Oranga Tamariki failed in court over a Newsroom video story on its controversial baby uplift in Hawke’s Bay – now it is moving to a public relations exercise to convince the public it did the right thing.

The ministry’s chief executive, Grainne Moss, has fronted parliamentarians and television interviews to claim her social workers have the most difficult jobs in the country and act always for the safety of a child. She did not discuss the circumstances of the Hawke’s Bay Hospital uplift attempts, which can be seen in the Newsroom video story here.

Citing a raft of statistics and expressing pride in her staff, Moss says Oranga Tamariki can always do better but operates in difficult circumstances and has to have Family Court sign-off to uplift a child from its parents. She claimed such a court hearing involved counsel for the child, and lawyers for the mother and father.

However, in the Hawke’s Bay case, the ministry applied under urgency to the Family Court and the application was ‘ex parte’ – or without giving the other parties to the case notice to respond or be represented.  

Oranga Tamariki claimed there was urgency but did not act on the uplift warrant that it obtained until four days later, when its social workers and police went to the teenage mother’s hospital room carrying a car seat and declaring they were there to take the baby.

Moss is choosing to label Newsroom’s video report on the repeated attempts to take the week-old Māori baby – including a night-time visit when the woman was alone, her midwife and whānau locked out of the hospital – is a ‘significant misrepresentation’ of what took place over 36 hours.

What OT is trying to do is take the focus off itself and trying to run a blame game campaign. For God’s sake, wear it and fix it.

–  Jean Te Huia, chief executive of Nga Mai Māori Midwives Aotearoa

However all interactions between the social workers and the mother in her hospital room, where she was recovering from a caesarean operation, were caught on video by the whānau and Newsroom has used all relevant exchanges, fairly and in context, much of it unedited and in real-time.

Asked on The AM Show on Three today if Oranga Tamariki would inquire into the actions of its social workers, in particular their indication at a hui to the whānau that no uplift would be decided on until the next day but then proceeding to make the night-time attempt to take the baby, Moss said a professional practice officer always looked into such matters.

“I think we can always do things differently – everybody wants children to be safer, and there’s things that can be done differently so a child is never placed in that position…

“There is always a better way – it’s better not to have drugs and alcohol, it’s better not to have family violence, it’s better to deal with toxic stress factors so babies are not born into environments that most New Zealanders would be shocked and saddened at.”

Earlier, challenged by AM Show host Duncan Garner over her words being “almost PR talking points”, Moss disagreed. “I don’t think it is. It is not a PR job, Duncan.”

Oranga Tamariki boss Grainne Moss talking on Three’s The AM Show. Photo: Newshub

Her claim of ‘significant misrepresentation’ has been met with a strong reaction from those who were there, or directly involved in stopping this attempt to take the baby.

Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid was not surprised, however. “First comes the court action then comes the ‘significant misrepresentation’ line.

“Like a government department’s overused script, investigative journalists such as myself sigh yet again as they roll out the ‘significant misrepresentation’ line and throw that into the public arena. It’s as predictable as night turns to day.

“The disturbing reality is there for everyone to see on the video and the ministry would be better served to assess itself and improve as an agency rather than try and defend the indefensible.”

The young mother’s lawyer, Janet Mason said:

“I am aghast at the response of OT that somehow the documentary misrepresents the situation. This shows how far removed they are from reality. For those of us working long hours at the coal face and receiving calls each day from desperate women whose babies have been taken by the state on the flimsiest of so-called evidence, the documentary showed in black and white what is actually happening to these women.

“It is a shame that instead of accepting that the events portrayed in that documentary show the New Zealand Government in a disgraceful light, OT are trying to defend their actions. We live in a country led by a Prime Minister who is a new mother and who has done such good work on the international stage, yet here in our own back-yard we have a ministry responsible for the humanitarian crisis we now face. Yet they continue to stay in denial.

“I stayed via text and phone with my client throughout that evening until 2.30am, whereby OT and police waited until the dead of night when a 19 year-old mother, recovering from major surgery, was all alone with her six-day-old baby, to walk in, deny her access to her midwife, and pressure her into handing over the most precious thing in her life when there was actually absolutely no need to do so, and no grounds under the legislation to do so.

“How can anyone ever justify these actions? As a human rights lawyer, my heart sinks every time I recall the chilling sound of her sobs over the phone, and her desperation to keep her baby.”

One of the midwives involved, Jean Te Huia, the chief executive of Nga Mai Māori Midwives Aotearoa, told Newsroom: 

“OT would be better to look inside themselves to find a solution than to deny the truth. What OT is trying to do is take the focus off itself and trying to run a blame game campaign. For God’s sake, wear it and fix it.

“Their response shows a total lack of courage to admit they’ve got it wrong. As Māori, it gives us no faith at all in the system righting itself, when a massive problem is revealed and they try to shoot the messenger.”

Des Ratima, a kaumatua who was at the hospital on the night of the attempted uplift and has been involved with the whanau throughout, said: “These defensive responses by bureaucrats are typical when they are disempowered by the truth. As they try to put out the raging fire they have lit they now turn to disinformation and spin.”

Read more:  NZ’s own ‘taken generation’

Health board member muzzled over uplift

An injustice we can no longer tolerate 

Oranga Tamariki ‘pleased to support mum’

Yes, we are the stolen generations

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