29 Oct 2019

Parents at centre of Oranga Tamariki child uplift won't take part in government review

6:47 am on 29 October 2019

The parents of a baby at the centre of an attempted removal by Oranga Tamariki are refusing to be part of a government review, saying they don't trust the investigation will be fair or independent.

Unrecognizable mother holding her newborn baby son in her arms, close up of legs and hands.

In May, Hawke's Bay Hospital was put into lockdown as social workers tried to take the newborn from its mother, sparking wider complaints about the organisation's practices. File photo Photo: 123rf

The inquiry will look into the attempted removal of a six-day-old baby from its 19-year-old mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital.

Advocates for the family say the review lacks credibility.

In May, Hawke's Bay Hospital was put into lockdown as social workers tried to take the newborn from its mother.

It sparked wider complaints about the organisation's practices, has led to calls for the name Oranga Tamariki - meaning protecting the wellbeing of children - to be stripped from the department, and several reviews into the removal of children.

Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Meka Whaitiri, a spokesperson for the family at the centre of the row, said the family's decision spoke volumes.

"It's a bit silly if you don't have the family at the heart of the uplift case not being interviewed or not agreeing to be interviewed, it says a lot."

She said the internal review announced by the Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, was not what the family asked for.

"The family don't trust the process, the internal process, the family and those who are advocating for them actually sought an independent inquiry so the family would feel safe and that their concerns were being taken on board," Ms Whaitiri said.

"So to this point I've been told the family have not agreed to be interviewed as part of the Oranga Tamariki review."

Des Ratima, kaumatua of Ngati Kahungunu - the Hawke's Bay iwi that has been helping the family - was called to the hospital on the night of the attempted removal and played a part in getting the social workers and police to leave the baby with the mother until a hui could be called the next day.

That hui led to a decision to put mother and baby in a respite home where family, iwi and social services are helping her.

The Family Court order that authorised the baby's removal is still in place but Mr Ratima is optimistic the child won't be taken from its family.

"Our intention is to be with that family until that family then says 'Thank you very much we've got it from here'," Mr Ratima said.

"And we can actually see through a whole range of measures, like they're employed, like they're having their health checks and baby's looking good and developing well.

"Those would be the sorts of positive signs that says 'Yes, this family is in a good space right now'."

Mr Ratima said the maternal grandmother of the baby was interviewed, with the help of a third party, but the parents and other immediate family members haven't been.

"They just felt it would be used in the wrong way - their grievance, their mamae, their hurt.

"They definitely had no trust in Oranga Tamariki and they were wanting to ensure they weren't going to be used as guinea pigs for any other circumstances that might arise - as a case study."

Without the immediate family involved, he was unsure how the report could be taken seriously.

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki chief social worker Grant Bennett said he couldn't comment on specific details of the review until it was completed.

"While the review is being conducted by our professional practice group, it is being done so with independent oversight from representatives of Ngāti Kahungunu and the Office of the Children's Commissioner," Mr Bennett said.

"It will look at our actions in relation to this baby and mother both before and immediately following the birth.

"We are aware of the views of various family members and respect their position"

Mr Ratima said the family was not perfect.

But he was worried that without a significant independent review - as called for by the family and iwi - nothing would change.

"There should be a huge number of apologies for all of them. From the DHB, from the Family Court, from the Police and definitely from Oranga Tamariki,'' he said.

Ms Martin declined to comment while the review was still underway.

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