8 Apr 2019

Calls for a Māori Children's Commissioner to give voice and advocacy tamariki

2:05 pm on 8 April 2019

There are growing calls to establish a Māori Children's Commissioner, as tamariki Māori remain over-represented in state care, state abuse and youth detention.

Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft supports the idea of a Māori Children's Commissioner. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Māori children make up 59 percent of children in state care, and of the 220 children abused in state care last year - 70.1 percent of them were Māori.

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki has launched a call for a new role to be established.

"We need an independent, stand alone Māori Children's Commissioner - to provide some kind of oversight and some sort of independent voice and advocacy on behalf of Māori children and their whānau," he said.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft supported the idea and said there were gaps in the current structure of the commission.

"The current structure does not embed through legislation, in any way, a Māori voice, a Māori worldview or a Māori approach. I have long advocated for a resolution of that issue," he said.

"Whether it is a Māori Children's Commissioner, or a New Zealand Children's Commissioner who must be Māori, or a commissioner and deputy commissioner, at least one of whom should be Māori.

"The end point is to at least have a Māori worldview and a Māori leader in the structure."

Māori children's advocate Anton Blank said enough was enough and it was time for drastic action. Māori made up about 73 percent of those in facilities for young offenders or "youth jails", he said.

Anton Blank

Anton Blank. Photo: RNZ

The Children's Commissioner was a strong and effective position, he said, and commended Mr Becroft for his work in bringing to the fore concerns about rising levels of children in state care.

"I think having a Māori Children's Commissioner is a good idea in that watch dog role to give a really specific focus to Māori kids,

"Any kind of state intervention of Māori families in and of itself has the potential to damage that family, so what we need to be doing is minimising the impact of those interventions."

Oranga Tamariki had an in-house Tamariki Advocate, but the Māori Council said the role needed to be independent to properly hold the agency to account.

However, Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss disputed that. She said the advocate was able to criticise the agency if need be.

"The core part of their job is to be free and frank but also to reflect what the children have told them... I would always keep the role," she said.

"You just can't have enough people advocating for children so the more that we have inside and outside the Ministry, I fully support."

Grainne Moss

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Ms Moss said it was disappointing but not surprising that Māori children were over-represented in state care, because they were over-represented in poverty, poor mental health, domestic and family violence.

"When you take all of those toxic stress factors together and that very often leads to an unsafe environment for a child."

Former Māori Party leader Tariana Turia was not convinced that a new Māori Children's Commissioner would make an impact. She said the problem laid with Oranga Tamariki.

"They have had the best of our people involved in assisting the department in doing a better job and they still can't do it," she said.

"I don't know whether establishing a Māori Commissioner is going to make any difference in the lives of Māori families and their children."

Mrs Turia wanted to see investment directed at the families themselves.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said a review was underway into his sector, which he hoped would see changes to the Children's Commissioners Act to embed a Māori worldview in the structure.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said she was open to the discussion.

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