Planning documents show Oranga Tamariki was worried it wouldn’t have enough staff when police decided to break up the Parliament protest and that resources would be stretched if similar protests around the country escalated

Detailed as a key risk in internal briefings, Oranga Tamariki was worried it would not be prepared.

“Support and response to the resolution of the unlawful protest activity in Wellington has impacted some services and staff. Further protest activity across New Zealand may trigger further at-risk scenarios for Oranga Tamariki to support and respond to, exacerbating current demands on staff and critical services.”

“[There is a risk that] Oranga Tamariki are not fully prepared, or do not have the staff available to undertake our role when police step up their intervention.”

The risks did not play out, with Oranga Tamariki seeking advice from an international entity that had not long grappled with the same issues. 

“Senior Oranga Tamariki staff met online with the chief executive of the Ottawa child protection agency which worked closely with police to resolve the protests in their capital city.

“Advice from the CE is informing current scenario planning and response arrangements. Oranga Tamariki remains linked to international reporting to ensure relevant learnings are integrated into our planning, and police awareness.”

Much of the planning information released publicly has been redacted while the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) continues its investigation into the police’s handling of the protest.

Redacted information includes other risks the agency identified, as well as intelligence from the site at Wellington, including photographs of children.

Internal advice that has been made public advised staff to try and gather as much information as possible.

“The Operational Issues Team has begun to collate a list of tamariki suspected to be at the protest. Further comms will be drafted for frontline staff regarding expectations and returning these tamariki home/to their caregivers.”

“Using activities such as drawing or colouring-in may help relax te tamaiti and you can ‘chat’ with them as they do this. Ask about what it is like where they live, grandparents or siblings, school and friends that might help identify them.”

“If te tamaiti or rangatahi is part of a sibling group, keep them together to lessen their anxiety but also be aware of the influence older siblings may have if they think a younger tamaiti is giving information they have been told not to… Record your interactions and efforts to identify them in the CYRAS intake.”

CYRAS is the online case recording system used by Oranga Tamariki.

“Te tamaiti and rangatahi may have been encouraged by their parents or others to be obstructive and resistant towards authorities. When faced with this reaction from tamariki, our response should be one of de-escalating and calming.”
– Oranga Tamariki 

A dedicated line had been set up so police could contact the department directly.

“We expect that there are likely to be reports from members of the public, particularly as there are high levels of videos and images circulating on social media,” an internal guidance document read.

The internal guidance outlined a range of risks that children and young people at the site could face.

“The mixture of individuals present, some of whom may be a risk to tamariki or rangatahi and who could take advantage of the opportunity to exploit them.”

“Any decreased or compromised parental supervision, which creates vulnerability for tamariki or rangatahi and the possibility of accidents or injury… the nature of their parent’s involvement in the protest activity – whether they are an influencer, or whether they place their tamariki and themselves in the front of the protest at volatile times (for example, are they placing their tamariki between Police and the protestors?)”

An entire section on what to do should a young person be seriously hurt was redacted due to the protection of legal advice.

Concerns around poor sanitation, insufficient shelter, exposure to infectious diseases and “rangatahi being encouraged to engage in unlawful activities by others” also were documented. 

Staff were warned engaging with young people could be difficult.

“Tamariki or rangatahi who are or have been in an unlawful protest may have been told to not give their name or any other details to authorities. This may make identification difficult, and it is important the way we work with them is reassuring and encouraging them to talk with us.

“Te tamaiti and rangatahi may have been encouraged by their parents or others to be obstructive and resistant towards authorities. When faced with this reaction from tamariki, our response should be one of de-escalating and calming.”

Oranga Tamariki set up a “round-the-clock” roster so staff were always available to police if necessary.

Senior managers also attended twice-daily briefings.

The day the occupation was dismantled Oranga Tamariki had set up a centre away from the protest in case police placed children in their care, but were concerned some youths might be missed.

“Potential arrests of adults at the unlawful protest site may leave tamariki and rangatahi unsupervised. The tempo of operations during an intervention may prevent police from identifying and triaging at-risk tamariki and rangatahi.”

Despite thousands of people coming and going over the three weeks, only two families were reported to Oranga Tamariki and are now with regional management.

None were referred to the agency the day the occupation was dismantled.

The IPCA received nearly 1900 complaints as a result of the protest, many from people not present but concerned about police action and inaction.

The Authority is currently reviewing the policing of the protest which includes police engagement with national agencies like Oranga Tamariki.

It is expected to be completed by April next year.

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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