1 Jul 2021

'You can't heal if people keep beating you up' - Oranga Tamariki facility closure welcomed

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 1 July 2021

A senior Māori community leader says Oranga Tamariki is failing children and creating more issues than it is solving.

The agency is under investigation after video emerged of a child being physically abused at a care facility in Christchurch, prompting the temporary closure of the centre.

Lady Tureiti Moxon, who took the government agency to the Waitangi Tribunal over its treatment of Māori tamariki, told Checkpoint the system was not helping them transition back into the community.

"I'm very pleased with the response and I'm very pleased with Tā Wira has been so decisive, and that he's put actions behind his words.

"This is a great opportunity now to change the way in which we do things in this country. Māori have said very categorically and very clearly, we want our children home.

"I've said it on numerous occasions. We want to look after our children ourselves, and we want the capability and the support and the sharing of resources and power to enable us to do that."

Youth in the facility being closed will be transferred to other appropriate care arrangements, Oranga Tamariki acting chief executive Sir Wira Gardner said.

"Any transition has to be in the end back with families. Not to the point where they become 18 and then we cut them loose," Lady Tureiti said.

"I know people want to do better and want to do more, but the way in which the processes and the practices have been developed over time, they haven't been able to do what is really more uplifting for these young people.

"So what are we getting? Even out of those sorts of facilities which are supposed to be care and protection facilities, they're coming back broken.

"Are they more skilled than they were when they went there? Have they uplifted their education? Have we actually empowered them to become good citizens in our country? I don't think so.

"In fact what we've got is a whole heap of broken children and broken adults, who have been basically traumatised beyond repair.

"That is just not on, and it's no good. It's time for transformational change, and it certainly is time for Māori to have a greater part in looking after our children and our own people."

Lady Tureiti said Oranga Tamariki's youth facilities should be shut down and never reopen.

"We don't need them. And I think there are better ways of supporting people."

She said there are many different other opportunities that can build up confidence and self-esteem.

"Things that actually support children or young people to articulate what they feel.

"What we should be looking at is, what is going to give them the reo, the language that they need to be able to articulate their feelings?

"There was this time when big boys don't cry, a time when you have fought your way through and then you were a man or a woman for that matter.

"I think it's time we started to look for different ways of doing that. And there's a lot of positive things within a cultural context that we can utilise and use for the betterment of not just our children, but everybody in our country.

"The pathway is, they get into trouble then they go to prison, they may be lucky to come out but then they go back to prison, then they go to mental institutions. That's the pathway we've created in our country.

"I know we can all do better than that. And thank goodness for a Minister [Kelvin Davis] who's being decisive around this and for Tā Wira.

"They're looking at other ways in which to bring about better healing.

"The trouble is when you're damaged you need healing. You can't heal if people keep beating you up all the time."

Minister Kelvin Davis was unavailable for an interview on Checkpoint, but sent an update on the work of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board.

Its report to the Minister has been delayed by two weeks due to the illness of one of the members.

The Minister will then take some time to consider the report and recommendations, with a likely announcement in August.