NZ's own stolen generation

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 12 June 2019
Melanie Reid faces police

Melanie Reid faces police Photo: Newsroom

A 19-year-old Māori mother clung to her newborn son for hours, in a Hawke's Bay hospital room – scared her baby would be taken away.

With her were two social workers from Oranga Tamariki, urging her to put the baby in a car seat. 

This is the behind the scenes reality of the "uplift" process - when a court order is carried out taking a child out of their parents' care for the baby's own protection. 

The young mother’s lawyer has filed an injunction to the custody warrant; the 19-year-old has no previous convictions; she has organised to be in a safe house following the birth and has the support of her whānau and midwives.

Her first baby, a girl, has already been uplifted without warning, also from her hospital room. 

Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid has been investigating such uplifts for the last two years. She was contacted by the midwives involved, coached them on using their phones effectively, and caught the attempted uplifting on film.

“These families have got no power and they’ve got no options,” she says. 

The resulting documentary captures a harrowing process; the family and midwives in a battle against the state.

"This is probably one of the most important stories I've told. I found it really disturbing," says Reid. "I've been to lots of disturbing situations in my career but there's always kind of a 'bad guy'. And here it was this kind of state wall up against this mother, which really revealed how powerless and how hopeless the situation is if you happen to be that mother." 

Reid says the process is typical.

“We’ve got to remember; this is happening three times a week to Māori children.”

But this time, the mother had support.

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Photo: Newsroom

“When they came in to uplift the baby ... throwing the papers on the floor as if they were repossessing a TV, there was a push back."

The midwives have lined up lawyers, kaumātua and a whole support system.

"No-one was backing down” says Reid.

Reid is facing flak from government agencies for defying an order to leave hospital premises and for not blurring the faces of staff from Oranga Tamariki.

She has no regrets.

"I believe that my job is to show some transparency of what is really going on behind closed doors. There was only one way to do that and that was to get behind those closed doors so New Zealand could see what is really happening with these uplifts. 

"If I've upset a few of these agencies along the way, then I'll wear that." 

Photo: RNZ