Former Oranga Tamariki security guard turned social worker hopes to make changes for Maori in Pasifika

A former security guard from Oranga Tamariki decided to turn his life around by studying for a bachelor’s degree in social work at the age of 47 and earlier this year obtained a master’s degree in social work with high honors.

From left to right: Massey University Senior Professor Giselle Brynes, James Cherrington and Dean Palatasa Havea.
Photo: Provided

Now 56, James Cherrington hopes to make changes in the way social work is taught in order to create systemic change for Maori and Pasifika.

His thesis titled Te Ara Whānau Ora (A Pathway to Whanau Wellbeing) focused on exploring the practice of kaiwhakaaraara Whānau Ora navigators.

He works in one of these roles at Te Tihi o Ruahine Whānau Ora Alliance and He Puna Hauora in Palmerston North.

Her job as a security guard influenced her decision to become a social worker.

“When you are an Oranga Tamariki security guard, a lot of times you pull the social workers’ butts out of the fire so to speak, they call you into the room because someone is degenerating, someone wants you to physically calm down. the situation. “I would think” damn it, I could do a better job than that, “Cherrington said.

Cherrington, of Te iwi o Ngapuhi origin, te hapū O Ngati Hine, identified as Maori, Niue, Samoan, English and Irish. Cherrington said he was not “a part” of anything but rather “that there are many worlds that are a part of me”.

“My father thought it was very important for us children to know all the ethnicities with which we fight.

“He would tell us that if you walk around an ethnic group, you are that. It is about whether or not you participate in this world. made me play soccer in an Irish soccer team. I didn’t really want that, I wanted to play rugby with my Maori cousins.

He attributed these lessons from his late father to the reasons he was able to be who he is and do what he does.

“It means I can walk in many worlds. I have been taught to be a bridge builder between different parts of our whānau. I think this has transferred into my work as a social worker.”

Cherrington decided to study after encouragement from his wife, Sherileeane, after telling her that he wanted to pursue a better life for himself and his whānau.

He worked six days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day and barely saw his whānau.

“Life was just work, work, work and trying to provide for my whānau.”

When he thought about changing careers, he realized he wanted a job that would help others, like teaching or social work.

But his dad told him he would make a better social worker than a teacher, so he pursued that.

Cherrington got a scholarship through Massey University’s Te Rau Puawai Academic Support System and said now it’s all about giving back.

He has now mentored 10 Maori social work students through Te Rau Puawai, two of whom are doing their masters. He also mentored several Pasifika students outside of the program.

Going to college at 47 was a bit difficult and scary, he said.

“I didn’t know how to use a Word document or a computer. I wrote all my homework by hand and Sherileeane would type it into a Word document for me, put it on a USB stick and sort it out at the college computers. from the library. I had to learn to write academically and use a computer. “

Cherrington credited her first four years of schooling with the support of Sherileenae – “I was very lucky to have such a supportive woman.”

Security work paid the bills, but he didn’t get up in the morning to do what he loved, like he was now.

“We’re losing focus on doing something you love for a job. You have a partner, kids, bills, a mortgage that you have to deal with, rather than doing what you want to do and what is. important to you. “

As a security guard, he would say hello to everyone who entered, but remembered that about 60% of the people he would come into contact with treated him as if he wasn’t even there.

The difference for him now was that when he went somewhere to get his mahi, they would give him a seat and listen to what he had to say.

“I just want people to actually recognize the security guards when they walk into Oranga Tamariki, or Work and Income, because they might walk past the next Massey University scholar,” Cherrington said.

He didn’t think of himself as an academic.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be an academic sitting in an ivory tower. I love working with people and being on the front lines.”

To anyone in a similar situation or considering making a big change, Cherrington said you need to find support.

“Massey can be a real foreign place for Maori and Pasifika students. But there are support networks there. I managed to find what I call a university kaupapa whānau.

“I don’t think of myself as too bright a person, but what I did was work harder than anyone to achieve what I wanted.”

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