Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss steps down

6:29 pm on 22 January 2021

Controversial Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss has decided to step down.

Grainne Moss

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss has decided to step down. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It comes after repeated calls for her to resign amid a number of scathing reports bringing the Ministry into question.

Moss has been under pressure since a Newsroom investigation into attempts by social workers to remove a week-old baby from its mother in Hawke's Bay sparked multiple inquiries and reports.

In a statement, Moss said it has been a privilege to lead the ministry for over four years through a time of significant transformation, challenge and change.

However, it was the right time for the agency for her to step down and make way for new leadership.

"I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the well-being of children," she said.

The Minister for Children Kelvin Davis has denied that Moss was pushed from her role.

Previously Davis has refused to express confidence in her.

He said today that Moss had one of the toughest roles in the public service.

"I respect the decision she's made and the dignified way in which she has done it and now I welcome Sir Wira Gardiner into the acting CE role and his record speaks for itself."

He said now it's time to get to work.

"We need to make sure that we support parents to be the best parents they can be, to have safe whānau and to make sure children have the safest possible environment growing up.

"Crucial for this is partnership with Māori so we have a real opportunity to make that happen."

Davis said he met with Oranga Tamariki leaders before Christmas to discuss the direction the government wants the organisation to take.

The Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said Moss' decision to step aside is principled.

He acknowledged her huge effort and commitment and said the issues facing the agency are beyond individual people or personalities and are structural.

Judge Becroft said the state making decisions about and for Māori families can't continue in its present form.

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Kelvin Davis and Andrew Becroft Photo: RNZ / Supplied

Commissioner praises Moss' contribution

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said Moss was a dedicated public servant and leader who had made a number of significant improvements in what was one of the biggest and toughest roles in the public service.

"I commend Mrs Moss for doing what is, at this time, in the best interests of the agency," Hughes said.

"What she has done today is selfless."

She has accepted a new role as the chief executive leading the public service's pay equity work.

"Mrs Moss led the successful pay equity claim for social workers at Oranga Tamariki- Ministry for Children and was also part of the team which developed and delivered pay equity to aged care workers. As such she has significant experience and expertise," Hughes said.

Sir Wira Gardiner set to take over temporarily

Sir Wira Gardiner will step in as acting chief executive while the recruitment process for a new head will be under way shortly.

Sir Wira Gardiner, Te Papaiouru marae 2019.

Sir Wira Gardiner Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Sir Wira (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Te Whakatōhea) has been involved in significant interactions between the Crown and iwi on Treaty settlements and negotiating between parties on complex issues.

He was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, head of the Iwi Transition Agency, and founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development.

Resignation welcomed

The Māori Party said the decision for Moss to step down was long overdue. Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was the right move.

"Our party response and actually my personal response is thank goodness, this has been an absolutely long time coming, it has been a slight on the government, on Oranga Tamariki.

"Everyone has been demanding that we have some solution and some resolve to the racism and discrimination we've been seeing coming through Oranga Tamariki," she said.

Ngarewa-Packer welcomed Sir Wira Gardiner becoming acting CEO and said he has a long record of quickly implementing change, while coming from a Māori world view.

She hoped this would be next step towards dismantling the current system.

"Our Māori Party policy, released during the election, is very clear - we must shut down Oranga Tamariki and start again with an independent Mokopuna Māori agency.

"The government must now implement that policy, and follow the advice of the Children's Commissioner - begin the process to disband Oranga Tamariki and shift the powers and responsibility to an independent by Māori, for Māori agency."

The National Urban Māori Authority said Moss had failed to change Oranga Tamariki under her leadership.

The Authority's Lady Tureiti Moxon said the buck stopped with the chief executive of an organisation.

Māori needed to take control of their own destiny and that was what Oranga Tamariki's focus needed to be, Moxon said.

The Green Party said it was looking forward to seeing Māori leadership at Oranga Tamariki. Greens spokesperson Jan Logie said it would be hard for anyone to recognise they were not right person for the job, and for that Moss should be commended.

"She had lost the confidence of our communities, and particularly for Māori," Logie said.

"I really hope that this now opens up the opportunity for that much needed transformation of our child protection system - hopefully, to be led by Māori.

National Urban Māori Authority chair Lady Tureiti Moxon said Moss had to take responsibility for the state of Oranga Tamariki.

"[The culture] hasn't been good for a very long time - for 30 years - and yes, she came into that, but it didn't change under her watch," she said.

"In fact, it got worse and worse."

Moxon said she wanted to see Māori take control of their own destinies with the creation of a whole new entity.

"Lots of people don't think we have the capability - what a load of rubbish," she said.

"Now that we're looking at a standalone health authority, we need to look at the same thing for Oranga Tamariki for Māori."

Last month, one of Oranga Tamariki's most senior Māori leaders, Hoani Lambert, resigned, saying that his departure was not a protest against Moss.

When asked last year about rumours of her departure, Moss remained adamant she had the confidence of her leadership team and was committed to her work at the ministry.

The Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis, has refused to express his confidence in Moss.

On 14 December when Moss confirmed Lambert had resigned, she said she would not step down.

She said she was looking forward to continuing the work of Oranga Tamariki.

In November Moss also refused to step down following a submission to the Waitangi Tribunal's urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki in which she admitted the children's ministry was yet to eliminate structural racism, or fully adopt the recommendations of a 1998 report.

Dame Tariana Turia is among those who have insisted Moss should step aside.

During the Waitangi Tribunal hearing investigating the ministry's role in uplifting Māori babies from their whānau Dame Tariana said Moss "kept on blaming the Crown" for the shortcomings at Oranga Tamariki which was an unusual approach.

She said she did not have confidence in Moss.

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