29 Sep 2021

Government releases Oranga Tamariki advisory board findings: 'You will see change'

12:56 pm on 29 September 2021

Oranga Tamariki has been described as not fit for purpose and in need of transformative change by the panel appointed to be the Children's Minister's eyes-and-ears on the agency.

Watch Minister for Children Kelvin Davis and advisory board chair Matthew Tukaki:

The government created the advisory group in January to help reform Oranga Tamariki, as part of its response to widespread criticism of the ministry's policy of removing vulnerable children from their families.

The panel has this morning released its report and three over-arching recommendations, which the government has accepted.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said the recommendations will see a major shift in decision making and will encourage communities to work with Oranga Tamariki to protect children.

"We know Oranga Tamariki has not lived up to it's name," Davis said. "I asked for this job and I knew the challenges I would face and those challenges are real. But I also knew that while difficult, this mahi was perhaps the most important I will ever do."

"You will see change."

The group, made up of Matthew Tukaki, Dame Naida Glavish, Shannon Pakura and Sir Mark Solomon, focused on Oranga Tamariki's relationships with families, whānau, hapu, iwi, and Māori, its professional social work practices and its organisational culture.

In its report, the group has described Oranga Tamariki as not visionary and lacking strategic direction.

Board chair Matthew Tukaki said Oranga Tamariki needs to be relentlessly focused on improving outcomes for tamariki and their whānau and "enabling those capable of delivering this outcome most effectively to get on with the challenge."

That focus needs to be clearly articulated, Tukaki said, as Oranga Tamariki's approach to helping vulnerable young people has always been reactive.

The board concludes the ministry takes that approach because the Crown has "assumed the lead role in supporting tamariki and whānau without really knowing how to be effective in this."

The Crown has also undermined the role of hapū and iwi in leading their own communities, the report said.

Communities, hapū, and iwi told the advisory group that it is their role to protect their people and Oranga Tamariki enable them to do that.

The advisory board agrees with that view, the report says, and considers "early support and response to be an important avenue to improve care and protection outcomes for tamariki and their whānau, and also to reduce the need for state intervention".

Tukaki said there is an opportunity to draw a land in the sand in a journey that has been many decades in the making.

"It is an opportunity that should not be lost on us as people, communities and also as a nation."

Tukaki said coming into contact with the current care and protection system, if only briefly, can reinforce and cause further damage to already vulnerable and hurt tamariki and whānau.

"We must continue to remember that if we don't change the system, if we don't change Oranga Tamariki then we are failing our most vulnerable children and we are of course the adults that created this mess. Those kids have done nothing wrong, they are just kids who want to be loved, who want to feel protected and safe, who deserve to be happy. They depend on us and we cannot let them done."

Davis said if a child is to be uplifted he wants it to be done in a respectful manner, to limit the trauma for families and babies and that everything is done up to that point to keep the baby and whānau safe together.

"Because once we use that power, once we take that action, the trauma cannot be undone. I want us to use it only when it is absolutely necessary and not because things get a bit tough."

"The system is broken but many people who work inside the system are not," he said.

"Ultimately we want no children at all in state care."

In a statement, Te Pāti Māori leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi said it was the 19th report on Oranga Tamariki, and threatened to hīkoi if nothing changed.

"One of the very first recommendations of the review states that adequate resources and authority must be shared equitably with Māori and that overtime services provided by Oranga Tamariki should be provided by Māori and community groups," Ngarewa-Packer said.

"A by Māori for Māori, according to Māori approach is the bare minimum. Not a by Māori, for Māori, according to Pākehā approach. For Te Pāti Māori, this means establishing an independent Mokopuna Māori entity with at least $600 million to go directly to Māori."

Waititi said the entire system was rotten to the core and needed immediate dismantling.

"Fiddling with the current structure is knowingly committing our mokopuna to a lifetime of continued trauma and abuse ... nearly 70 percent of our babies make up the system. We have the solutions. We know better and we must do better," he said.

"If nothing drastic changes, we will be left with no option but to revolt. We did it when our foreshore and seabed was being stripped from us, and we will do it again if the state continues to steal our babies."


The group has made three over-arching recommendations.

The first, is for Oranga Tamariki to engage with Māori collectives and communities over the next three months to better understand their ideas for change and the resourcing they would need.

The group notes many of Oranga Tamariki's existing services can be provided by Māori groups over time, which, they say, would allow the ministry's social workers to respond to emergency situations.

"We believe Oranga Tamariki needs ongoing help and guidance to support its shift to providing the most effective state care and protection system possible, but are firmly of the view that Oranga Tamariki is not the ultimate point.

"The ultimate point must be to prevent harm from occurring in the first place; we think it is obvious that Māori collectives and communities are best-placed to lead this work."

The second over-arching recommendation is that the government clarify the purpose of Oranga Tamariki, including who it exists to serve.

It wants the Office of the Chief Social Worker restored, training for supervisors and practice leaders prioritised, a workforce development plan created and for national and regional offices to be better aligned.

It's clear Oranga Tamariki social workers are under significant pressure, the group said.

This is compounded by a lack of strong leadership and development and weak professional structures and systems, they added.

"Oranga Tamariki lacks strategic direction and is not visionary. It is self-centred and constantly looks to itself for answers."

The agency's systems are weak, disconnected and unfit for purpose, the advisory group said.

"It is an agency that is vulnerable to being blown off course by the headwinds it inevitably encounters over time."

The final recommendation is for a national Oranga Tamariki Governance Board to be established to oversee the changes.

Government response

The government has accepted all of the board's recommendations and has developed an action plan to ensure they are implemented.

An independent Governance Board will also be established to ensure progress remains on track.

It has also issued Oranga Tamariki with clear guidance: uplifts, or without notice orders, should only be used as a last resort.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said the "new direction for Oranga Tamariki has been set".

He said the time for talk and the time for reviews has ended. "I'm going to be a bit of a bulldozer and behind me I've got Dame Naida Glavish. We just have to actually force these changes through."

"I want Oranga Tamariki to be the enabler that allows the regions to decide what is right for their particular area. To empower communities and Māori to help children and their families in a way that works for them."

There will always be a role for the state in the protection of vulnerable children, but the state has been at the centre of the approach until now, Davis said.

"This has undermined the ability of communities to ensure the wellbeing of children and their whānau. Our people often know what's best and need to be empowered to lead these decisions locally."

While there will always be a need for some children to be taken into care, all other community and whānau options should be exhausted first, Davis said.

"This is the reason I got into politics, to make a difference for Māori." He says this is what you do as a Māori politician. "People often say you can't just can't change the system and I just beg to differ on that point. For 180-something odd years now Māori have been at the wrong end of everything, it's time to change things."

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