3 Jul 2019

Oranga Tamariki uplifted newborn baby due to "hygiene issues" in home

From First Up, 5:48 am on 3 July 2019

Oranga Tamariki says it uplifted a baby less than 10 hours after an emergency caesarean delivery because of hygiene issues inside the family home. 

The Ministry had originally planned on uplifting the baby immediately after a scheduled caesarean for Thursday morning, but the mother unexpectedly went into labour on Monday night and gave birth on Tuesday morning in another town.

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Photo: newborn baby

*Rachel and her partner *Andrew are Pākehā and this baby is their fifth child to be uplifted by the Ministry.

Shortly after his wife gave birth, Andrew told First Up he was over the moon.

"I was on cloud nine. I was rapt to see how she was and I was over the moon to see that she looked like her mum. Her eyes, the way she looked and her chubbiness," he said.

Despite having five children, Andrew said it was only the second time he'd had the chance to hold one of his children after birth. The couple say all their other children were uplifted immediately after being born.

"I was in the room with the baby and I was holding her, cuddling her and getting cheeky smiles and it was awesome. It was the most best feeling I've ever had. Especially to be able to hold her and to be able to spend precious time with her," said Andrew.

Rachel and Andrew had been preparing to move in with Andrew's mother out of town when she unexpectedly went into labour yesterday.
"I was having pains right through from the morning till about 4 o' clock. I got picked up by the ambulance and then I got brought in to hospital. The doctor came around when I got to the hospital she was ready to come. Her foot was in my cervix, like she was totally breached," Rachel said.

"They put me to sleep and did a C-section and when I woke up I was like 'Where's my baby, where's my partner?'. I was just a bit panicky because all I could remember saying was 'Where's my baby? Where's my baby?" 

But less than an hour after speaking to First Up, and just five hours after giving birth, Oranga Tamariki staff arrived at the hospital with a court order to uplift the newborn.

Because Rachel had gestational diabetes her baby was in the neonatal unit for monitoring. 

Rachel and Andrew say social workers uplifted the baby yesterday afternoon and took her to New Plymouth - something the couple says they never agreed to. 

44113713 - black and white image of a little girl hugging her mother

Photo: 123RF

Rachel has a troubled past. She had been in state care since she was born 35 years ago and said she had experienced physical, sexual abuse and trauma whilst in foster care which led to her post traumatic stress disorder and depression.

She said her mental health was the reason the Ministry had uplifted all her children despite any formal diagnosis.

"[Social workers] were basically saying, to put it nicely, that I'm a kid bringing up a kid. They've said it right through basically from when I've had my first. They reckon my mentality is that of a 12-year-old," explained Rachel.

She says social workers told her during her pregnancy that she needed to get mental health support services in place if she wanted to keep her baby.

"They wanted me to work on that, to get it sorted. I was getting a counselor and basically they were like you're running out of time to do this but I told them I was trying my best to get a counselor and to find one that was right for me."

The couple says neither of them have a criminal record, but admits Oranga Tamariki has raised concerns with them about the number of cats in their home so they had been working to get rid of them.

They were out of town preparing to move into Andrew's mother's home in the next week with the hopes that they would be able to take their newborn baby home.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Canterbury's Acting Regional Manager for Children and Families, Kellie Blyth, said the ministry had worked with Rachel and Andrew since 2011 and had concerns about family violence and unhygienic living conditions.

In a statement to RNZ, Ms Blyth said the animals defecate on the floor inside the house and there are continual issues with hygiene.

According to the statement, the couple had been given opportunities to make changes in their life so their home is safe for further children, but haven't been able to. The ministry also said no one from the wider family has been able to commit to the baby's long-term care. 

But the couple's lawyer says he's worked with Rachel and Andrew through all five uplifts and there have been no family violence issues. The father Andrew also claims his mother and siblings had appealed to social workers offering to permanently care for the child if Andrew and his wife weren't allowed to keep her.

Rachel, who has been with Andrew for the past 14 years, says the consecutive uplifts have continued to trigger her depression and she has had on and off support over the years.

She says while Oranga Tamariki told her she needs mental health support in place, they have never offered any professional services or advised her on how she can get help. Oranga Tamariki says its tried to help but at times the couple has refused. 

Gwyneth was just one member of a support group who traveled to see Rachel yesterday and to protest against the uplift.

"I was so glad that we're here. I think that she's just had a baby and she just seems really emotionally drained at the fact that she hasn't seen her baby since baby was born," she said.

"I think it's really sad that the reason why they are uplifting this baby without even a medical certificate saying that the mother is mentally unwell enough to look after this child. It shouldn't happen."

Newborn baby feet with identification bracelet tag name.

Photo: 123RF

For Rachel and Andrew, keeping their daughter was a dream and their last chance to have a family after losing all their other children.

Andrew says he'd hoped to give his daughter a good life.

"A good stable home. A good environment. To be able to actually be a father figure to my own children for once in their life. Have really close support, a really good upbringing that my partner never had and just as much love as she could ever dream of."

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki said taking a child into its care only happens when all other avenues have been exhausted. 

It added that in the year ending March 2019 it's worked with 64,000 children and less than three per cent have been taken into care.