Māori babies five times more likely to end up in state care - stats

4:12 pm on 16 January 2020

Māori babies were five times more likely to end up in state care than non-Māori last year and their rate of urgent entries into state care has doubled since 2010, official figures show.

Newborn baby. (generic)

(File image). Photo: 123RF

In that same period, 61 Māori babies were ordered into state care before they were born, compared to just 21 non-Māori.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft released the statistics this morning as part of a widescale inquiry into the removal of Māori babies, aged up to three months old, by the state.

That age group had been selected because that was where the statistics showed there were problems, and because it was a crucial bonding time for mother and child.

Judge Becroft said the figures raised clear questions about racism and bias within the state care sector.

"I've said previously that it's impossible to factor out the enduring legacy of colonisation... or modern day systemic bias," he said.

"Now that, to some extent, will obviously be at play here as it is across all decision-making and all government departments."

The inequities for Māori had grown over time and continued to worsen, Judge Becroft said.

In 2018, the rate of state custody for Māori under the age of 18 was almost seven times higher than non-Māori, up from five times higher in 2014.

Judge Becroft said another concerning statistic was that the rate of urgent entries into state care for Māori babies had doubled since 2010.

In comparison, the rate for non-Māori had not changed.

Urgent entries were most often made without notice or family knowledge, for what were considered to be serious safety concerns.

Judge Becroft said the fact urgent applications were being made at such a high rate was something his office would examine closely.

"These stats reveal clearly, I think for the first time to the whole country, what is really going on and how concerning the problem is," he said.

"The question as to why, is one that is occupying the minds of all those involved in three different inquiries."

"We are really committed to drilling down as to why these stats are continuing, in almost all cases, to get worse, and why the inequities are so profound," Becroft said.

"But the first step for us was to ask what is actually happening? What do the stats really show?"

Speaking to RNZ's Summer Report, midwife Jean Te Huia said the problem wasn't with Oranga Tamariki itself, but a lack of support and education for whānau.

Te Huia was the midwife of the mother whose baby Oranga Tamariki tried to take in Hastings early last year - sparking investigations into the processes around uplifting children.

"I think that's it's disappointing that these statistics have been around for generations," she said. "When we look at the percentage, almost 48 percent of those pregnant women whose pēpi are Māori who have been taken, their parents themselves were in care. So we have an intergenerational problem and an issue which the state has been unable and unwilling to tackle."

She also pointed out that while Māori made up over 69 percent of babies taken, the others were often Pasifika and other nationalities, rather than Pākehā.

"This is a brown problem, this is a problem where we have poverty, lack of housing. We don't have support for good kaupapa Māori antenatal education for these young mums, we have an insidious problem where whānau don't have education.

"We have problems that far outweigh the need to improve a child welfare system."

But Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert said the ministry couldn't bring those numbers down on its own.

"Oranga Tamariki, unfortunately, is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. What we need to make sure is that we're working with other government agencies to look at issues with housing, employment, supporting young Māori parents to be able to work through relationship issues without exposing their children to violence."

The first full report is due to be released later this year.

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