Need for more culturally relevant social policy and services for families in New Zealand

28 July 2017

Media release

Released recently, Families: universal functions, culturally diverse values brings together research from across Superu’s Families and Whānau Status Reports about how cultural values influence family functioning.

New Zealand’s society is increasingly diverse. Between the 1996 and 2013 Population Censuses the Asian population grew from 5 percent to 12 percent of the total New Zealand population and the Pacific population grew from 6 percent to 8 percent.

This growing cultural diversity means there must be more consideration given to understanding the needs of end users (families, whānau and communities) of social policy and social services if they are to be relevant, inclusive and useful.

This research has chosen to focus on pan Asian and Pan Pacific cultural groups as they are some of the fastest growing populations in New Zealand and points to areas where social policy will be required to adapt the most.  

Superu’s Families and Whānau research illustrates that essentially there are four core universal functions of a family:

  • provide care, nurturing and support
  • manage resources such as money, and skills
  • provide social networks and guidance
  • provide a sense of identity and belonging.

What families value and what wellbeing means to them is a far more diverse picture.

At one end of the spectrum there are families who value the wants and needs of the individual and at the other end are families who value the wants and needs of the group. The research cited extends this concept of a spectrum, with two key dimensions for thinking about culturally diverse values when thinking about families: individualism-collectivism and independent-interdependent.

Deputy Chief Executive Vasantha Krishnan says “For social policy and services to be effective they must be relevant to those who they are directed at, for example be ‘customer-centric’.”  

Ms Krishnan adds “Where, for example, social policy is made around families managing resources, households deal with this in significantly different ways. This has a direct impact when considering providing services such a financial literacy and budgeting services to families.”

A research response from the collectivistic cultural spectrum explains “…owing things was not a concept Samoans are familiar with and so we lack skills to repay debts…I remember when we were growing up that if we did not have any salt, you could send someone next door to get salt…it was the concept of sharing rather than borrowing”.

Another key family value that takes on different forms across cultures is respect for parents. Another collectivistic cultural research response from an Asian father illustrates: “In every aspect of life we always guide them”.

Respect for parents can be considered to be important for all families, although it has very specific meanings particularly for some Asian families. Specifically, children are obligated to obey, respect, support and care for parents all throughout their life and defer to their wants and needs above their own.

“The delivery of social services such as elder support programmes and facilities would benefit from understanding these nuances in socialisation and care and support for elderly” says Ms Krishnan.

Superu is helping to support the evidence-base on the topic of designing social services for families; this information helps decision makers to form better social policy for families and whānau in our increasingly diverse multi-cultural society.

For more information contact: or 027 586 5659.  

Last update: 23 Aug 2017