18 Jun 2019

Oranga Tamariki uplift another example of Māori faring badly - minister

4:56 pm on 18 June 2019

In some cases babies need to be removed from their whānau, Labour Māori Caucus co-chair Willie Jackson says - citing the horrific deaths of the Kahui twins - but only as a last resort.

Willie Jackson, Minister of Employment

Willie Jackson Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The uplift process at Oranga Tamariki is under public scrutiny for its treatment of Māori tamariki and their whānau.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin today announced the terms of reference for an internal inquiry into the attempted removal of a six-day-old baby from its 19-year-old mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital.

The Children's Commissioner is conducting a wider review of the removal process for Māori babies aged up to three months.

Oranga Tamariki is not ruling out releasing the findings of its internal inquiry into the events leading up to the attempted removal at Hawke's Bay Hospital last month.

The terms of reference will cover the time from February when Oranga Tamariki first became aware the mother was pregnant to her discharge from hospital on 9 May.

Mr Jackson said what happened in Hawke's Bay was not new and in some cases - like that of the Kahui twins - removal is necessary.

Three-month-old twins Cris and Cru Kahui died in 2006 with traumatic brain injuries sustained while in the care of whānau. Nobody was ever found guilty of their murder.

"In South Auckland you see cases all the time. Go and tell some of the people I've worked with in South Auckland that the Kahui twins shouldn't have been removed. We see cases all the time out there - the reality is it's the process that has to be put in place,'' he said.

A Newsroom investigation revealed last week three Māori babies a week are being taken from their mothers by the state.

It led to iwi leaders calling for a new national approach and a meeting in Hastings on Sunday involving Tracey Martin, Māori Labour Ministers Kelvin Davis and Nanaia Mahuta, Ngāti Kahungunu and the Māori Council.

Today Ms Martin met with the Labour Māori caucus, which Mr Jackson described as a "candid and honest korero".

Oranga Tamariki replaced Child, Youth and Family Services in 2017 after a complete overhaul of the government department.

Mr Jackson said the necessary changes were still a work in progress.

"As a caucus we recognise there's been 30 years where things just haven't gone well. A new organisation's set up and we expect a lot of changes to happen and that's going to happen from July first,'' he said.

Ms Martin said regaining public confidence in Oranga Tamariki was something that had to be earned.

"The loss of public trust in Child Youth and Family and Oranga Tamariki didn't happen in the last two years. My job is to rebuild a child protection service to make it trustworthy and I'm still in the process of doing that,'' she said.

Mr Jackson said just because members of the Māori caucus weren't doing interviews on radio and television, it didn't mean they were not advocating for Māori on the issue.

"Advocacy is occurring all the time and we're not being restricted by our leadership."

Baby removals another example of Māori faring badly - Henare

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said Māori having their children removed by the state is just another example of their disproportionate representation in every negative statistic.

The internal inquiry was announced on Sunday after a meeting of ministers, Ngāti Kahungunu and the Māori Council in Hastings. Mr Henare said Māori faring badly was nothing new, and "as a Māori it's been like that since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi".

The wrong Māori term for "face-to-face'' was included in a ministerial media advisory ahead of the meeting on Sunday, and Mr Henare said that kind of mistake did not help the situation.

Both Mr Henare and Crown/Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis said there was clearly institutionalised racism and unconscious bias within government departments and across the wider community.

Mr Henare said having iwi more involved in supporting whānau in their own communities to ensure new parents were capable of caring for their babies was an important next step.

Peeni Henare

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

That already happened in Waikato-Tainui, and Ngāti Kahungunu has indicated it wants to use the same model.

Asked whether having iwi do that work rather than public servants would be a good way to get rid of unconscious bias, Mr Henare said: "Possibly, but iwi have long wanted to be at this table so it's about time we strengthen their ability to do that''.

The panel responsible for reviewing the Family Court said any decision to uplift a child should be dealt by a judge in person, not electronically.

Currently, family court judges can deal with urgent applications electronically from anywhere around the country - meaning a judge sitting in Invercargill can deal with cases in Lower Hutt or Whanganui.

The panel's chair, Rosslyn Noonan, said one of its 70 recommendations was that all warrants for uplifting children should be overseen by a judge in person.

"Uplifts should only be a final resort, it's not good enough just to scapegoat the individual social workers, the Family Court has ultimate responsibility for signing off on those uplifts and should be asking the right questions, ensuring the community have a chance to provide information to the court."

PM: 'There is recognition change is needed'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to media at Parliament 27 May 2019.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier there was a clear message that change was needed at Oranga Tamariki and that change was on its way.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report new care standards come in next month and additional money was announced in the Budget to support families.

She said partnerships were being created with iwi which had reduced the number of children being taken into care, and 65 percent of all placements were now with children's own whānau.

"Mistakes are going to keep being made - let's of course not paper over the fact that this is a big transition.

"But even before those new care standards come into force on the first of July, Oranga Tamariki has already started, for example, to try and prioritise even further those whānau placements."

Ngāti Kahungunu will be involved in reviewing the Hawke's Bay case and the government will work with Ngāti Kahungunu on forming a similar process as it has with Tainui.