Three inquiries are now underway into Oranga Tamariki’s uplifts of children, with the Chief Ombudsman launching what he has promised will be a wide-ranging investigation.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has launched an independent investigation into Oranga Tamariki’s uplifts of children – the third inquiry now underway into the ministry’s practices following a public outcry.

On Wednesday, Boshier told MPs he would carry out his own “wide-ranging and independent investigation into the steps Oranga Tamariki takes when newborn babies are removed”.

His inquiry follows a Newsroom investigation into the uplift of a newborn baby in Hawkes Bay, with video footage showing the 19-year-old mother’s midwife and family being barred from the hospital while Oranga Tamariki staff attempted to uplift the baby overnight.

Boshier told media he had decided to launch the inquiry following “justifiable concern” from the public in response to Newsroom’s investigation, and to address concerns about the limited nature of Oranga Tamariki’s own inquiry.

“Some people have called for a Royal Commission, others have said that what’s happening isn’t truly independent, we are truly independent so we’ve decided that with the broad powers and functions we have got, we’re the right people to take into account what others are doing but have a broader reach ourselves.”

The Office of the Ombudsman had “very wide coercive powers” which it could use, such as the ability to require the provision of any documents or that people provide testimony to it.

Boshier said his office had received a number of complaints in relation to Oranga Tamariki, but nothing of the nature reported by Newsroom. His previous job as the Principal Family Court Judge meant he was “always conscious and aware of the sensitivities around this issue” – one of the reasons why he wanted to launch an inquiry.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has launched an independent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki under his new powers, which would come into effect on July 1. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The inquiry would look at the broader practices and processes of Oranga Tamariki in uplift cases, with the goal of providing constructive feedback to the Government.

“If the process of a child coming into care needs to be looked at and reconfigured, let’s do it. I’d like to feel that we are modern and looking ahead and if things in the past haven’t been culturally sensitive and appropriate, let’s change them.”

However, it was not his role to “second-guess” the actions of the Family Court, given it was a separate arm of government.

Boshier expected to finish his report before the end of the year and was confident the Government would take note of any recommendations he made, pointing to the office’s track record on the restraint of prisoners and the seclusion of schoolchildren.

“I think when the Ombudsman and the role that we operate in reports, people take notice and I expect them to.”

He suggested the Office of the Ombudsman could become the independent complaints agency that many critics of Oranga Tamariki had called for, pointing to both new powers his office would have from July 1 and new legislation, likely to be passed next year, which would further expand its powers.

Three inquiries underway

Boshier’s inquiry is the third now underway into the uplifts of children under Oranga Tamariki.

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft has also launched an independent investigation to look at the uplifts of Māori babies, aged up to three months, while an internal investigation by Oranga Tamariki, into the Hawkes Bay case is underway but will not be made public due to privacy concerns.

Becroft said his review and Boshier’s would be separate and complementary.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner had a statutory requirement to monitor and assess Oranga Tamariki’s policy and processes. The current review would be “specific and specialised”, which would be different to the broader inquiry being undertaken by Boshier.

As best he could, he would rely on the voice of children who were impacted by the uplift process.

Becroft said his office already played an oversight role, but in practice was only resourced to monitor practices and policies as they related to children in youth justice facilities.

This approach would change with the establishment of an independent monitoring system, currently being set up by the Ministry of Social Development, which would then be taken over by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner later this year.

Becroft expected to complete his review the end of the year, and said it would make sense for him to make the preliminary findings available to Boshier, to inform his broader investigation.

‘Dracula in charge of the blood bank’

The baby’s whānau has rejected Oranga Tamariki’s own inquiry, saying it refused to participate and likening an internal investigation to “leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank”.

Children’s Minister Tracey Martin refused to comment about the internal Oranga Tamariki review of the Hawke’s Bay case, referring all questions to Ngāti Kahungunu, who had been liaising directly with the whanau.

Martin said the whānau had been through “an amazingly traumatic experience” and were not in a position to meet with her, so all communication about the internal investigation was happening via iwi.

“Oranga Tamariki is not the organisation that it needs to be, it was never going to be that two years after its creation.”

The minister was “thrilled” by Boshier’s inquiry, which would go some way towards addressing public concerns about a lack of independent scrutiny regarding Oranga Tamariki’s work.

“Of course there is [distrust]… that level of distrust has been built up over years, it was built up under CYFS.

“Oranga Tamariki is not the organisation that it needs to be, it was never going to be that two years after its creation.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was “unfair” to suggest the actions of Becroft and Boshier were an indictment of the Government’s failure to act, pointing to the internal review being carried out by Oranga Tamariki.

“Of course that independent oversight exists for good reason too and that’s because there is an expectation we do have an independent look and not just the agency themselves.”

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