Oranga Tamariki had 'prime role' in events leading to Flaxmere beating - Kaumātua

3:35 pm on 20 February 2020

A kaumātua says the whānau of a boy severely injured are distraught and devastated and says Oranga Tamariki need to accept responsibility for their part in the case.

Des Ratima

Des Ratima Photo: Supplied

Police say they haven't been able to work out how the four-year-old suffered such extensive injuries, including severe brain damage, at his house.

It's understood the boy was returned to the household, in which he was injured in June last year, without consultation with whānau, some of who opposed his return.

A kaumātua and community leader, Des Ratima, has been supporting the whānau and said the situation for them was very sad and concerning. He said there was a wider issue about how the whānau ended up in the situation in the first place.

"The responsibility that rest with other people including Oranga Tamariki, in terms of decisions made by the whānau which weren't followed through by Oranga Tamariki. As a result, the baby was placed back into a dangerous situation which whānau whanui had warned that they should not be.

"I think that there still is a lot of concerns about the conduct of social practice and the ability to listen to what whānau whānui are saying in terms of responsibility, but also to the point where everybody wants good outcomes but only one organisation has the power in that, and that is Oranga Tamariki."

Ratima was not absolving anyone from what happened and said it was a devastating situation.

But he said authorities also needed to be held accountable and had remained unfairly tight lipped.

"The family alone bear full responsibilty. The community has reacted as one would expect - terribly - to what this family has been accused of in a lot of ways not speaking up, the damage to the moko, but nobody has pointed the finger at Oranga Tamariki as having a prime role in the events that led up to the outcome we are talking about."

A hui with whānau and the Ministry took place earlier this week, but there was no clear outcome or way forward.

Last year, the Ministry came under fire after the case of an attempted removal of a newborn baby at Hawkes Bay hospital. It was filmed and Ratima was called to step in as an advocate for the whānau.

He works closely with families who deal with Oranga Tamariki, as well as working with the Ministry itself.

An internal review followed and findings were released late last year. It revealed a raft of failings and prompted changes to the way children are taken. It also resulted in the removal of senior Oranga Tamariki staff in the Hawkes Bay.

But Ratima said despite the findings, not much has changed.

"While they have acknowldge very small changes, it is not replicated by the social workers who are the ones that engage with the family - there is so much that they are doing that is not good social practice."

Following the Māori-led review into the Ministry released earlier this month, there was a clear action plan calling for a much needed overhaul of the Ministry and the need for by Māori, for Māori solutions for long term sustainability.

"I liken them [the Ministry] to a massive train heading down a set of tracks that is hard to stop - and continues to knock things over as it goes forward and families are the casualties of it and they are not making any attempt to put the handbrake on and it's business as usual every day even though reports and families are screaming out for it to stop. It is really difficult to stop something of that size." Ratima said.

He said there was an urgent need for a Māori framework, a Māori-owned outcome that was resourced in the way that Oranga Tamariki was and to devolve that power to iwi.

The Ministry would not be interviewed, nor would answer a list of questions from RNZ.

However, in a statement it said it could only make limited comments in order to protect the privacy of the young boy and to acknowledge the sensitivity of the ongoing police investigation.

It said in January this year, following extensive work with the family over many months, it was satisfied there were sufficient supports from wider whānau and professionals for the boy to be at home.

Oranga Tamariki said by then his family had actively engaged in a range of services and that decisions like this were never made in isolation.

In a statement, police said because it was an ongoing investigation, coupled with privacy restrictions, they were not able to respond to RNZ's questions about the case.

Police said there were no further updates regarding the investigation at this time.

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