Introducing Florence Tamehana – winner of the Tangata Whenua Practice Award 2023

Huge congratulations to Florence “Flo” Tamehana who won the Tangata Whenua Practice Award at the ANZASW Social Work Awards 2023 in September. The award was sponsored by the Symposium – Barnardos, ANZASW and the SWRB. It was awarded for contribution to the Tangata-ō te whenua body of knowledge, models of practice and improved outcomes for Māori. 

Flo is the Student Engagement Advisor at Manukau Institute of Technology | Te Pūkenga supporting students to complete their NCEA qualification and University Entrance. We interviewed her to find out more about her mahi which led to the award and her social work journey.  

Where did your social work journey start? 

I served in the NZ Army for about 13-14 years. I had always had a passion for youth work, so when I left the Army, the first step of my journey was into Child, Youth and Family. I started at the Epuni Residential Centre and then when it closed down, I went to Palmerston North Residential Centre. I returned to Epuni when it reopened as a new changed-up care and protection unit. 

I then moved around other roles, but always working with youth offending.  

What education and training did you have? 

I completed the Certificate of Community Work at Epuni. When I was working at the Palmerston Residential Centre, I completed the Diploma in Community and Social Work over four years with other social workers who had experience but not the diploma and we were all sent to Rotorua each month to complete the diploma together.  

I then went on to do the degree at MIT. It wasn’t easy. I was 56 and going into the academic world from diploma to degree was a big step. The academic arena wasn’t my strength.  

When did you become registered as a social worker? 

I’ve been registered since 2007. I was working at Whakatakapokai Residential Centre where I was encouraged to complete the registration process. Going through registration was like hell! At that time, you had a panel of four, and you had to do a presentation on SWRB competencies.  

Tell us more about your current role? 

Before I moved into my current role, I went from CYF into the Family Safety Team working with whanau/ families of domestic violence. In my NGO Te Whare Ruruhau O Meri I was the Whānau Advocate working with OT and Police on family harm. Three organisations working together alongside our families on family harm.  

It was from there that I moved to MIT/SSTS (School of Secondary Tertiary Studies) into my current role of Student Engagement Advisor. 

Students throughout Auckland can enrol at SSTS from Levels 1, 2 & 3, this is through a dual enrolment process with their current school. SSTS provides 4 years free education with a pathway into MIT Tertiary Education. Students come with a range of challenges. During their initial transition into SSTS some these challenges may resurface, as part of my role is to understand these challenges and put supports in place if required.  

What helps you deliver holistic support for the students? 

In my previous work I had developed a lot of networks which I brought with me. Currently at SSTS there are external organisations working with youth/students– Te Kaha o Te Rangatahi Trust, Solomon Group, Youthline and Odyssey. These groups come in weekly too work alongside the youth that require their support. There is also a MIT counsellor that comes once a week. 

The other biggest contributing factor is kai. Kiwi Harvest deliver to the school every Monday and the SW students on placement and me cook for the students on the Tuesday/Wednesday.  Later in the week the culinary students cook and may provide kai the other two days. It’s important to me that the students are fed, this helps them focus in the classroom.  

Everyone has their own needs. You cannot treat as a collective group.  

What does success look like for the students? 

Every day they turn up is a success. If they don’t turn up, my colleagues can’t teach them. They aren’t going to be able to complete their levels. I expect everyone to succeed, it is the outside influences that have a hold over them. It’s very frustrating. 

When the students get to graduate at the end of year, it’s the biggest and greatest success not only for themselves, it’s their whanau/ families that show their overwhelming joy for their tamariki. 

The award mentions you mentor students. Are these social work students? 

Yes. I am happy to take BASW students. They are the future! Students come to me from MIT, Unitec, Auckland Uni and Massey. I take up to six students within a semester for a 3momth placement and they must have a passion to work with youth. Part of engagement process to provide kai, get to know them through classroom activity, during break times and listen to their stories. During the placement they are too select two SSTS students as case studies and present a power point presentation incorporating the SWRB competencies to me and their placement co-ordinator.  

I say to them if they can’t engage in this environment then they are going to struggle in the wider community. 

What else has helped with working with youth?  

Sporting ability! Music and sports are important realms for the kids we are working with. 

I have represented New Zealand in three codes: under-20s basketball, I was a New Zealand champ in javelin and then I also made the Women’s All Black team. I was able to connect through sports. They would get a shock when this old lady was ready to take them on!  

What would you say to someone starting out? 

Have a passion for something. Find a passion and a pathway for where you want to go. When you find that it’s like a gold nugget.  It will guide you, like when I found my passion for youth.  

Go into a social work position. You have trained for this. It is where your skills are so if you take a role that’s not a social worker make sure you keep moving forward. Be brave! 

How did you feel about the award? 

Oh, it was a surprise! They said please have a speech prepared. Well, there were three finalists and the other two were really, really good. So then when they started to talk about education and youth… I was thinking ‘no way, no way’. When they read out my name, I had a hot flush – you know why? Because I didn’t have a speech prepared! I went up there, turned to the audience I thanked the host organisation for hosting and I thanked my school saying we worked as a collective group to achieve good outcomes.  

It was lovely. It was an honour. It was humbling. I was so grateful to my nominators for their beautiful words. It was wonderful to be recognised and sharing moments with other social workers.  

Published 8 December 2023