Oranga Tamariki must change | The Jackal

4 Feb 2020

Oranga Tamariki must change

If you haven’t watched Newsroom’s video showing Oranga Tamariki staff attempting to uplift a newborn baby yet you should do so. Although it's not the worst case as far as interventions go, it’s certainly not a good look for the Government. Because of this controversy there’s been a plethora of articles written, many discussing the pros and cons of Oranga Tamariki.

However the debate has unfortunately become terribly polarised with many from both sides often resorting to mudslinging instead of participating constructively. Obviously the contentious and fractious nature of the topic matter isn’t very conducive to finding solutions that actually work.

On one side are those who’re outraged at the way Oranga Tamariki operates. Some believe that the failed system continues to be a by-product of colonialism and is committing genocide because of the disproportionate amount of Maori children being uplifted. A number of articles showing just how bad things are have been published, giving rise to people asking for the organisation to be completely overhauled or even shut down.

Of course it’s not only Maori who want things to change. Most of the people working on the front lines treating injured children want to see improvement as well. Many however are generally supportive of Oranga Tamariki’s work. Clearly some intervention to reduce harm and save lives is required because children’s futures are at stake. But everyone can see that the current ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach really isn’t working.

Yesterday, RNZ reported:

Oranga Tamariki review: 'Treatment of Māori women has been inhumane' - Dame Naida Glavish 
A report on Oranga Tamariki has revealed harrowing stories of the removal of Māori babies and is calling for a complete overhaul of the ministry. 
The Māori-led investigation, which started six months ago, is one of five into the ministry and was spearheaded by the Whānau Ora Commissioning agency. 
Official figures released by the Children's Commissioner in January showed Māori babies were five times more likely to end up in state care than non-Māori last year and their rate of urgent entries into state care has doubled since 2010.

It’s no secret that the disproportionate majority of children in the care of the Chief Executive are Maori, giving rise to justified grievances and criticism of the Government. Maori more than most therefore have a vested interest in fixing what is a noticeably broken and often culturally insensitive system.

Dame Naida Glavish, who chaired the governance group overseeing the review, said the report confirmed systemic failure and discrimination. 
"The Crown is not honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There's been unprecedented breaches of human rights and the treatment of Māori women has been inhumane." 
"We can clearly see from the volume of evidence and the heavy handed approach inflicted on this whānau that something is so systemically wrong. This entrenched behaviour is plain unjust," Dame Naida said.

Because of the Oranga Tamariki scandal, many have called for increased Iwi based services to keep mothers with their children. Thankfully we’re now seeing a slight move in the right direction. But it’s unlikely that the current Government’s commitment to change will be implemented on a scale required.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Oranga Tamaraki had needed change and there were signs of progress. 
"To date I think everyone would acknowledge that we did need change. It was only three years ago that Oranga Tamariki was created ... and so it really is still trying to find its feet as an organisation [it] is intended to be. 
"There are signs of what we're wanting to see. For instance we've got strategic partnerships with four iwi, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi, Waikato-Tainui and Tūhoe." There had also been a 42 percent increase in funding to iwi organisations working with children over the past two years, and a decrease in the number of Māori babies coming into state care, Ardern said.

It should be noted that the current administration is only undoing some of the destructive policy changes implemented by National and not rectifying most of the inherent problems that CYFs had and still does have now that it's operating under a different name and Government.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin said many of the cases in the review predate Oranga Tamariki, and was part of the reason the ministry was formed in the first place. 
She agreed Oranga Tamariki must be more local in its delivery of services, and said that validates the operating model she passed through Cabinet last year. 
Prevention and early intervention is key to actually turning around what has been historical - over decades - terrible outcomes for Māori children. 
"Already Oranga Tamariki has created strategic partnerships with some of the largest iwi in New Zealand.

Instead of owning the problem, the Government seems to have adopted a business as usual approach. Tracey Martin is correct that prevention and early intervention is the key, but the Minister appears to be working harder to close the politically damaging issue down instead of making any required or significant policy changes.

Public acceptance of the status quo and its continued failure to significantly reduce the number of abused children has diminished markedly. Instead of treating the symptoms, the Government must do more to treat the root causes. There are long-term solutions available like significant investment to reduce people's financial hardship and material deprivation. However there appears to be little willingness from both sides of the political spectrum to address the main drivers of domestic violence.

When it comes to an apparent bias against Maori, politicians aren’t gaining much traction with those who see ethnically based prejudices within the justice system inhibiting their societal and economic success. Evidently a societal bias is also leading to an increase of family violence within dysfunctional families. It cannot be emphasised enough that the number one cause of newborn babies being killed by parents is because of financial distress. The Government must therefore look at addressing the bigger picture here.

Along with other inherent biases in the system, studies show that severing the attachment bond increases a person’s likelihood of being detained at her Majesty's pleasure. Children who’re removed from their families are more likely to suffer from a number of negative consequences later in life, including academically. Unfortunately the Government and our Justice System puts little emphasis on these adverse impacts despite them being well documented.

It’s no coincidence that the disproportionate number of Maori children being uplifted by the state also equates to the percentage of Maori in jail. One could even be cynical enough to say that the private prison industry lobbies the Government for increased punitive measures and advocates for the removal of at risk children from their parents because it equates to a steady stream of profitable prisoners. The Government must do more to break this destructive cycle.

Combine the failings of Oranga Tamariki, such as a lack of properly trained staff, high attrition rates and improper vetting processes, with a deficiency of drug rehabilitation and violence reduction programs within communities and it’s little wonder the problem is becoming worse.

Without accredited programs how exactly are parents with children caught in the Chief Executives grasp meant to undertake let alone prove that they've been rehabilitated? The authorities are basically telling mothers, many being victims of domestic violence themselves, to simply change their and their partners behaviour without much if any help to do so.

It’s apparent that the current system, which puts too much emphasis on personal responsibility, is terribly unfair towards Maori and therefore must change if New Zealand is to become a more egalitarian society and consequently a safer place to live in.