The new leadership of Oranga Tamariki appears to be hearing Children's Minister Kelvin Davis loud and clear. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Changes to some Oranga Tamariki policies have appeared on the agency’s website following a Newsroom investigation that was ordered off air by the court.

The children’s ministry Oranga Tamariki has created extensive new guidance for staff around children placed with non-kin caregivers following a Newsroom investigation into the uplift of a sibling group from the South Island late last year.

The policy was uploaded on February 17 to Oranga Tamariki’s website under their Practice Centre section, which provides resources and guidance for staff on how to work with tamariki and their whānau.

Entitled ‘Ensuring a safe, stable and loving home when tamariki are living with non-whānau caregivers’, it goes on to say: “We need to honour existing commitments or agreements to support permanent care. We only change the existing care arrangement if there is a significant change in the circumstances of te tamaiti or their caregiver.”

It reminds practitioners to work with all parties together, including whānau, hapū, iwi, caregivers and te tamaiti, and that the best interests and wellbeing of te tamaiti must be centred in their decision making. The guidance also reminds staff that any transitions of children between caregivers must be handled with care and in accordance with the agency’s transition policy.

When approached for comment, the office of Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said the matter was operational and directed Newsroom to Oranga Tamariki, which confirmed the policy and associated guidance and resources had been updated last week.

When asked why, the Oranga Tamariki spokesperson said this practice has been in place since the introduction of new legislation in July 2019, known as 7AA, but that “this updated and clearer formal policy has been developed over many months and reinforces our commitment to Section 7AA. It’s also important to note that the guiding principles that informed this policy have underpinned social work practice for many years, including the principle of ensuring that wherever possible tamariki Māori remain connected to their whānau and whakapapa.

Oranga Tamariki is undergoing change.  

“The policy reinforces that, if children and young people are unable to go home, we must strive to achieve permanent care that meets their needs from within their family, whānau, hapū, iwi or family group.

“Our policy is now clearer that non-whānau permanent care is an exception and can only occur where no family, whānau, hapū, iwi or family group alternatives which meet the child’s needs are available.”

The spokesperson then pointed Newsroom to the section of the page that covers revisiting care arrangement only if there has been a significant change in the circumstances of te tamaiti or their caregiver.

Newsroom’s documentary investigating a reverse uplift case from the South Island in December, which led to a review ordered by Kelvin Davis and now this change of policy, has been removed from our website by court order after the Solicitor-General alleged it contained details that might identify the children involved. The interim injunction granted by the High Court remains in place so the report on that case cannot be traversed again here.

Following the story, Newsroom was inundated with people sharing their stories of children being abruptly uplifted or threatened with movement from stable placements, often to be placed in unfamiliar homes. Critics of Oranga Tamariki’s actions in these instances told Newsroom they believed this was a blunt policy to fulfill a new mandate to return as many children to family as possible.

This wave of reverse uplifts came on the back of more than two years of Newsroom investigations into the child protection agency, including a documentary into the attempted uplift of a newborn from his mother at Hawke’s Bay Hospital in 2019 which sparked five separate inquiries, four of which slammed the agency, and an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing, which is still underway.

Shocking structural racism revealed pēpi Māori were five times more likely to be taken into care than non-Māori.

After the release of the reverse uplift story, new minister for children Kelvin Davis demanded a formal review from the chief social worker and called an interim halt to the reverse uplifts. This limited internal review concluded the children’s removal could be justified, but that it “raised further questions for the minister around some system-wide processes within Oranga Tamariki and how these processes are being applied.”

Then on January 22, following repeated calls from Māori leaders for her resignation, Oranga Tamariki CEO Grainne Moss finally stood down. Moss had been at the helm of the agency since its inception almost four years ago, following the disestablishment of its predecessor Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

A Māori-led watchdog was immediately set up to oversee the ministry, and an acting CEO installed, Sir Wira Gardiner, who once led Te Puni Kokiri.

The advisory board, led by Māori Council chair Matthew Tukaki and joined by prominent iwi figures Dame Naida Glavish and Tā Mark Solomon, with leading social worker Shannon Pakura, will provide an initial report to Davis by June 30.

The caregivers from Newsroom’s reverse uplift story are awaiting a report from the Ombudsman into their case. The couple were expecting the report earlier this month but have been told Oranga Tamariki has asked for an extension to address the issues raised in the report before it can be released.

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