Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss at the Waitangi Tribunal on Monday. Photo: NUMA

Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis has ordered Oranga Tamariki to stop its ‘reverse uplifts’ of children from foster care, after a limited internal review raised systemic issues

An internal Oranga Tamariki review of a ‘reverse uplift’ of children from their foster parents – highlighted in a court-injuncted Newsroom documentary – did not even talk to those parents and did not look into how they were treated by the agency.

The review, by the Chief Social Worker, instead focused on something that had not been in dispute, that the decision to approve the new whānau parents the children were moved to was sound.

Other issues raised by the internal review have troubled the Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis, so he has directed no further ‘reverse uplifts’ be conducted unless ordered by the Family Court.

Monday saw Oranga Tamariki in the news for multiple reasons:

– a deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert resigned, saying the original Newsroom-reported  ‘uplift’ in Hastings that led to five inquiries had been “absolutely unacceptable”;

– the troubled chief executive Grainne Moss appeared again before an urgent hearing by the Waitangi Tribunal into Oranga Tamariki’s treatment of Māori children, and seemed to backtrack somewhat on comments she made at her first appearance where she had apologised for structural racism within the agency; and

– lawyers for Oranga Tamariki, Crown Law, tried to persuade the High Court to continue its injunction preventing Newsroom from restoring to this site the documentary “Oranga Tamariki: A new wave of trauma” by Investigations editor Melanie Reid. See Newsroom’s coverage of the court hearing here

Davis’ response to the narrowly focused internal review of the case highlighted in that documentary showed the continuing tensions between the Government and Oranga Tamariki.

Through a spokesperson, Davis said that while the review had found the decision to approve the new whānau parents was “sound”, it also “raised further questions for the minister around some system-wide processes within Oranga Tamariki and how these processes are being applied.

“The minister has today made it very clear to Oranga Tamariki officials that it is his expectation that they action recommendations made in the report and, while processes are being reviewed, that they place an immediate pause on any further so-called “reverse uplifts” – excluding situations where there are Family Court orders or when it’s clearly not in the best interests of the child.”

The internal review’s failure to even contact the foster parents involved has left the couple shocked. The father told Newsroom: 

“ I read the report {findings} and thought it was about someone else. It doesn’t relate to how they’ve treated us and those children and taken them away.

“If they’re investigating what the documentary covered, obviously not one single person from that agency has been in touch with us to ask us what happened, no one’s been in touch with us. Its 100 percent one-sided. Did they contact the old social worker who placed them here who knew what situation they were in?,” he said.

“They’ve come up with another conclusion internally that’s not really relevant to our situation and what happened to those children. They’ve looked at an issue but not an issue that’s been raised.

“When I read what the minister’s spokesperson put out, I thought ‘is this about another case they’re dealing with?’ It doesn’t relate to our situation or the story. I think again they’ve stepped sideways to evade the questions they’ve been asked.”

He said the only good thing to emerge was the decision by Davis to halt further ‘reverse uplifts’.

Retired senior social worker Vivienne Martini, who assessed all the files on this case and also spoke with the foster parents, was critical of the narrow review.

“This was Oranga Tamariki’s chief social worker investigating Oranga Tamariki social workers. How can one dysfunctional area investigate itself? 

“The scope of this review was so narrow it did not include the way the tamariki were transitioned, nor the way the foster parents were treated. One wonders how this can be called a review at all when the foster parents weren’t part of it?”

At the Waitangi Tribunal, Moss broadened her comments about inequity for Māori structural racism to include other government entities, claimed elements of the noted Puao-te-Ata-tu report had been taken on by her agency and, in her conclusion, highlighted that the majority of those interacted with by Oranga Tamariki had positive experiences.

“I deeply believe that Oranga Tamariki should work to understand and address the causes of disparity, however addressing disparities for tamariki and whānau Māori is a system-wide and societal challenge,” Moss said.

“I will work to use the levers and influence I have to support change, but the change required is broader than Oranga Tamariki. Also Oranga Tamariki is not the entirety of the care and protection system. For example, the Family Court makes the Court orders under s78, and other provisions, which cause tamariki to be brought into care, Police have a substantial role in intervening in family harm and referring tamariki to us, and Reports of Concern come from the community and other professionals and institutions.”

Her comments were criticised by Māori women leaders who are among those who have taken the claim to the tribunal. Dame Tariana Turia said Moss was “bagging her bosses” by making criticisms that applied to ministers as well as state agencies, and labelled some of the comments “creative and cunning”. 

One of Moss’s nine deputy chief executives, Hoani Lambert, announced on Monday he was leaving to take a role at the Department of Internal Affairs.

He told RNZ: “We were essentially being asked to try and transform a system… that was seriously suboptimal in the first place. What you saw in Hastings was absolutely unacceptable, however, that was the organisation that we inherited.”

“We’ve learnt from that, we put in place measures to ensure that there was greater scrutiny around those applications and … despite the cases, the reviews, I feel that we have made some ground as an agency.”

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