15 May 2019

Not enough mental health support for families whose children are taken by the state

7:58 pm on 15 May 2019

Families of children who have been taken by the state without notice say there is not enough mental health support and advocacy available.

Black and white image of a little girl hugging her mother

Families of children who have been taken by the state have psychological needs that require more support, advocates say. Photo: 123RF

It follows the uplift of a baby from a 19-year-old which saw Hawke's Bay hospital go into lockdown last week.

For one woman who has previously had children taken by the state, the story brought up painful memories.

The uplifts of her children were almost always straight from the hospital.

"I still haven't gotten over the damage that I've been through, through Child Youth and Family.

"It's even now, I still. . . it's painful, no-one can even accept that or get over that or deal with that. It's an on-going pain that will always be there."

She has not had contact with Oranga Tamariki for over five years, but now pregnant again, she lives in fear that her new baby will also be taken from her.

"I am buying stuff, not knowing if it will ever get used, not knowing if I'm wasting money, not knowing what will happen."

For this reason, she did not want her name used.

The ministry is not able to comment on her specific case without a privacy waiver.

Although a Pākehā woman herself, all five of her children are Māori. Ministry figures show that 172 Māori babies were taken by the state last year, up from 110 in 2015.

RNZ has requested the number of children that had been uplifted by Oranga Tamariki without notice in the last three years.

Lou Hutchinson, who has a background in suicide prevention, has formed the organisation Whānau First after hearing from families of uplifted children at a hui in Raglan.

"We can't go through an uplift process or removal process of children by Oranga Tamariki and not have any wrap around services for those people left behind."

Ms Hutchinson wants to meet the health minister to discuss the psychological needs of families with uplifted children, many of who she says are left suicidal.

Whānau First is made up of parents and family members who've had children go through the system, but have since been brought back into their care, and want to advocate for others to do the same.

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki's deputy chief executive of services for Children and Families North, Glynis Sandland, said it was: "Our statutory duty is to protect children - and because of that, we are relentlessly focused on their safety and wellbeing.

"In some situations, taking a child into care can be the only way to keep them safe. It is a last resort, often after we have worked alongside the whānau for weeks, months, or even years."

Doing so must satisfy the Family Court that the harm or risk of harm requires the child to be removed, and that there are no safe alternatives available.

Ms Sandland said every decision Oranga Tamariki dealt with was complex, and children in care often came from a background involving exposure to family violence, drug abuse, sexual and physical abuse, and chronic neglect.

Nearly 65 percent of Oranga Tamariki caregivers are whānau members, looking after their own.

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss said last week that legislative changes would be introduced in July to reduce the number of Māori babies taken away from their whānau.

Meanwhile, the chief ombudsman, Peter Boshier, is investigating whether any action should be taken over the handling of the Hawke's Bay uplift.

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