7 Nov 2019

'I think we have caused hurt and harm' - Oranga Tamariki boss

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 7 November 2019

Oranga Tamariki is making immediate changes to the way children are taken into state care after a damming report into an attempt to remove a baby from a Hawke's Bay mother.

Oranga Tamariki CEO Gráinne Moss.

Oranga Tamariki CEO Gráinne Moss. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Ministry has apologised to the family, through their lawyer, about the attempted removal of a six-day-old baby from his 19-year-old mother.

An internal investigation was launched after a Newsroom investigation showed footage of the attempted uplift in the hospital room as officials repeatedly attempted to get the mother to give up the child.

The review concludes while safety concerns for the baby meant Oranga Tamiriki needed to get involved, it made a raft of mistakes: it failed to communicate properly with the family, didn't investigate a whānau placement and made decisions before engaging with the mother.

It says immediate changes will be made to ensure greater scrutiny and oversight when children are taken into care and when court orders are sought.

"What we have there is a very robust and rich report, it's a very tough read," Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss said.

Referring to job losses as a consequence of the incident, Ms Moss told Checkpoint: "There have been significant consequences for a number of people."

She said she asked through the whānau's representatives if she could meet them to give a personal apology. They did not want to do that, so she wrote letters to the mother and the father.

"I think we have caused hurt and harm, and I'm deeply, deeply sorry about that."

Ms Moss said the big issue that struck her from the report was the way Oranga Tamariki staff tried to make the uplift without the family's cooperation.

"The the lack of engagement, both with the family and externally, I think then led to a series of events and meant that we didn't have, the practitioners didn't have, all of the information that they should have collected and needed to have to make the right decision.

"We don't think we're always right, and actually I'm very clear that we aren't always right. We also don't have the solutions. And we need to make those solutions together and this report reinforces that.

"We've put in a number of steps, particularly around taking babies into care. And we will expect that all babies are born into care with family support with a clear plan. And if they need to be brought into care because there's imminent and immediate danger, that will get signed off at a regional level and that evidence will need to be tested by someone independent to the site before it's submitted to the family court."

Ms Moss said Oranga Tamariki has not been working closely enough with Hawke's Bay iwi Ngāti Kahungunu.

She said if facing the same situation as in the initial uplift attempt, Oranga Tamariki would not try to take the baby.

"We would have done the proper assessment, we would have looked at all of the options, we would work with our partners. And we would have worked with the whānau to make sure that that baby was safe and supported."

Ms Moss says about five cases of uplifts under Section 78 of the legislation are currently under review.

Overall, Oranga Tamariki conducted between 48 and 90 uplifts - which are known as section 78 orders - a month, Ms Moss told Checkpoint.

That figure included all children and not just babies, she said.