The midwife at the centre of the landmark Hastings uplift two years ago is fighting another potential baby removal by authorities. Bonnie Sumner reports.

Jean Te Huia is staging a sit-in with five generations of a whānau at their marae in protest at a without notice court order stating their nine-month-old baby must be given to a distant relative.

The whānau have refused to abide by a Family Court judge’s orders and hand the baby over, and have instead set up at the marae, where they feel safe.

Over the weekend, friends and whānau have been dropping by with kai, taking turns to feed, change and play with the baby in the whare.

“It takes an iwi to bring up a child,” one of the kuia tells Newsroom as she coos over the smiling baby.

The boy has been cared for since birth by his mother, grandparents and extended whānau in what Te Huia describes as a ‘circle of love’. He has never been under the care of, or come to the attention of, Oranga Tamariki, or had a report of concern made about him.

Te Huia says the baby’s young mother, who works fulltime, is well-supported by her whānau and hapū to care for her child in this shared arrangement.

‘An overreach by the authorities’

Less than two months ago a relative, the baby’s half great aunt, made contact with the whānau after they posted photos of the baby on a whānau social media page.

She asked to be part of the ‘circle of love’ and to care on occasion for the baby and to introduce him to other relatives. The whānau agreed and the baby spent several days over the next few weeks visiting the great aunt.

The great aunt already has day-to-day care and additional guardianship orders over five other children. (Day-to-day care is the legal term for custody – where the child lives with and is cared for by the appointed guardian. Additional guardian means the courts have added the applicant as a guardian in addition to the automatic guardianship rights of the mother.)

The following month the great aunt asked the baby’s mother if she could have fulltime care of the baby. Feeling shocked and suspicious at this request, the whānau grew worried about the great aunt’s intentions and excluded her from their ‘circle of love’.

Two weeks ago the baby’s grandmother says she received an angry text from the great aunt saying she intended to get custody of the boy. On July 12 the great aunt applied to the Family Court for a without notice interim parenting order for the baby, including a warrant to enforce, which means police can step in if the baby isn’t handed over.

Judge KNP Broughton granted the custody and uplift order based on the woman’s affidavit.

Jean Te Huia at the marae where a hāpu is gathered to care for a baby. Photo: Bonnie Sumner

Jean Te Huia is appalled at this decision and says it’s yet another sign the system needs to be overhauled.

“This baby is not in danger. This baby is with its mother and whānau. So when these decisions are made, everything should be taken into account, not just not the views of one distant relative who happens to believe the baby should be with her.”

Since 2017 when our Taken by the State series began, Newsroom has been publishing stories that illustrate the ways in which the Family Court system can be exploited in custody disputes, and Te Huia says this this situation is a further example of this.

“This court order is an overreach by the authorities and illustrates how easily the system can be manipulated.”

“What’s appalling to me is that if this can happen to a normal family, this can happen to any one of us. We can’t simply go and make a without notice application to take someone’s baby off them. I would have thought, in this country today, that wouldn’t be possible, but it is possible. It’s just ripping the heart and souls out of families by the judicial system not being fit for purpose.”

Harder to build a shed

According to the affidavit presented to court by the great aunt, she requested a without notice order because she believed the baby was not being provided a stable home, that he was exposed to family violence and drug use, and that he was in immediate danger.

The whānau categorically dispute this, and Te Huia told Newsroom there are numerous discrepancies and unsubstantiated claims in the affidavit put to the Family Court.

“This is an attack on our whakapapa by the system. You can’t even build a shed because you need an RMA report and you have to get the neighbours’ consent. But they can take baby off a parent and they don’t have to get consent from anybody. They just sign a form and take a baby,” says Te Huia.

After finding out about the without notice interim parenting order through a text message, the whānau scrambled to find a lawyer and on July 16 applied to discharge the order, providing five affidavits of their own to dispute the great aunt’s claims.

These detailed numerous inaccuracies in the great aunt’s submission, including the claim that the great aunt’s application for day-to-day care was supported by two of the baby’s current whānau carers, when it was not, and that the relative had been spending three to four days per week with the baby, when she had not.

The family even contacted a local community based organisation that provides support to young parents and whānau to provide an assessment. Their conclusion, provided as evidence to the court, was that the mother was a good parent, she had excellent support and the baby was well loved and cared for.

However a second judge, AJ Twaddle, dismissed their application to discharge, meaning the court has ordered the baby to live with the great aunt until a ‘directions conference’ where all parties can be heard on September 6.

The whānau told Newsroom they can’t understand how a baby can be taken from its home, mother and whānau on the word of someone he barely knows until the court can hear their evidence.

“This baby is loved, happy and warm and I can’t even fathom how this can be happening. To me it begs any kind of understanding. In these post-Hastings uplift modern times do we still have to keep doing this?” says Te Huia.

The whānau have directed their lawyer to make another application to the court this week in an attempt to suspend the great-aunt’s custody orders so the evidence can be ‘properly tested’.

Police called off

The whānau have been expecting police to show up to forcibly remove their baby and place him with the great aunt, but Te Huia says she has been in touch with local heavyweights Ngāti Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana and Hastings district councillor Henare O’Keefe for support and has been assured police will not be coming to the marae to uplift the baby and will wait until their further application has been heard by the court this week.

The hapū say they’ll be staying on the marae with their baby for as long as it takes.

Jean Te Huia looks around at the photos of whānau decorating the walls. “It’s time we stood up…. Enough is enough. Look at us, back into our tīpuna whare, where we feel safe, on our marae.”

Bonnie Sumner is part of the Newsroom Investigates reporting team

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