“I have a dream
that my four little children
will one day live in a nation where
they will not be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King
In 1988, the World Health Organisation called for multi-professional education as an addition to spe-cific disciplinary training to encourage more pro-fessionals to work together in meeting priority needs of families. One objective was to eliminate inter-agency barriers and encourage practitioner collaboration.
In New Zealand there is a requirement for service providers and practitioners to meet Treaty of Waitangi obligations and the Families Commission’s role is to advocate for the interests of families to help ensure that our laws, services and community structures help all families to be the best that they can be.
Many of the social services that have emerged to meet unique needs of families whatever their cultural characteristics are, however, still dependent on the practitioner’s ability to engage with families and maintain strong and open re-lationships so that problems can be identified and addressed early on.
The notion of cultural sensitivity is based on valid observations that practi-tioners are rarely conversant with the values, belief systems and practices of a large number of cultural groups. For both providers and practitioners in the field, this reality highlights imperatives which prioritise establishing relationships of trust and equality based on respect for individual diversity.
To become effective in any cultural setting, a practitioner should acquire know-ledge about each group along with a deeper understanding of the dynamics of power relations both within and between families such as in the case of relations with Maori Whānau, Pacific Aiga, etc.
Families are less likely to seek help from outside their social and cultural spheres due to fear of embarrassment or shame. As a result, communication and problem-solving skills are compromised – they talk less about important life decisions and more often than not operate in “crisis mode” rather than planning mode.
This kind of relational dependence does not bode well for building economic security because it is through strong internal and external connections beyond these spheres that most people get the help they need to improve their lives.
Despite differences of race, income, or geographic origin, most families are working toward the same common goals: keeping their families safe; raising and educating their children; integrating them-selves with society; preserving healthy relation-ships; coping with major medical illnesses; adapt-ing to needs of aging family members; and, main-taining a quality standard of living.
Yet, having and keeping a job does not ensure an escape from financial in-security and greater family stability. This is attributable perhaps to the current economic structure of the country which consists mainly of small, largely under-capitalised, and domestically inward-focused family-owned businesses where job security for non-family member employees is always a top-of-mind issue.
Worse still, a large percentage of low-income wage earners do not make enough money to save, placing them at risk to creditors, fraud, payday lenders, and financial scams. Many of these families don’t have health insurance. Others cannot pay for daycare, leaving many children unsupervised for hours every day. These families are trapped in a cycle of debt, making it impossible for them to deal effectively with crises when these inevitably occur.
It is shocking to learn that that a large percentage of working families living in communities across New Zealand are living in a state of perpetual fear and insecurity, a state that inevitably leads to social isolation.
Unfortunately, struggling families have few ‘family assets’ to rely on and defend against crises when they do occur. These assets, enumerated below, together help determine a family’s ability to cope effectively with life challenges that most families face.
- Economic Strength – being able to manage money and make ends meet
- Social Support – having connections to others and the ability to access help
- Communication – being able to talk and share ideas with others
- Problem-Solving – being able to work together to solve problems
- Family Cohesion – sharing a sense of unity and common values
- Religious Support – having a quality spiritual life
- Safety – living in a home and community free of violence and/or emo-tional abuse
By using a ‘Whole-of-Family’ approach, Faith in Families aims to enable people to increase control over and improve their lives through community action and empowerment – one that ultimately builds community capacity and assists with creating sustainable communities that end up helping the families which constitutes their make-up.
Faith in Families also holds the belief that strug-gling families have the inherent capacity to work harder to be successful. They have the same dreams and aspirations for their children that higher-income families do, and most are willing to work in one form or other to become productive members in their community.
The good news is, that with even a little bit of guidance and support, many families like these can and do overcome their challenges and are able to achieve life-long independence and success which, in turn, allows them to give some-thing of themselves back to their own communities.