Davis should stand down | The Jackal

30 Jun 2021

Davis should stand down

We all know that Oranga Tamariki is a complete mess of an institution that needs to be completely overhauled. In fact most of the children who go into the custody of the Chief Executive usually end up worse off than if they were simply left with their dysfunctional families.

There is no question that intervention should only be warranted if the situation the state intends to place vulnerable children into isn’t worse than their current circumstances. However neither Oranga Tamariki nor the Minister for Children can provide adequate assurances to this effect, because a large number of children and young people are still being abused in state care.

Yesterday, Newsroom reported:

Davis demands answers over mistreatment at state care facilities

If Oranga Tamariki staff don't have the necessary skills to deal with children at care and protection facilities then they shouldn't be in the job, the Children's Minister says in response to a damning Newsroom investigation

Children's Minister Kelvin Davis has asked Oranga Tamariki to look into the "totally unacceptable" restraint of children in care and protection units, saying people should make a police complaint if they believe staff have broken the law.

So why isn't Davis making the police complaint himself?

A Newsroom investigation into the treatment of vulnerable children at the specialised facilities  – prompted by video footage provided by a concerned whistleblower – shows workers tackling one boy and twisting his arms behind his back, and putting another in a headlock before throwing him to the ground.

Specific concerns have also been raised about the lack of qualified social workers in the four care and protection residences, with Oranga Tamariki instead hiring youth workers who do not have specific vocational requirements. 

Paula Bennett once gave assurances that more was being done to properly train Child Youth and Family staff. While she was the Social Development Minister, only 30% of all full-time CYF staff were registered social workers. Now, ten years on from those assurances, and it appears that nothing has improved.

Davis, who watched Newsroom’s investigation on Tuesday morning, said the behaviour was “totally unacceptable” and he had asked Oranga Tamariki to review each of its care and protection residences to ensure there were not system-wide problems.

Why would the Minister bother with another review by Oranga Tamariki? They’ve clearly failed in their duty to safeguard children, and it’s doubtful whether the same people who were likely involved in trying to cover up these violent assaults are going to investigate themselves properly.

Officials and the independent ministerial advisory board would also be on site to get to the bottom of the matter, with Davis praising the whistleblower for bringing the behaviour to the attention of the public.

“I support anybody who raises issues around bad practice, and Oranga Tamariki needs to make sure that they have a robust system to make sure that any reports of bad practice are acted on.

“This is why I put my hand up to be the Minister for Children - to make sure that all children in New Zealand are being fairly treated and safe.”

Davis is obviously failing in that duty.

It's pretty clear that the Government doesn’t want the public to learn about the extent of abuse that still occurs in state care, so I’m not sure that I believe Davis when he says he’s on the side of the whistleblower here.

In fact Oranga Tamariki and the Government have been trying to keep things quiet with unwarranted and excessive legal proceedings against previous OT whistleblowers, which makes Davis' assurances that he wants the public to know the truth highly doubtful.

Even though Davis has washed his hands of the issue, the Minister must take some responsibility for Crown Law's unfair prosecution of Newsroom for spilling the beans about OT uplifting newborn babies, just as he must take responsibility for the latest instances of child abuse by Oranga Tamariki employees.

So here’s what the Government must do to fix Oranga Tamariki. Firstly, replace Kelvin Davis as Minister for Children. Nothing has improved and the position obviously requires fresh thinking and a new set of legs.

Furthermore, Davis’ use of a Newsletter as a prop in Parliament to pass the buck for prison riots (the newsletter was printed after the riots) isn’t an acceptable use of Parliaments time by any stretch of the imagination. This also means that Davis should go as Corrections Minister, because he's obviously incapable of taking responsibility for this portfolio as well.

Incorrectly withholding innocuous newsletters from prisoners is clearly a breach of their human rights and if Davis isn’t prepared to change the rules slightly concerning prisoners communicating with advocacy groups and organising to improve their situation, then he clearly isn’t the right man for the job.

The new Minister for Children should allow for the reviews to take place, but ultimately be working on a solution themselves.

Their first port of call should be to severely cut back Oranga Tamariki staff so that only qualified personnel who are beyond reproach are used to look after children in their care. This would mean that at least two thirds of those currently in the direct care of OT would be returned to their families. It would also mean that those without the proper qualifications weren’t being placed into situations they couldn't handle.

Reducing the number of untrained staff at Oranga Tamariki isn’t just something that must happen to ensure an end to children being abused in state care, it must happen to help reduce violent crime as well.

There is no question that Oranga Tamariki is a one-way track into a life of crime and incarceration. In fact OT is such a good tool for creating damaged and violent people that one could surmise that it was designed that way.

So if we want to reduce the amount of violent crime in New Zealand, we must ensure that any institution where young people are being sent to isn’t more dysfunctional than the families they’re being removed from…and unfortunately that isn't an assurance the Minister can currently provide in regards to Oranga Tamariki.