20 May 2024

Oranga Tamariki looks to cut unit responsible for critical records for children in state care

5:29 am on 20 May 2024
Oranga Tamariki Sign

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Oranga Tamariki appears poised to wipe out a unit that looks after critical records for children in state care, under the government's public sector cuts.

The records date back to the 1940s and '50s, and abuse victims have used them to find out life-changing information about their family and even their ethnicity.

The documents are mostly in paper form in more than more than 70,000 boxes and have been badly looked after in the past, with many lost or destroyed.

Read more:

Oranga Tamariki acknowledged to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care that its poor track record on keeping records had damaged many people.

Survivor David Crichton told the inquiry he used the records to "piece together" his childhood.

"With almost no photographs and family to help piece together his past, David's care records are valuable to him. They are all he has to try to make sense of what happened in the first 18 years of his life, and why," a report released by the inquiry said.

"It was from these records, some of which he did not receive until he was 30, that he discovered he was Samoan, not Māori."

David Crichton standing with his daughter.

David Crichton with his daughter, Brooke, after he gave evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Now Oranga Tamariki staff are alarmed about what the future holds for the records under a restructuring proposal for the agency.

It is looking to disestablish 447 jobs next month, or nine percent of staff, and must find 6.5 percent in savings from July.

Chief executive Chappie Te Kani has proposed disestablishing the position of manager information management, as well as the positions reporting to that person.

That includes the six record-keeping jobs.

The restructure would shift records management to a new unit, with new business integration leads taking responsibility for it.

But a number of staff have expressed alarm, saying while manager and strategy jobs remained, no one would be left to do the hands-on work.

In an internal feedback channel, staff wrote the proposal "does not give thought to how we look after the information or data, or the obligations we have to the people who the information is about (including the children in our care today, or adults who have been in the care of the state in the past)".

Another said the cuts would be "deeply distressing to many people whose records are held in care by this agency", while a third said they would "greatly undermine" the agency's ability to meet its legal requirements.

Under the Public Records Act, Oranga Tamariki has a duty to look after all records, dating back to the days of CYF - Child, Youth and Family - and earlier.

Te Kani told the royal commission that included details of people's important life events, achievements and relationships, as well as photos, artwork and school reports.

Chappie Te Kani

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Chappie Te Kani. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"Incomplete records can have a significant impact on survivors of abuse, and their understanding of what happened to them and why."

RNZ has asked Oranga Tamariki to clarify whether the record-keeping roles might reappear in another form after being disestablished.

A spokesperson said the agency would not be commenting on specific roles while formal consultation on the proposal was under way.

Minister for Children Karen Chhour said she had been assured that any final structure landed on by the organisation "would enable it to meet its legislative obligations".

"My expectation is that Oranga Tamariki will make savings where appropriate, and that protecting the best interests of the child will continue to be their top priority."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs