4 Apr 2019

Young Māori over-represented in state care and detention

12:10 pm on 4 April 2019

The Māori Council says more research needs to be done into the high levels of state care and abuse of Māori children.

No caption

File photo. Photo: RNZ

Māori children make up 59 percent of all children in care.

Oranga Tamariki shows more than 220 children placed in state care were abused last year and 70 percent of those children were Māori .

Council executive director Matthew Tukaki told Morning Report questions needed to be asked of both the government and whānau.

"This is something that's been going on since 1950 ... this is not a new thing, this has been going on for many, many decades," he said.

"Just as we need to find a new way of delivering services to support, care and protect Māori children, we also need to have honest conversations with our whānau and Māori communities about what is continuing to drive that number."

Suicide Prevention Australia and National Māori Authority chairman Matthew Tukaki.

Suicide Prevention Australia and National Māori Authority chairman Matthew Tukaki. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Tukaki said issues with Māori youth needed to be looked at in a broader context including problems stemming from poverty, drug use, and alcohol in the community.

"Instead of trying to work in isolation, like Oranga Tamariki tends to do sometimes, we need to start forming these really close and tight partnerships to try and drive towards what a common solution needs to look like."

He said he reflects on what's happened in Australia with the stolen generations and the assumption that was made that Aborginal children were better off with white families.

"I suspect there's been that sort of bias that's been built up within our own care and protection system around Māori children, in particular, over that same period."

"My biggest fear is that we could be facing intergenerational trauma amongst those child groups as they've aged and got older and it's repeating the same behaviour of the operating environment in which they have grown up."

Mr Tukaki said he believed there's truth in the argument that part of the problem stems from colonisation but said it's also an issue of not properly culturally engaging in appropriate and effective ways.

He said money needed to be invested in figuring out what all the "moving parts" were and looking at that what the evidence could tell us.

"Even though a lot of this is going to be pulled out of the Royal Commission in terms of the submissions that are going to be made ... there are some other things that we suggest can happen right now."

Mr Tukaki said New Zealand needed an independent Māori children's commissioner to provide oversight and advocacy on behalf of Māori children and their whānau.

"It's really hard for that to happen when that person is on the payroll of Oranga Tamariki."

He also suggested a workplace plan in collaboration with Māori whānau and communities that actively engages in getting Māori into meaningful work.

He said that many young Māori were going from foster care to juvenile detention and ended up being managed by multiple agencies.

"When you're a young person and you're going through a hell of a time, whether it's created by yourself or created as part of the environment in which you live your life, then you don't understand how that all works. It's up to us, as adults, to figure out all those moving parts."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs