Prominent Māori leaders are “over the moon” at news Oranga Tamariki CEO Grainne Moss is stepping down from the role

Māori leaders and child trauma experts have welcomed the resignation of Oranga Tamariki CEO, Grainne Moss.

Moss will leave her role at the end of February, a year before her five year contract was due to expire.

In a joint statement, wahine Māori leaders Dame Naida Glavish, Dame Tariana Turia, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi, Dame Areta Koopu, Lady Tureiti Moxon and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said they were “over the moon” at news of Moss’ sudden departure.

They described it as “a principled and responsible decision by Moss”.

“It has been a long time coming but at least now we can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Dame Naida said.

The group has campaigned against Oranga Tamariki since a Newsroom investigation into an attempted uplift of a new-born Māori baby in Hawkes Bay in 2019.

Newsroom revealed that “without notice” uplifts were being used to remove many new-born Māori babies from whānau. The widespread practice was found to be unlawful after in inquiry by the Ombudsman – one of five investigations sparked by Newsroom’s reporting.

Read Newsroom’s two-part investigation into Grainne Moss’s Oranga Tamariki

‘Get your handbag … it’s not going to be pleasant’

The brave new world of Oranga Tamariki

The group of prominent wahine renewed their calls for Mokopuna Māori Authority.

“I hope this is a signal from the Crown that this is the start of devolution of tamariki Māori from Oranga Tamariki to Māori. Rangatiratanga and mana Motuhake can only be realised if this happens so we can look after ourselves in our own way,” said Lady Tureiti Moxon, Chair of the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA).

In 2020 the group filed an urgent claim against Oranga Tamariki in the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of the National Urban Māori Authority.

Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The claim was based on the fact that 60 to 70 percent of children in state care are Māori, and therefore, 60 to 70 percent of the resources should go to Māori.

The group has been highly critical of what they believe is a “toxic culture” at Oranga Tamariki during Moss’ tenure.

“She’s been the head at that Ministry for four years and the culture hasn’t changed. It’s been far too slow and taken far too long to stop the trauma and the hurt and the pain that a lot of our families have been experiencing and continue to experience. Unless that changes all we’re doing is perpetuating the fallacy that the Government knows much better than the people in our communities and the parents,” Moxon says.

The leaders are hopeful that the Crown see Sir Wira Gardiner as part of the devolution of Oranga Tamariki to Māori given his appointment as interim CEO.

“It’s all about whānau and building connections, not separating anyone, least of all tamariki from their whānau. Build them up, don’t tear them down,” says Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Chair of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency.

Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The appointment of Gardiner was also welcomed by Hawkes Bay kaumatua, Des Ratima. Ratima intervened on behalf of The Hawkes Bay whānau in an attempt to stop Oranga Tamariki from uplifting of the baby at the centre of the case Newsroom was reporting on 

“I believe he (Gardiner) will provide confidence and strong leadership to bring about the transformation required.

“Moss leaves behind a legacy of failure for tamariki. Her new employment reflects why she had to go. Better with numbers and statistics than with people.”

Nicola Atwool, Associate Professor in the Social and Community Work programme at the University of Otago, and an expert in child attachment trauma said Moss was right to resign but the job required special qualities.

“It needed to happen but it will be a real challenge for whoever comes in. I am not sure the people responsible for such appointments understand the qualities needed to achieve a major shift in organisational culture”.

Moss was widely seen as on her way out after new Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis declined to say he had confidence in her leadership and after Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said in November that she “allegedly may be vacating in a couple of hours”. Although Davis upbraided Henare and called his comments “inappropriate and inaccurate”, he continued to refuse to express confidence in Moss.

Read more: Moss exit the first step in transforming Oranga Tamariki

Davis said Oranga Tamariki had gone about issues like uplifts in the wrong way in recent years.

“I don’t think it’s what has been done, I think it’s the way it has been done. We need to look at ways of helping our whānau and children to not become at risk. Partnership with Māori is essential and, in fact, looking at Māori ways of working is essential,” he said.

“We’ve spoken in the past about the transfer of power and resources towards Māori so that Māori can develop solutions to the issues that present to our families. Partnerships are critical and this is a real opportunity to make this happen.”

Davis told Newsroom he had confidence in Gardiner’s leadership already.

“Sir Wira’s record speaks for itself in the public service. I really look forward to working with him,” he said.

In a joint statement with State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, Moss said “I would like to acknowledge all those at Oranga Tamariki and our partner organisations who work tirelessly in some of the toughest environments.”

“I am proud of all that we have achieved over the last four years. However, I believe it is the right time for the agency for me to step down and make way for new leadership. I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the well-being of children.”

Hughes said Moss’ resignation was “in the best interests of the agency. What she has done today is selfless”.

Moss has been appointed to a new role, CEO of Pay Equity, on a one year contract.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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