Blenheim held up as exemplar of iwi working with Oranga Tamariki

7:49 pm on 22 October 2020

The Māori Women's Welfare League has told the Waitangi Tribunal that Māori initiatives to reduce the number of tamariki in their care have been short-lived because the Crown has all the control.

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File photo. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

On the fourth day of the hearing into why there is a disproportionate number of tamariki Māori in state care, the Māori Women's Welfare League spoke of their "disappointment" when the Mātua Whangai programme was withdrawn in 1989, just six years after it was first implemented.

The hearing aims to identify what difference legislative and practice changes introduced in 2017 made, and any changes must the Crown make to be Te Tiriti o Waitangi compliant.

Māori Women's Welfare League president Prudence Tematekapua said withdrawing Mātua Whangai - which had aimed to "nurture children within their extended whānau groups" instead of the child going into state care - had a "devastating impact on Māori" and contributed to the disproportionate number of tamariki Māori taken into state care.

"To have Mātua Whangai swept from under the feet of those working in Mātua Whangai meant that all the hard work that our members and other kaimahi had put in was redundant.

"Those working on the ground were seeing results in strengthening whanaungatanga and relationships. Our members understood the tikanga underpinning Mātua Whangai and were able to effectively roll out support for our tamariki."

Tematekapua also cited the failure of Oranga Tamariki to implement the recommendations of the landmark report into racism within the Ministry of Social Welfare, Puao-te-Ata-tu, which called for whānau, hapū and iwi to be consulted on the placement of a Māori child.

It also called for social workers to be required to ask about a Māori child's whakapapa.

"The Crown has simply ignored these, and the results have only worsened [for] Māori."

"...The Crown's consistent failure to do what is right for Māori is due to the fact that what is required to be done requires the devolution or an equal share of authority and control of the care and well-being of Māori children from the Crown to Māori.

She said it was clear the Crown were not willing to relinquish power to Māori.

The Oranga Tamariki Blenheim office was referenced in the Māori Women's Welfare League submission as an example of how a strong partnership with local iwi can reduce Māori child going into state care.

The Blenheim office has representatives from both the Māori Women's Welfare League and the seven local iwi - who all had a hand in designing the partnership - it utilises Family Group Conferences with wider whānau early on, and provides specialist youth services.

As a result, Blenheim has had one of the lowest numbers of tamariki Māori in state care consistently for three years, and Tematekapua said if this model was replicated, it would lower the high number of Māori children in state care.

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