Child-welfare question: can non-Maori really cope more comfortably with officials who remove their kids?

Radio New Zealand has been airing concerns about social services being “so complicated that Māori families are having their children uplifted because they don’t know their rights”.

The report taps into a gathering of about 70 Māori support workers and lawyers at a workshop in Hamilton to learn about the legal rights of families “who come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki”.

We suppose this refers to families who trigger state interventions in response to (a) reports officials have received about a family and (b) increasing social pressures to deal with child abuse.

Many of those at the workshop – professional people by the sound of it rather than families directly affected by these interventions – complained that the system is complicated, confusing and biased, and that it is contributing to the alarming rates of Māori children in state care.

Ministry data incorporated in the Radio New Zealand report certainly raise disturbing questions. They show the number of children in state care increased from about 5600 a year ago, to 6100 at the end of January.

Even more disturbing is the preponderance of Maori children in those numbers.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin told a parliamentary committee that Māori children made up 60% of those in state care.

Khylee Quince, a senior law lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, related these figures to the high numbers of Maori in prison.  She said the system was not effective when more than two-thirds of New Zealand prisoners had a history in state care.

More critical for people trying to find out what’s wrong with the child welfare agency’s procedures, she said whānau trying to get their children back are sometimes prohibited from finding out what assessments were made about them and what has been disclosed.

“It is very difficult. It is like shadow boxing – you are punching in the dark against allegations you are often not aware of.”

Parents cannot usually get free advice through Legal Aid until things escalate to court, but a lot can happen before that, including Family Group Conferences.

Ms Quince said Māori families did not know what was required of them in those vital conferences.

“They do not know how the process works, they do not know what they are allowed to say, they do not know the questions they are allowed to ask,” Ms Quince said.

A Waikato-Tainui Iwi Support advisor, Koroki Waikai reinforced this, saying social workers could dominate meetings and talk down to whānau, which made things worse.

“They just bulldoze over the family and the family have no say,” Mr Waikai said.

“It pushes them further … into drinking more or using more drugs.

“A lot of that frustration is through not being able to navigate, not being able to make informed decisions about their situation.”

The four-day Te Korimako Legal Education workshop was set up to create Iwi Support Navigators, who know enough about the law to give whānau options when Oranga Tamariki knocks on the door.

A question which the Radio New Zealand report does not address is whether non-Maori families would benefit, too, from the services of family support navigators who know enough about the law to advise them of their options.

If the processes are too complicated for Maori, why are they not too complicated for non-Maori?

Or are we supposed to believe that dysfunctional non-Maori families with children at risk are much more savvy and better able to cope, when confronted by the bureaucrats and social workers who bewilder and browbeat their Maori equivalents?

And what is the nature of the bias mentioned early in the news item?

For another perspective, let’s hear from the ministry.

Its website says there are lots of different ways children and young people come into care.

Usually there’s time to plan how this will happen. For example, a decision might be made at a family group conference that it’s best for them to live with their aunty, or in another caring environment.<

“Sometimes the decision for a child to live with someone else happens quickly, because there’s been an incident or emergency situation where we needed to work quickly to make sure they’re safe.

“Each situation is different. But our focus always remains the same – doing what’s best for the child or young person, and making sure they have a safe, stable and loving home at the earliest opportunity. This might mean they can return home once things are sorted, living with wider whānau, or living with caregivers.

There is a curious disparity between the ministry’s view of what it is doing and the concerns of the people who attended the workshop in Hamilton, which happens to have been organised by the ministry’s SKIP programme, presumably aware of the need it can always improve its services.

Maraea Tepa, from SKIP,  told Radio New Zealand:

“This is a space where we want to test and design new approaches around how can we better support whānau and tamariki.”

If successful new approaches are found, let’s trust they are applied to all families who would benefit.

2 thoughts on “Child-welfare question: can non-Maori really cope more comfortably with officials who remove their kids?

  1. Oranga Taramiki kept us in the dark and bullied us. The process was very rushed, and we felt very threatened. This was not for anything my daughter *had* done, you understand, but for what they imagined she *might* do, and in the three years since has *not* done. I have a PhD and my father was a lawyer, so you’d think I’d be able to navigate the process. Don’t think it for one moment. I am aware of another case where OT have taken a newborn baby away, not because of anything the mother *has* done, but for that they imagine she *might* do. I am also aware of people with drug and alcohol problems and people who hit their (and other people’s!) children, who OT happily leave alone. I’m not sure that anything can be done about OT short of sacking everyone and starting from scratch with new people.

    Liked by 1 person

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