Youth justice

An evaluation of Whakamana Tangata, an approach seeking to enhance the culture of youth justice residences.

In 2018, Whakamana Tangata, an approach seeking to enhance the culture of youth justice residences, was launched as a pilot at Te Maioha o Parekarangi youth justice residence in Rotorua. The approach is based on and informed by specific Te Ao Māori values and restorative principles.

The Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice in collaboration with Nan Wehipeihana conducted the accompanying evaluation, funded by Oranga Tamariki. The evaluation assessed the implementation and embedding of the Whakamana Tangata approach in the youth justice residence. It explored the impact on the relational culture of the residence and on the practice of kaimahi (staff). To a lesser extent, it also looked on the impact of the approach on rangatahi (young persons) in the residence.

The research employed a developmental evaluation approach, complemented by elements of formative and summative evaluation. The study was based on a mixed-method design, including interviews, focus groups, surveys and a documentary analysis. One of the main limitations of the evaluation refers to the small number of rangatahi (N=14) participating in the study.

The evaluation found that the design process set up Whakamana Tangata for implementation very well. This process considered what would work best for rangatahi Māori in a residential setting. The design group developed a practice approach based on Te Ao Māori values and concepts and restorative principles, being informed by wider Kaupapa Māori frameworks and considering best restorative practice evidence. Throughout the design process, perceptions of rangatahi on Whakamana Tangata values had been taken into consideration and helped shape the framework.

In addition to the development of training and various resources, the creation of the role of the Whakamana Tangata Practice Lead was critical in implementing the practice approach, being able to provide on-site guidance, training and supporting kaimahi in their day-to-day practice. Whakamana Tangata values have been implemented in restorative dialogue processes, being perceived as valuable practice tools by kaimahi.

Whakamana Tangata has resulted in a variety of practice changes. From the perspective of kaimahi, a key benefit of Whakamana Tangata has been the contribution to more respectful, mana-enhancing relationships between kaimahi and rangatahi, between kaimahi themselves, and between rangatahi in the residence, and a more considered, reflective practice. A shift towards more frequent use of restorative, reflective practices instead of reactive responses has become evident. Whakamana Tangata, conceptualised as a way of being, has become increasingly integrated within the residence: the vast majority of kaimhahi (94%) stated they have been applying Whakamana Tangata, to some degree, in their practice.

Kaimahi also found restorative conversations to be directly beneficial for rangatahi, in enhancing their self-reflection and supporting them in their emotional regulation. Restorative processes provided rangatahi a chance to have a voice and take ownership of their actions. They also perceived that Te Ao Māori values and restorative principles helped to frame and positively inform rangatahi thinking and acting.

Rangatahi valued that they have been encouraged to think about alternative responses when dealing with harmful situations. Restorative dialogues helped them to engage in conversations with each other, learn to put differences aside, and resolve problems with each other. Rangatahi noted changes in kaimahi practice, including in that they were more likely to give rangatahi the opportunity to de-escalate, reflect and engage in a dialogue instead of automatically sending them to the secure unit.

The Whakamana Tangata practice approach has not been consistently applied or embedded across the residence, and change processes require time to allow for a shift in mindset and practice. However, the evidence and our observations indicate significant and promising progress in this direction.

Read the report here.