Oranga Tamariki blundered in Hawke’s Bay, true – but that’s no reason to disqualify it from dealing with family violence

 The strong whiff of “treaty” politicking has accompanied the intense scrutiny of Oranga Tamaraki in recent months, including the Waitangi Tribunal’s announcing an urgent inquiry into the child protection agency’s practices towards Māori children.

No-one, curiously, seems much bothered about the agency’s practices towards other children.

Oranga Tamariki staffers certainly invited closer scrutiny when they tried to take a baby from her mother in Hawke’s Bay in May, a bungled operation that was the subject of a Newsroom investigation.  This prompted howls of outrage, cries of institutional racism and the calling of national hui.

The tribunal’s Chief Judge Wilson Issac  said:

“I conclude there are sufficient grounds for an urgent inquiry into a specific contemporary issue concerning a risk of significant and irreversible prejudice to Māori arising from current Oranga Tamariki policy and practice.”

Inevitably, he invoked “the treaty” while saying the tribunal’s inquiry would investigate the disproportionately high number of Māori in care.

“Is Crown legislation, policy and practice inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty and the Crown’s Treaty duties to Māori?  

“If so, what changes to Crown legislation, policy and practice are required to ensure Treaty compliance,” he said.

But what about the treatment of non-Maori families and their children?

Well, that’s not his department, the good judge – in effect – said.

His tribunal’s urgent inquiry would not cover the methods of uplifting children, abuse in state care or standards of care of historical grievances.

He said this was being addressed in the other inquiries which (we presumably are supposed to believe) would be unfair to Maori.

Data publicised by news media at that time showed that at June 30 this year, 6450 children were in Oranga Tamariki’s care. Māori represented about 59 per cent

In some areas, it is almost 70 per cent.

A report on Oranga Tamariki’s invgestigation into the incident in Hawke’s Bay was released last week.  It detailed a raft of mistakes.

TVNZ1’s Breakfast team turned to family law expert Professor Mark Henaghan for comment.

He said it was sad that such “uplifts” of children from their families had been going on for some time.

“I think we all feel a responsibility here, everyone of us loves little children,” said Professor Henaghan from the University of Auckland.

“I’m sure there’s caring family members who want to do that care and without anyone having a say in that process it really has been a kind of national disaster in my view.”

Everyone of us loves little children?

Tell that to the judges who must listen to harrowing evidence before they sentence the plethora of child bashers and child killers who appear before them.

Whānau Ora’s commissioning agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she agreed with Henaghan, and moreover said she has no trust in Oranga Tamariki.

“They’ve got no good track history, you wouldn’t want to trust your children with them. If there is an issue with safety of children do not go anywhere near Oranga Tamariki,” said Ms Raukawa-Tait.

But a browse through Lindsay Mitchell’s blog suggests the agency is being given a bad press by critics unwilling to recognise other aspects of the story.

  • TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2019

Why children are uplifted

Children exposed to family violence.png

Mitchell featured a graphic from a short article by Ian Lambie, Chief Science Advisor for the Justice Sector, which appeared in the latest edition of the New Zealand Corrections Journal.

It shows that 292 children aged 0-5 had been exposed to 5 or more known family violence incidents within a year.

Lambie writes:

“Talking about the wellbeing of babies seems a long way from arguments about the prison muster, but that is where the evidence says we must begin.”

This should be to the forefront of thinking while the controversy about uplifting Maori children plays out, Mitchell contended.

“There are certainly cases where Oranga Tamariki have been heavy-handed or overly rules-bound, and while social workers continue to be human beings, variation in the way they approach cases will exist.

“But there is also a great deal known about the circumstances some babies are being born into and it would be reprehensible not to act.”

  • TUESDAY, JULY 23, 2019

‘Harm in state care’ does not mean harm inflicted by the state

This was not her first post on this subject, Mitchell wrote, but there now seemed to be an official response from Oranga Tamariki clarifying the true situation.

She quoted Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert as saying the majority of the harm to Māori children happened in placements where they had been left with their family.

Mitchell went on:

While Maori organisations plan to protest the uplift of Maori children many people are under the misapprehension that the state is actively harming children under its care.

That only happens in a handful of circumstances and usually as part of attempts to manage the child or young person.

OT has to front-foot this issue due to biased media reporting.

Mitchell had written a letter (published) to the DomPost back in March:

Michelle Duff (DomPost, March 28) writes about the 220 children abused “in state care”, they were “…taken from their families, from their homes, to a place that’s meant to be safer”.

Most children who are ‘in state care’ are placed with an approved family member or returned to their original caregivers.

They are under the legal custody of the state (Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive) but not living in foster care or residential homes. Most of the abuse occurred in placements that were family-related or having been returned to parents.

Most of the abusers were family members or parents.

No abuse or re-abuse of children is acceptable. But the facts show that family members and parents posed the greatest danger to these victims. This suggests that where the state primarily fails is in poor decision-making and monitoring of risk.

  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2019

Ethnicity matching

Mitchell quoted Dame Tariana Turia, who told the ‘Hands off our Tamariki’ rally at parliament

“The state thinks it’s ok to place children outside their genealogical links.”

But Mitchell produced data which showed the state clearly tries very hard to keep children within their whakapapa links.

OT Ethnicity match 2019.png

Clearly the state strived to keep children within their whakapapa links, Mitchell insisted.

That may actually be part of the problem of re-abuse in ‘state care’ – that children have been left  or placed with unsafe family members.

But the state certainly tries very hard to place children within their own ethnicity. (Again not something I necessarily agree with if the child’s best interests are not being served.)

That’s why they measure their achievement in this endeavour.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who attended the protest with a host of other MPs, was reported as saying the “torture and abuse” at the hand of the state must stop.

Mitchell rejoined:

That is one seriously misguided, dangerously inflammatory individual.

 If  abuse at the ‘hand of family’ were to stop Oranga Tamariki, the focus of all this venom, wouldn’t need to exist.

  • FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2019

Oranga Tamariki “Euro-centric”

At a hui to talk about the changes at and failings of Oranga Tamarik, Maori lawyer Annette Sykes said,

“Yes Oranga Tamariki has transformed, but the culture of practices hasn’t, it’s essentially Euro-centric.

Mitchell referenced official data published this year which showed the Maori child mortality has improved vastly under whatever practices were and are being advanced in the field of child health and safety.


Child mortality 1876 to 2006 Maori and non-Maori.png

The infant mortality rate was down to 3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, compared with 5.0 per 1,000 in 2008, Stats NZ reported.

Infant mortality for Māori dropped from 6.7 in 2008 to 4.9 in 2018.

These are some of the lowest-ever infant mortality rates for New Zealand’s total and Māori populations. They are comparable with other OECD countries’ infant mortality rates, which range between 2.5 and 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births with an average of 3.9.

Mitchell remonstrated with The Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, for failing to point out that – when it comes to child safety – there are basic practices that transcend culture.  

Her response was, “Nothing will change unless Māoridom gets the chance to design it [new systems of state care].”

 Well hell I thought that’s what whanau ora was all about.

 While all this political bickering goes on, all ‘transformation’ really takes is for one individual to assume dedicated care of a child.

It’s called individual responsibility.

Mind you, under modern-day interpretations of the Treaty it may well be called something else and, moreover, it may be derided as a less-than-admirable quality.

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