Learn about the formation and history of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children, Awhi Rito.
The Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children, Awhi Rito (originally, the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families) was launched in February 2003 with the help of a personal donation from Sir Roy and Lady Shirley McKenzie. The Centre is named in honour of Sir Roy McKenzie, in recognition of his generous support for New Zealand families over his lifetime.
Dr Jan Pryor was the inaugural director, followed by Professor Paul Jose from the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. From the beginning, the Centre has focused on family structure and relationships and the role of government in family formation and stability. It has produced landmark studies that have advanced our understanding of:
- the impact of separation on children
- parenting and family resilience in stepfamilies, and
- family diversity and wellbeing.
The Roy McKenzie Centre today
In 2019, spearheaded by Sir David Carruthers, the Centre found a new home in the School of Business and Government at Victoria University of Wellington. The Centre was renamed to include the word ‘children’, and it was given a new Māori name—Awhi Rito.
‘Awhi rito’ describes the leaves that embrace the central shoots of the harakeke (flax) plant. Awhi means to embrace, and rito is the central shoot of the flax plant. A related word, ‘āwhina’, means to help or assist. In Māori thought, the harakeke plant represents the family. The centre shoot is like a child, surrounded and protected by the awhi rito (parents). The outermost leaves represent the grandparents and ancestors.
In this way, the Centre’s name—Awhi Rito—acknowledges the importance and interconnectedness of whānau (family), hapū (subtribe), and iwi (tribe) in children’s development and wellbeing.