In response to a Newsroom investigation into the uplift of Māori children by Oranga Tamariki, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Māori MPs say the state must do more to stop the traumatising uplift of children.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says nobody wants children being removed from their families, and the state needs to do a better job to focus on preventing the “horrific experience”.
Meanwhile, National MP Alfred Ngaro said Oranga Tamariki uplifts had become a growing concern.
Three Māori babies a week are being “uplifted” from their mothers, with some in the community beginning to use the term “Stolen Generation”, reflecting the systematic policy in Australia of taking indigenous children from their communities.
A Newsroom investigation into the process of a child being uplifted from his mother has iwi leaders calling for a new national approach to resolve the high numbers of Māori parents losing their babies through Oranga Tamariki applications to the Family Court.
“Ultimately, of course, New Zealand wants to be the place where we are the best place in the world to be a child – no-one wants children being removed from their families,” Ardern said in response to questions from Newsroom.
“And the ultimate goal has to be ensuring that we do all we can to create and support families to ensure those removals aren’t necessary.”
Asked whether the disproportionate number of Māori babies removed from their families represented New Zealand’s “stolen generation”, Ardern said: “I absolutely agree we want a country where people are not having that horrific experience of children being removed, or children themselves aren’t having that experience.
“We have to keep in mind, unfortunately, we do have situations that require us to ensure that children are kept safe and that does mean that there are children who ultimately are removed from their families.
“No one wants that and we do need to turn that around.”
Ngaro said uplifts by Oranga Tamariki were a growing concern raised with him, including particular concerns about a lack of transparency within the system.
Family group conferences were meant to be one way of including immediate and extended whānau in the decision-making process, but Ngaro said some had raised concerns about whether those outcomes were then being adhered to.
“I think people are then asking the question – why have them, why involve us to participate if you’re not going to follow through with that?”
Ngaro said Oranga Tamariki and the Government needed to look into the case highlighted by Newsroom to determine whether there had been a breach of any codes of conduct, and whether officials had any information about the threat posed to the child which they had not shared with the family.
It would be inevitable some Māori children would be “inside the system”, but the Government had to ensure the wellbeing of both the child and the whānau were at the heart of their actions.
“It’s a really tricky situation, because you’re constantly dealing with so many different variables that are happening all at the same time too,” he said.
Labour Māori MP Kiri Allan said iwi around the country felt too many Māori kids were being taken into state care, and their progress was not able to be tracked.
“Anecdotally, we can see that obviously there’s been a lot of trauma caused and the majority of children going through that system are Māori.”
Iwi were tired of the way the state had systematically taken Māori children into care, over generations.
That had led to some iwi and hapū stepping in to play more of a support and caregiving role, in an effort to keep the children connected with their whānau and whakapapa. The challenge for the state was to make sure those iwi were supported and adequately resourced to undertake those tasks, she said.
Allan said iwi across the country were looking forward to the outcomes of the Royal Commission into the Abuse in State Care.
“I think we’re all going to have to do some deep, hard reflecting.”
Children’s Minister Tracey Martin hit back at the characterisation of uplifts as a stolen generation.
“I think it’s emotive and its an inappropriate term,” she said.
She backed her ministry, Oranga Tamariki, and said the state would continue to uplift children so long as it considered there was a threat to their safety.
“135 children have been killed in the last 15 years in this country, every two days a child presents with non-accidental injuries to a New Zealand hospital, we will continue to uplift babies when we are frightened for their safety,” she said.
Martin said the Government was working constructively with iwi, including Ngāti Kahungunu to improve relations between them and Oranga Tamariki. She said Ngāti Kahungunu had met with Oranga Tamariki in the last couple of weeks “to create a better working relationship”.
Meanwhile, Oranga Tamariki told Newsroom it was important to remember the vast majority of children, including tamariki Māori, in New Zealand were at home – 98.5 percent of Maori children are not in care.
“Of course, we as a society should aim for zero, but we are focused on keeping children safe, and until the factors impacting their safety are reduced, we will continue to be in a position where unfortunately we will need to take children into care,” deputy chief executive of services for children and family Alison McDonald said in a statement.
The Government announced a package of new spending and initiatives as part of Budget 2019, including a new intensive intervention service, to be rolled out from July 1.
As well as the intensive intervention service, the legally mandated National Care Standards would come into force from the start of next month, with $70 million in funding to support improved care, and extra funding for tamariki Māori would go towards helping Oranga Tamariki provide appropriate care to Māori children in care.
Read more: NZ’s own ‘taken generation’