Oranga Tamariki: Waitangi Tribunal recommends Māori authority to reform system

12:06 pm on 30 April 2021

An independent Māori authority has been proposed by the Waitangi Tribunal to work out how to eliminate the need for tamariki Māori to be placed in state care, but it has stopped short of supporting the abolition of Oranga Tamariki.

Newborn baby. (generic)

The inquiry was carried out after the attempted removal of a baby from a teenage mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital in 2019 (File image). Photo: 123RF

The tribunal held an urgent inquiry after Oranga Tamariki came under scrutiny for its removal practices of tamariki and pēpi Māori from their families, following an attempt to take a newborn baby from a teenage mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital in 2019.

The hearing started in July last year and aimed to find out why more tamariki Māori than non-Māori were being removed from their families, whether changes in law or practice had made any difference and what further changes might be required to secure outcomes that uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The report, He Pāharakeke, He Rio Whakakīkinga Whāruarua, recommends establishing a Māori transition authority, independent from the Crown, with the aim of identifying the changes necessary to eliminate the need for state care of tamariki Māori.

Some claimants called for a Māori authority to replace Oranga Tamariki but there was some concern from others that any Māori run alternative to Oranga Tamariki would turn a "white bureaucracy to a brown bureaucracy".

The tribunal has not supported calls for the abolition of Oranga Tamariki at this time.

"For at least the foreseeable future we see a role for an Oranga Tamariki statutory social worker backed by the state's coercive powers in cases where a Māori organisation (be it whānau, hapū, or a Māori provider) meets resistance to an intervention considered necessary for the safety of a child or children," presiding officer Judge Michael Doogan said in the report.

Establishing a mokopuna authority to replace Oranga Tamariki would risk "commercialising" kinship and the state had "a legitimate function to provide protection where necessary", the tribunal concluded.

The tribunal did find Oranga Tamariki had breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi by failing to "honour the guarantee to Māori" for them to have tino rangatiratanga over their kāinga as set out in Article 2.

It said the disparity in the number of tamariki Māori in care was a direct consequence of the "Crown's intrusion" into this rangatiratanga.

The Oranga Tamariki submission acknowledged there was a disparity, with tamariki Māori making up 69 percent of all children in state care in 2017.

This had decreased to 59 percent, as at July 2020, which former deputy chief executive Māori Hoani Lambert said was a result of the partnerships it had signed with iwi, hapū and Māori providers, and legislative changes that required a child's mana, culture and whakapapa to be at the centre of all decisions.

However, the tribunal found these changes were not sufficient "to realise the kind of transformation required" to meet the obligations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It said a transition authority would approve ways to transfer "some of the power, functions and responsibilities" of Oranga Tamariki and the Crown to ensure it had financial and administrative support to do this.

The tribunal's inquiry is the fifth review since the attempted removal at Hawke's Bay Hospital in 2019.

Earlier reviews:

  • 7 November 2019: An internal Oranga Tamariki review into the incident finds that although safety concerns for the baby meant Oranga Tamariki did the right thing to get involved, mistakes were made in how it worked with the family and other partners.
  • 3 February 2020: Māori-led investigation into Oranga Tamariki chaired by Dame Naida Glavish calls for a complete overhaul of the ministry, saying there have been unprecedented breaches of human rights and inhumane treatment of Māori women. It says the Crown, through Oranga Tamariki, is failing to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • 8 June 2020: Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft releases first part of Te Kuku o te Manawa report detailing the experiences of mothers whose children have been taken from them.
  • 6 August 2020: A report by the Chief Ombudsman, He Take Kōhukihuki, A Matter of Urgency, finds that Oranga Tamariki was routinely taking newborns without whānau consultation by using emergency court orders.
  • 23 November 2020: Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft releases second part of the report Te Kuku O Te Manawa, calling on Oranga Tamariki to end urgent removals of tamariki and pēpi Māori from hospitals, urging the government to commit to a transfer of power to Māori and detailing a slew of personal reports from midwives.

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