Oranga Tamariki report: 'Something is rotten in that organisation'

9:48 am on 7 August 2020

Māori leaders say they have no faith in Oranga Tamariki and the chief executive needs to go after the latest report into the organisation found it was routinely taking newborns without whānau consultation.

Whānau Ora commissioning agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Photo: Supplied

The Chief Ombudsman's report He Take Kōhukihuki, A Matter of Urgency, found that Oranga Tamariki was routinely taking newborns without whānau consultation, using emergency court orders.

It found that in most cases, Oranga Tamariki knew about the child before it was born, which was the best time to engage parents, whānau, and other parties.

Despite this, decisions were often made late, without expert advice or scrutiny and without whānau involvement.

That resulted in other options going only partially explored and, in almost all cases, a without-notice uplift application was made.

The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, told First Up the report confirmed what a lot of Māori leaders have been saying - herself included.

She said many whānau and Māori mothers aren't given the chance to engage with the organisation and the latest report is 'the most damming report of all I have read'.

"They're not respected, they're not trusted and they continue with their practices that are actually harmful for the wellbeing of the child."

Raukawa-Tait said she hears from people all over the country about their experiences with Oranga Tamariki.

"They're still a despised organisation and are not putting the welfare of the children at the centre of their activities and practices.

"This organisation is putting the boot in to Māori mothers. There is no respect or any willingness to even work with Māori mothers and their families - that's what I'm hearing."

She said after all the reports into Oranga Tamariki, little has changed.

"I'm over them. I'm absolutely over Oranga Tamariki, as are so many other Māori leaders... something is rotten in that organisation."

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier told Checkpoint yesterday he believed Oranga Tamariki Grainne Moss was genuinely committed to change.

Raukawa-Tait disagrees: "From what I'm continuously seeing and hearing, I don't believe that she is.

"The culture of that organisation is toxic. It is not changing, Māori despise it, the children are not getting the best services they should be getting, and that really is what they're there for.

"When you see an organisation using the full might of the state against Māori mothers and their children, then something is wrong."

Moss told Checkpoint she's not going anywhere and she's in it for the long haul. Raukawa-Tait said her being the head of the organisation is harmful.

"This is abuse of state power - to remove newborns without notice. And that is not the exception, that is the rule.

"Our Māori leadership is not going to wear this - absolutely not. There will be more coming down the pipeline where this is concerned."

Raukawa-Tait's message to families who have been adversely affected by Oranga Tamariki was that there are people out there working on their behalf.

"We're going to do everything we can to alleviate the suffering you're going through and that has been inflicted on you by a state organisation.

"Rest assured, we are coming to give you the assistance that we can."

The chair of the National Urban Māori Authority, Lady Tureiti Moxon, agreed it was abuse of state power and both Moss and Minister for Children Tracey Martin should resign.

"They're just removing our babies like that's what you do. Unfortunately, it really is an indictment on our country. It's an absolute abuse of power," she told Morning Report.

The report has proposed changes and the Ombudsman wants to go back in three months time to see if they have been addressed.

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Lady Tureiti Moxon. Photo: Supplied

But Lady Tureiti said someone should be held responsible for the "irreversible damage" that has taken place.

"Who has benefitted from this practice? From this normality they have created? Who is going to held responsible for the intergenerational trauma that has been committed by them?"

"They have created huge problems which have led to mental health issues, drug abuse, alcoholism, all of these kinds of issues."

She said this is the fifteenth report into the organisation and enough is enough.

"How many more failed reports does the government need to see that it's not working? It's certainly not working for Māori and it's our kids that are suffering."

"How many more reports do you need to see to actually bring about a change in the systemic racist system and racist act that has absolutely disempowered our people. How many reviews do we need to show that it has to happen now?"

Lady Tureiti said Oranga Tamariki is no longer fixable and she and other Māori have completely lost faith in it.

"No one has listened to these families' voices. No one."

She said there needs to be a completely separate system for Māori children.

"That one system only works for Pākehā people. It's never worked for Māori, it's never worked for Māori at all."

Part of Oranga Tamariki Act to be scrapped

The government is going to change the law so that Oranga Tamariki no longer has to remove a child if it gets an alert about a parent who has had children taken away in the past.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin says there are times when children need to go into care for their safety but the way the current act is being used means some may have been unnecessarily traumatised.

She says the "subsequent children" provision will still apply if the parent has a conviction for the death of a child in their care.

Tania Williams Blyth, a senior Family Court lawyer who has spoken at the Oranga Tamariki Waitangi Tribunal hearing, said the law should never have been enacted in the first place.

"The removal of a significant portion of the legislation is well overdue."

Blyth said the removed part of the Act implied that people were bad parents who could never look after a child.

She said the chances of mothers getting uplifted babies back in to their care, regardless of whether they address their issues, was "slim to none."

"By the time the hearing [at Family Court] occurs, the baby would be around one or two and in the care of a caregiver and the issue is no longer about the mother's issues, it becomes about attachment."

Blyth said if the conclusion of Boshier's report is followed, then the Family Court is also culpable in the abuse of state power by granting those powers to the Oranga Tamariki.

"The obstacles are insurmountable for whānau once they come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki and the Family Court."

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