach was put into place and the REAP team are working more collaboratively and more proactively.

Then one day last year Haley Butcher came to the REAP office. “She said – you need to employ me!” says Claire. “She said that she was tired of seeing kids with a lack of structure in their day and felt there was an urgent need for parenting support. She was right. We just had a tiny contract with Whānau Ora, in a navigating role, and with MSD for Triple P and Incredible Years, so, with the support of the Board we did employ her. She started on 20 hours, quickly moved up to 30 and now she is full-time. Because she has been a Kindy teacher Haley easily engages with people and has an intrinsic understanding of children. She is so well known in the community, she’s a bit of a magnet. Sometimes she works one-on-one, sometimes with a cluster of whānau with the same need.”

Haley’s whakapapa links back to Māori and her children continue to be educated at the local kura kaupapa Māori: “My job is whānau support. Initially when I meet families, we work out how I can help them but essentially I support them to help themselves. Whānau set their own goals at the first meeting, the goals are achievable steppingstones and acknowledge and grow their strengths which helps to set them up for success. Sometimes the hardest thing for whānau is to see and realise what strengths they have. When you are stuck it is hard to see your own strengths.

“We identify any undesirable parenting behaviours, and if necessary, I can accompany them to 1-1 counselling or other services. In our rural community there is a lot of isolation and anxiety. What I can do is help them re-integrate into the community. Many whānau have no idea of the services that are available. There was one grandmother in her 70s raising her autistic grandson. She came in here for help. I have been able to fast track him full-time into a kindergarten, which means that the grandma gets daily respite, and I went along a few times with her to an autism support group in Dannevirke. Now she goes on her own. She calls us her superheroes!

“What we are providing is a wraparound approach. If I can’t support them with parenting stuff, including all our contracted parenting programmes, I find other people who can.”

Tararua REAP works closely with Te Kete Hauora to run a wahakura programme, teaching whānau how make wahakura so they can sleep safely with their baby.

Ngareta Paewai from the iwi, says that she had been running wahakura programmes for a number of years before Haley suggested working together: “It has been a pleasure working with her, and an exciting new collaboration. It makes sense. We have got midwives jumping on board as well. We want to give mana back to our whānau, especially as we are often working with high risk whānau who might be doing P or troubled by domestic violence.

“I meet with whānau a week before and we talk about how we will make our precious taonga pepe. The harvest is done by fathers and young boys, and I tell them where they will get the harakeke from. And we talk about how it cleanses our waterways and the healing power of the harakeke. Our tīpuna have lived with this beautiful resource for centuries. Today it is protecting our mokopuna. I say that we mahi for our future generations.”

For the first few months of the programme a harakeke teacher runs lessons at the marae, so parents learn some basic weaving skills. Then there is a three-day sleepover when they make their wahakura.

Ngareta says that they learn more than how to make a wahakura: “We teach them that when we weave, we stop to take a break to manage frustration. Wahakura are not that easy to make, and babies when they come, are not always that easy to manage. We teach them to listen to their body and for the mothers to think about what they are eating and introducing into their waters. Their babies cannot choose.”

Haley says that during the wānanga you can see that whānau are putting all their wairua into the mahi. “We can have about 50 people coming and going. Aunties come along. Grandmas are there. It’s a whole whānau event, something that bonds whānau a bit more. It is lovely to watch. We also teach the whānau massage and meditation. The wahakura are left to dry and then presented to whānau, with blankets and donated knitted baby clothes. The babies can sleep in them until they are 6 months old.”

Haley has also been working with the DHB and the Brainwave Trust to deliver a workshop, based on a te ao Māori world view, that helps whānau understand the importance of the early attachment between mother and baby, and how this supports healthy brain development. Once again, they are whānau-based workshops.

Before the lockdown, Haley’s latest initiative was a pataka kai which has been set up in front of REAP. People can leave free food and pick up other things they need. A course on how to grow vegetables is planned. She sees it as just another part of their journey forward, fostering self-reliance and collaborating wherever they can. “I am passionate about keeping moving forward. REAP has an important role for our community and more people will engage if we can find culturally appropriate ways of reaching people.”

During lockdown: Haley provided phone and digital support to all the whānau engaging with the parenting support programmes; lovely Jonathon, the administrator at Tararua REAP, checked with other learners involved in ACE programmes, bringing issues back to the wider group; and Claire organised Skype meetings with other social services in Tararua, including the council so their small community could work together.

Clare sums up: “Whānau Support is more than working directly with one family. Whānau is community and at Tararua REAP community is at the heart of what we do. Haley professionally delivers an important service where the benefits infiltrate more than the direct family she works beside but rather extends deep into the heart of the Tararua community. At Tararua REAP we see daily the benefits gained, on an individual and collective level, by working holistically as a team but also as a service provider.”