The latest inquiry into child uplifts by the state says Māori must be given charge of caring for tamariki. Photo: Newsroom.

A major, Māori-led inquiry into Oranga Tamariki and the taking of Māori babies wants the state to stop all such ‘uplifts’ and instead reallocate funds to whānau to intervene instead.

The Whānau Ora report released this morning is the second of four inquiries plus an urgent Waitangi Tribunal case to follow Newsroom’s reporting in May and June last year of an attempt by the children’s ministry, Oranga Tamariki, to take a one week-old boy from his teenage mother at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Oranga Tamariki’s own internal report found multiple faults with that attempted uplift, resulting in an apology from its chief to the whānau, and employment repercussions for local staff. 

The Māori inquiry involved several national hui and consultation with families and organisations around the country. It was overseen by a high-powered group including five Māori Dames, four Knights and two other prominent leaders.

“The overwhelming conclusion from this inquiry is that the state care of tamariki and pēpi Māori – and in particular the uplift practices used by the state – are never appropriate for the long-term wellbeing of Māori,” it found.

It calls for a revolutionary approach to designing and adequately funding a new Māori-led system of care and support, and seeks a systematic review of Oranga Tamariki, its law, policies, practices and interaction with other state agencies in dealing with Māori.

The inquiry notes the other official investigations under way and says its findings work “in concord” with those of the Children’s Commissioner and Ombudsman, but “for Māori, the central issue of whānau disempowerment and voicelessness warranted a new approach to inquiry”.

It says 68 percent of the 6450 children and young people in Oranga Tamariki care midway through 2019 were Māori or Māori-Pacific ethnicity.

A section of the new report devoted to direct stories from whānau says: 

“The stories .. show the state is failing in its duty of care and protection of vulnerable tamariki and their whānau.

“The state mechanisms that work against whānau include the Family Court, district health boards and the police who collude with social workers to carry out uplifts and make a judgment call on whānau based frequently on hearsay and unfounded allegations of abuse.

“Schools are also complicit in this as they are required by law to make notification in regard to any concerns of abuse. There is no evidence of thorough investigations being done prior to making the decision to uplift tamariki.

“Social workers are frequently accused of making decisions based on personal bias; similarly Family Courts are criticised for making court orders merely on the evidence of a sole social worker.”

It continues: “Parents are told their tamariki will be returned if they attend anger management and parenting programmes. These false promises are misleading, as in most cases the tamariki are not returned and their parents become despondent and depressed, further embedding their powerlessness and hopelessness.

“The stories speak to the trauma of uplifts, separation and heart-break. Parents are unable to fight back, disempowered by the system.  Survivors of the system live in fear for their own tamariki and mokopuna as the cycle of state abuse is repeated inter-generationally.

“Tamariki that are removed from their whānau are destined to become a problem statistic in later life, due not only to the mistreatment they received in state care but also in that they become institutionalised by the state.”

A historical review of state action against Māori families highlighted “the impacts of colonisation, including the dispossession of Māori from their land, culture and the means of production and wealth. This same period also saw increasing state intervention in the lives of whānau, with the observable effect of undermining the traditional role of the wider whānau and community in the care and protection of their tamariki and mokopuna.

“The voices of whānau confirmed the legacy of this has resulted in generational trauma and perpetuating cycles of disparity. Yet despite decades of government inaction on this issue, whānau have remained resolute and resilient.”

The inquiry report says: “The overwhelming response from our communities and leaders was heartening. Whānau from all around the motu shared their stories of loss and struggle and the hurt and suffering caused when tamariki and mokopuna had been ripped away.

“Even more heart-wrenching was hearing what happened in the aftermath of an uplift – whānau feelings of hopelessness and depression.”

It acknowledges changes to the Oranga Tamariki law, which started to take effect last year, but says “the whānau that came forward to tell their stories for this inquiry in general dismissed these as ad hoc and fragmented instances of trying to fix a system that is not working”.

The inquiry’s first action point – for funding to strengthen whānau capability and capacity – is listed as a short-term goal, giving people a chance to work within the existing system in the short term. Its second action point, the legal and systemic review of Oranga Tamariki and other agencies, is also seen as a stepping point.

Its third action point “represents what needs to happen to truly honour the voices of whānau, which is the long-term vision of building and replacing current state approaches to tamariki Māori care and protection ‘by Māori, for Māori, with Māori’.”

The governance group for the inquiry, chaired by Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish, was Sir Toby Curtis, Sir Mason Durie, Dame Areta Koopu, Dame June Mariu, Lady Tureiti Moxon, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Sir Pita Sharples, Sir Mark Solomon, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi and Dame Tariana Turia.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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