1 Jul 2021

Oranga Tamariki video leak: Call for independent complaints body for staff

9:06 am on 1 July 2021

Amnesty International says footage of Oranga Tamariki staff assaulting a young teen appears to amount to excessive use of force.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The video showed the young person being surrounded by staff, tackled, restrained and held in a headlock at one of its care facilities.

Amnesty International Aotearoa campaign director Lisa Woods said the footage was "deeply disturbing".

She told Morning Report all children's wellbeing was important and this was an issue.

"On the face of it, it appears to be excessive. Under Oranga Tamariki regulations you can only use force if you have reasonable ground to believe that the use of force is reasonably necessary.

"And that video suggests it was excessive because it seemed to go further than what was necessary in the circumstances."

She said there was similar excessive force used in seclusion and restraint in prison - referring to the Mihi case.

"There are clearly structural issues here that require structural change."

The human rights organisation has joined calls for an overhaul of Oranga Tamariki.

"I hope the government picks this up and makes the structural changes that are clearly needed."

The Association of Social Workers wants a system, independent of Oranga Tamariki, set up where staff can make complaints, without fear of losing their jobs.

Its chief executive Braden Clark told Morning Report people were too scared to speak out about abuses within the children's ministry.

"We need to be really clear. We've only got a video of a few seconds, we don't know what's happened beforehand and we don't know what's being said during the time leading up to or during those things. We need to be careful about judging here.

"Certainly on the surface of it, it is a concerning video."

He said there were several investigations into it.

"It doesn't look like best practice, it doesn't look like a situation where ... ideally children should never be restrained.

"It is of concern to me at the moment."

Clark said such situations should be de-escalated at first.

"Something's obviously gone wrong in both of those situations in those videos. Oranga Tamariki needs to do a thorough review into the systems and processes about how these situations are managed and responded to."

He said that the video was leaked and not reported within the organisation first "indicates a culture where people don't feel safe to be able to bring these concerns to light".

Or maybe there were no avenues for Oranga Tamariki staff to raise the issues, he said.

Oranga Tamariki acting chief executive Sir Wira Gardiner told a select committee at Parliament on Tuesday "a number" of staff had been stood down since the video was posted on the Newsroom website on Tuesday.

At that same select committee, Children's Minister Kelvin Davis said the video was a symbol of a broken system.

"We can all agree over the past few years that it's obvious that Oranga Tamariki are failing to live up to their new name," Davis said.

"Today I'm not here to defend the indefensible. Oranga Tamariki has made some serious mistakes and there's no hiding away from them."

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