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Social workers often see people at their darkest, lowest points. Bachelor of Social Work student Kaysha Whakarau, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Ruanui, says she has always been drawn to people who need extra support, and in her role at Oranga Tamariki, she is doing just that. Her personal goal is to keep Māori children with their whānau, and three years into her role, she's been able to do just that.
Having seen social work in action in her family home, Kaysha says it was clear things could be done better.
"I'm the oldest of 10 kids – the four youngest are whāngai [adopted from extended family]. We always had social workers come in and out of the home and I just looked at them and thought I could do a better job.
"I saw what it was like coming from nothing, from a home where kids had been abused, and then coming into a family where they are loved and cared for and really what that does to a child."
Kaysha says she has always enjoyed helping people. "I'm one of those people who will stop and talk to the homeless man or woman on the street, so I think it was just a good fit for me. I like the satisfaction of being able to help someone from a dark place into a not-so-dark place.
"Social work has allowed me to give a voice to those people who don't think they have a voice," she says.
The 25-year-old works at Oranga Tamariki as a care and protection social worker, while she continues her studies.
"I try to help and support families from one spot to another spot. Usually when I see them they are at their worst – drugs, alcohol, violence – there is some reason they have been brought to Oranga Tamariki's attention, they aren't looking after their children right, so it's my job to help get them back on the right track."
And she has some big goals for her career. "What I want to achieve is for me, personally, is placing no Māori child in state care. I'm Māori myself and I don't want to see Māori kids not being with their whānau, hapū or iwi. I'm three years into my job and I can proudly say I've never had to do it."
She says her work and studies have changed her outlook on life.
"At the first ever lecture I went to, my lecturer said to us, 'By the end of your degree, you'll be a different person. Social work changes you, it changes the way you look at relationships and it changes how you respond to certain things,' and when she told me that, I thought, 'Na, no way, she's having me on', but it's so true.
"I went in very naively, I didn't think you would learn so much about how humans interact, your thoughts, feelings and processes, but now looking back on that first lecture, she was absolutely right. It just changes you. It makes you feel a lot more understanding about who people are and why they behave the way they do.
"Social work is for people that want to make change and want to sustain that change. I think anyone can do it if they have the heart for it."