Telling the stories of our researcher whānau: Terryann Clark


Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwiWith your kai basket and my kai basket, the people will be well

Dr Terryann Clark (Ngāpuhi) is the latest researcher to join Community Research’s Researcher Database Whānau. We spoke to her recently about her mahi and her journey as a researcher.

Over the past 20 years, Terryann’s research has focused on youth health as a founding member of the Adolescent Health Research Group over 20 years ago, and she was instrumental in collecting data on our young people via national surveys in 2001, 2007, 2012 and 2019.  You can read the results of this work via our website here.

As a rangatahi, Terryann also known as TC, would never have guessed that one day people would call her Associate Professor. Growing up in Moerewa in Northland, she and her cousins didn’t know anyone who had gone to university, and her school guidance counsellor suggested her social skills would make for a ‘great hairdresser’.

It wasn’t until she was 15, on an art trip to Auckland, that her teacher took the class to visit Auckland University where, as far as TC could see, the students didn’t look that smart. She says her teacher planted a kakano in her that day – a seed that would one day grow into an education pathway spanning decades.

After leaving home at 17, TC became a registered nurse working in community health. Her roles quickly burgeoned to advocating for youth health – a virtually non-existent space within the sector then. To amplify her advocacy work, she realised she needed to improve her writing capabilities and get a bit more understanding of how the numbers worked.

“I went and did a Master’s in Public Health – and I barely survived that. I found it really difficult and thought ‘why would anyone want to be an academic’. I am now almost full time in academia” she laughs.

Not long after, TC was at a conference in the United States rubbing shoulders with various academics she’d referenced in her own mahi, who then invited her to undertake a PhD in America.

“I had no idea how I was going to afford it, but I got a scholarship, got some funding, and ended up moving to Minnesota. All I knew about Minnesota at that time was that Prince (the musician) was from there and that it got pretty cold and snowed in the winter.”

She was completing her PhD and was engaged in an Adolescent Health Fellowship when, after hiking on the border of Canada, her world was suddenly and violently altered.

“I remember being at the boot of my car and then being hit by a big thump. I went flying through the air. I landed a while away and looked down at this severed leg. I thought ‘whoa, there’s someone’s leg!’ And then realised it was my leg. So there I was, on the other side of the world learning about health systems, then I actually had to experience them and spent a lot of time in and out of hospital having multiple surgeries, just getting really depressed.

“It was lonely, and it was hard, and it was painful. And it was also an incredibly powerful lesson on what it’s like to consume healthcare, what it’s like to live with a disability, what it’s like to be lonely and to have to negotiate something big like that yourself.”

Her current mahi is funded by the Health Research Council and she leads the kaupapa investigation around What is whanaungatanga – and how does it influence outcomes for young people?

TC worked with a team of experienced researchers to develop the methodology – using photo eliciting as a form for storytelling alongside a mātauranga Māori framework. Of the randomly selected participants from across schools and kura kaupapa Māori in the Waikato, Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Tai Tokerau, 51 were rangatahi Māori between the ages of 12-22.

“It was born out of my frustration that a lot of the narrative around Māori whānau was negative. Yet in my work, I was seeing so many staunch, proud Māori who were really rocking it. I wanted to hear the stories of young people who were doing OK and what it was their whānau did to support them to have healthy, thriving lives.

“Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with Māori, focusing on what is right. It was a counter move of resistance, to push back on what we’re so often hearing about whānau Māori.

Working with Dr Jade LeGrice, who has expertise in kaupapa Māori research we developed a Health Research Council project focusing on whanaungatanga and rangatahi.

“We gave young people some tablets and we got them to take photos of what whanaungatanga, what connection, what being proud looked like to them – all the things that made them feel strong.

“We sat down with them and their whānau to talk about these photos and what they meant to them. The photos became prompts for pūrākau and provoked some beautiful storytelling, about things that made them feel loved, feel special, feel proud.

“We felt this was important because it allowed whānau to kōrero without a feeling of being right or wrong, it wasn’t an academic setting… I learnt a lot about this methodology [photo elicitation] from my colleague, Dr Shiloh Groot, who had done research previously with our homeless communities and how it opened up space to kōrero in a much more comfortable and safe way for participants.

“And because we were in a whānau setting, a lot of the time the mātua or even siblings were going ‘huh, really, I didn’t know that you felt that was important’ – there was a lot of learning all round. It facilitated kōrero between whānau around what they did that was helpful and impactful.

“Based on their feedback, we developed some additional questions for the Youth19 that were based on whanaungatanga from a rangatahi perspective. The Youth19 survey is a large survey about all the things that might affect young people, from home life to spirituality, substance use to sex, mental health – the whole shebang. It was anonymous, so they could be as honest as they wanted to.

TC says that “intuitively as Māori, we know that strong whanaungatanga supports hauora – but having evidence to back that up is great”.

“When we looked at young people who had a strong sense of whanaungatanga, of course we found that they had far better outcomes than those who did not have that sense. Better markers for mental health, less risk taking and engaging in healthier activities.

“We know we’ve got the solutions, we’ve always had the solutions for our own people. A lot of this mahi is also about empowering social services to embrace mātauranga Māori too.”

Community Research is stoked to have Dr Terryann as part of our network and we look forward to future research and collaborations.

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi

Clark, T., Le Grice, J., Shepherd, M., Groot, S., & Lewycka, S. (2017). Harnessing the spark of life: Maximising whānau contributors to rangatahi wellbeing. Health Research Council of New Zealand Project Grant (HRC ref: 17/315).

Community Research

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