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Funding boost to enhance Maori mental health outcomes - Massey University

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Massey University’s highly successful Māori mental health workforce programme Te Rau Puawai has been given boost in student numbers.

The Ministry of Health has funded an additional 46 bursaries for the programme this year which means 126 places are available to students studying in mental health fields at Massey.

Toni Gutschlag, Acting Deputy Director-General, Mental Health and Addiction, says the programme boost is part of a commitment to improving Māori health outcomes.

"This Government has committed to improving mental health and addiction outcomes in New Zealand. I want to make sure that Māori are supported by Māori, so we need to make sure we build the Māori workforce and encourage working in mental health."

A pōwhiri to welcome the latest students to join Te Rau Puawai was held last week on Massey’s Auckland campus ahead of a twice yearly, two-day wānanga for all bursary recipients.

The programme’s combination of scholarships and academic support within a kaupapa Māori framework was established by Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie in 1998 to address the serious shortfall of Māori health professionals within the mental health sector.

Te Rau Puawai Board Chair, Professor Te Kani Kingi says the programme’s average 95 per cent pass rate and a 23-year pedigree demonstrates the model works. "The data from the programme, the statistics and the success rate are well and truly above any you’ll find in any other institution anywhere in the world I think - so we are incredibly proud of that and proud of the model. "

Longevity might be part of its success, but Professor Kingi says the programme’s ability to connect and engage with students within a Māori framework is at its heart.

"From the outside people might think the main reason for its success would be the scholarships and the financial support that’s provided for our students, but over time we have realised that’s not the most important thing. It’s really the pastoral care that we are able to provide - and to provide that care and support in a Māori way."

Professor Kingi says; "credit must go to the staff of Te Rau Puawai and how they are able to actively engage our students, not passively, actively. So rather than engaging them when a problem might arise, the staff here are constantly in a position to check in with students to make sure they are on track and to provide that support in all aspects of their lives really, not just their study, to ensure they get them through."

Master of Applied Social Work student, Hadley Amaru, Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, who has been with the programme, fully agrees and says it has been incredibly important for him. Studying at Massey by distance from Taranaki, he says the constant contact and phone calls from mentors and support staff is crucial. "Just making sure that we as students are really succeeding and are comfortable to access support if we are impacted by circumstances, such as COVID - that’s been vital."

Mr Amaru says another key to the programme’s success is the desire of students to make a difference within their communities. "We want to invest in ourselves and our whānau but also to positively contribute back into Māori health - that’s always the common theme."

And that theme is right on target for Te Rau Puawai, according to Professor Kingi.

"The primary objective of Te Rau Puawai isn’t just to get students through a mental health qualification, it’s to inspire them that when they complete their qualification, they are going to make a meaningful difference to the mental health outcomes of our people, and I think over the past 20 years we’ve been reasonably successful in that regard."

Professor Kingi’s humility aside, the programme has seen more than 400 Māori students graduate into the mental health workforce across a range of fields and the increase in bursaries looks set to continue that vital flow.

Professor Kingi is full of praise for the commitment of the Ministry of Health, along with the Te Rau Puawai team and Massey University. "We’ve had massive support from Massey University, not just logistically and in terms of resources but in staff who are not directly involved in the programme who have given their time and energy to Te Rau Puawau over 20 years both Māori and non-Māori."

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