Oranga Tamariki review: 'Treatment of Māori women has been inhumane' - Dame Naida Glavish

10:32 am on 3 February 2020

A report on Oranga Tamariki has revealed harrowing stories of the removal of Māori babies and is calling for a complete overhaul of the ministry.

Newborn baby. (generic)

Photo: 123RF

The Māori-led investigation, which started six months ago, is one of five into the ministry and was spearheaded by the Whānau Ora Commissioning agency.

Official figures released by the Children's Commissioner in January showed 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.

The inquiry was based on contacts with more than 1000 whānau, both Māori and non-Māori on their experiences of the ministry.

In once incident, the report said, a mother said 14 armed police officers were used to remove a five-month-old Māori baby.

The mother said police and Oranga Tamariki staff converged on her home to carry out an uplift order that had been approved by the Family Court without the whānau receiving any notification.

The mother thought she was heading to a family group conference at Oranga Tamariki, but instead was met at her door by heavily-armed police with police dogs.

Dame Naida Glavish, who chaired the governance group overseeing the review, said the report confirmed systemic failure and discrimination.

"The Crown is not honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There's been unprecedented breaches of human rights and the treatment of Māori women has been inhumane."

"We can clearly see from the volume of evidence and the heavy handed approach inflicted on this whānau that something is so systemically wrong. This entrenched behaviour is plain unjust," Dame Naida said.

"We are deeply grateful to whānau who had the courage to stand up and speak their truth."

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Wellington protesters at a rally in July last year against Oranga Tamariki's removal of Māori children from whānau. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

In another incident revealed by the inquiry, Dame Naida said police and Oranga Tamariki demanded a post mortem on a 12-year-old girl with a brain tumour who had died in hospital, before her parents could take her home, despite a paediatrician providing a death certificate.

"Before she could [write the death certificate] in walked the police, retraumatised the parents by ... interviewing them separately and then marching with them from Starship Hospital to the mortuary service because Oranga Tamariki insisted on a post mortem." The death certificate was accepted by the coroner the following day, Dame Naida said.

Dame Naida promised that the report would not sit on a shelf.

"The findings back our call for a complete overhaul of Oranga Tamariki, the Family Court ex parte order process and the law that facilitates uplifts."

The report said the overwhelming conclusion from the inquiry was that state care of tamariki and pepi Māori, and in particular the uplift practices, were never appropriate for the long-term well-being of Māori.

It suggests with new increased government spending still resulting in poor outcomes for whānau, there is a strong economic case to make revolutionary change to the current system.

The review details three key actions to overhaul the system: supporting and strengthening whānau capability and capacity; a structural analysis and review of Oranga Tamariki systems, policies, processes and practices; and building on the call from whānau for 'By Māori - For Māori, with Māori' solutions for long-term sustainability.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Oranga Tamaraki had needed change and there were signs of progress.

"No-one wants to see children removed - no matter what way you cut it it's a traumatising thing - but we do sadly have children who are in situations that put them at risk.

"So we do have to try and reduce those scenarios ... working much more closely with whānau to prevent that in the first place.

"To date I think everyone would acknowledge that we did need change. It was only three years ago that Oranga Tamariki was created ... and so it really is still trying to find its feet as an organisation [it] is intended to be.

"There are signs of what we're wanting to see. For instance we've got strategic partnerships with four iwi, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi, Waikato-Tainui and Tūhoe." There had also been a 42 percent increase in funding to iwi organisations working with children over the past two years, and a decrease in the number of Māori babies coming into state care, Ardern said.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin said many of the cases in the review predate Oranga Tamariki, and was part of the reason the ministry was formed in the first place.

She agreed Oranga Tamariki must be more local in its delivery of services, and said that validates the operating model she passed through Cabinet last year.

"Prevention and early intervention is key to actually turning around what has been historical - over decades - terrible outcomes for Māori children.

"Already Oranga Tamariki has created strategic partnerships with some of the largest iwi in New Zealand.

"Already I've got the child and youth wellbeing unit inside Whakatāne, Rotorua and Whanganui working directly with community to say 'What is it that we need to put into place here to allow you to support your family so children don't need to come into care?'," Martin told Morning Report.

"The review has identified Oranga Tamariki is often at the end of a process of neglect or abuse by the state - that's police, that's DHB, that's education - those inequalities exist across all of these government departments. So Oranga Tamariki cannot change all of this on its own."