'No way' Oranga Tamariki allowed to take babies from hospital - Waitematā DHB

6:11 pm on 12 June 2020

A Māori trust and a senior health board member claim they have stopped Oranga Tamariki taking children into state care at Waitākere Hospital this morning.

Dame Naida Glavish

Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Dozens of people gathered at the hospital in anticipation of two children being taken into state care.

Waitematā District Health Board chief adviser tikanga Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish said the board decided last year it would not support the state's removal of babies from any of its properties.

She said there was "no way" the babies would be removed from mothers on its hospital grounds.

"We are here to support the mother and the baby and it is hopeful that with that support we find a solution for everyone," she said.

This week a report by the Children's Commissioner revealed harrowing stories of Māori mothers' experiences with social workers in the state care system.

The Commissioner, judge Andrew Becroft would not talk about specific cases, but said the report found DHBs had different policies, some more nuanced than others, about managing the state's removal of babies.

"We need to have a clear national approach that is consistent and is well understood and our second report that is coming will have some recommendations for health and health practices."

Judge Becroft said it was of utmost importance that recommendations be put into action without delay.

Te Kuku O Te Manawa shared the experiences of mothers with newborn pepi, who have come to the attention of staff at Oranga Tamariki, and identified six areas for change including treating whānau with humanity, unprofessional social work practices, poor ministry support, racism, an unsupportive organisational culture and the need for iwi-ministry partnerships.

Glavish said Oranga Tamariki should work with Māori social services before removing babies from their parents.

"If Oranga Tamariki developed a better relationship with the Māori services, and Māori organisations on what they intend to do in terms of an uplift of a Māori mokopuna then it wouldn't have the problems that it is having but of course it is acting in what it calls it's own legal right and to hell with everyone else," she said.

In 2019, Māori babies under three months old were five times more likely to be placed into state custody than non-Māori. Of the 6429 total children in state custody at the end of June last year, 69 percent were Māori.

Waiparera Trust provides social services ranging from housing to education in the Waitakere region. Its chief executive John Tamihere said Oranga Tamariki should not take newborns if there was a community-based solution.

John Tamihere

John Tamihere. Photo: Twitter

"These young mothers are in a very stressful situation as it is," he said.

"Both families have had issues and difficulties but that does not mean to say that you fix it by ripping children out of their hands after just birthing. If we thought for one moment any of those babies were at risk we would agree to an uplift but there's no consultation."

Tamihere said many social workers were not connected to the Māori community.

"There has to be massive change in that organisation and people have to go. It's getting to a level of institutional racism that is now so exposed that if something doesn't happen soon there will be affirmative action programmes carried out in Māori communities pretty soon."

He said the mother of the child at the centre of Oranga Tamariki's custody order was feeling happier knowing she had support from the trust, which was ready to provide support to families and help avoid babies being separated from their mothers.

The Children's Commissioner is due to release recommendations from his own review of Oranga Tamariki by mid-August.

Oranga Tamariki responds

In a written statement, Northern region executive Glynis Sandland said there had been no attempt to take one of the babies.

"Oranga Tamariki had not yet made a decision about whether to remove this baby, and we are continuing to explore the best options for mother and child."

Sandland said Oranga Tamariki had been working with the mother for several years.

"During the pregnancy, we worked alongside her and the wider family to address serious safety concerns for the baby.

"The chief executive was granted interim custody under Section 78 to ensure the safety of the baby. Under this order, the baby can be placed in the care of any person and not necessarily taken away from the mother, where there is appropriate support for both mother and baby.

"We have been working through a number of options with the parents and their wider family, and our shared goal is to find a way to keep mother and baby together and safe."

"We have also offered to help the mother with food, baby clothes and any other support she needs."

Sandland said a further meeting was planned next week with iwi and community providers, and the family were "critical" to decision making.

She said there was no Section 78 order in place for the other baby at Waitākere Hospital.

"Claims that Oranga Tamariki attempted to bring baby into its care without notice are incorrect ... social workers have been working with the mother and will continue to do so to address care and protection concerns," she said.

"We do not have a formal agreement with the Waitemata District Health Board (WDHB) which prevents us from taking babies into our care.

"We do however have an agreement to work together early and put a plan in place which involves the mother, wider family, midwife, hospital social worker, social services and iwi."

Sandland said Oranga Tamariki was happy to work with mothers, in the best interests of the child concerned, who approached them through Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust.

"We have an agreement in place with the Trust for services for families with vulnerable children."

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