3 Feb 2020

Oranga Tamariki uplift case with armed police disputed

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 3 February 2020

The facts of an uplift at the centre of the highly critical report into Oranga Tamariki are being disputed.

The report commissioned by Whānau Ora calls for a complete overhaul of Oranga Tamariki, due to what it says are systemic failures, discrimination and human rights breaches.

To illustrate its conclusions the report and press release use an example of an uplift in the South Island where it is alleged 14 heavily armed police officers with dogs turned up at the home of a single mum at 11pm to remove a five-month-old baby.

But a whānau member who was there at the time said she supports the work of Oranga Tamariki and the uplift did not happen that way.

"I had a phone call from a cousin of mine who was really concerned for her daughter, who was locked in the bathroom at her house because her baby was going to be uplifted. The authorities were there, and she couldn't get to her daughter - she was out of town. She rang me to say 'can you help'.

"So I ended up going down to the house, to see if I could help in any manner. When I arrived there was probably up to 10 police," she told Checkpoint.

She said there were about two officers in each room of the house, except for the room they couldn't get into.

She said they were standard police officers who were unarmed.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"They backed off when I arrived. They could see that I was somebody that was going to make a difference to the situation, because they were in a huddled trying to work out how they were going to take this five-month-old baby off this mother who was holding on to it for dear life."

She didn't have criticism for the police that were there on the day, but says they could use more training.

"I'm not going to say the police were in the wrong, because they were just doing their job - and they didn't know how to do it. They need Māori in the police to teach them how to do the tikanga [etiquette] about going to the door."

She said the child did need to be removed from the mother's care.

"The services that had been put in place were failing her and she was failing the system. It was her decision to do what needed to be done to help parent that child, and she chose not to."

Checkpoint asked the report commissioners about the discrepancies in the account. In a statement, the Governance Group of the Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki said it stands by the hundreds of whānau who have had the courage to tell their stories and their truths.