Whānau Ora Navigators work with whānau and families to identify their needs and aspirations, support their participation in core sectors such as housing, education, primary health and employment and link and coordinate access to specialist services. They have been identified as ‘key drivers’ in the Whānau Ora system (Gifford & Boulton, 2014). Most importantly, Navigators are instrumental in consolidating links of whanaungatanga; strengthening and revitalising whānau connections to natural supports.
Navigators have the geographic and cultural proximity necessary to understand whānau situations and build relationships of trust and confidence with whānau members. They take a unique approach that is responsive to the needs and circumstances of each whānau. The Navigator approach ensures whānau rangatiratanga is at the forefront by providing a voice to articulate their aspirations.
Navigators assist whānau to set long-term goals and encourage them to take charge in working towards them. They help whānau connect with services and advocate on their behalf to service providers. Once whānau have dealt with their immediate needs, Navigators continue to help them build their capability to be self-managing. For many whānau, working with a Navigator will be their first experience with social service delivery focusing on their strengths and aspirations rather than on their needs as perceived by others (for example, Government departments or case workers). The aspirational rather than deficit focus empowers whānau to think long-term about their goals and draw from their strengths in planning to achieve them.
The Whānau Ora Navigator approach has been identified by the Productivity Commission (2015) as a key example of an integrated whānau-centred approach supporting seamless access to health and social services. Reports from whānau and providers, as well as research, shows that when whānau work with Navigators they experience significant benefits including improved outcomes across education, employment and income (Gifford and Boulton, 2014).
In Budget 2015, almost $50 million was secured to fund approximately 230 Navigators to 2019 so they can continue to support thousands of whānau. The funding is allocated through the three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies. At the time of this research, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu has 46 Navigators across 25 host agencies.