Children’s Commission recommends Government transfer power to Māori to care for at-risk babies

Māori should be given the legal power to provide support for at-risk babies and children, rather than Oranga Tamariki, a new report says.

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft is recommending a total transformation of the current system.

The second report in a two-part review from Becroft’s office calls for the Government to commit to transferring power and resources to Māori to care for children that might otherwise be dealt with by the state. The move would enable a “By Māori, for Māori” approach.

The report is one of multiple investigations into OT’s child uplift practices.

The earlier report included an account from a woman who first discovered her baby would be uplifted while she was giving birth.

The latest report looked at the experiences and outcomes of pēpi in state care, and what immediate changes are needed to support better outcomes for pēpi and their whānau.

Over the past six years to June 2019, an average of 265 babies – of which 171 were Māori – were taken into state custody each year.

The trend showed planned removals had declined, but urgent, often without notice, removals had increased.

“While the numbers may seem small, the immediate and intergenerational impact on pēpi and their whānau, hapū and iwi is immense,” the report said.

The report found there was a lack of evidence and trust that incremental change could deliver for Māori, as it had not done so over the past 30 years.

Transferring the power to Māori was the best option for real change and recognised Māori as best placed to care for their own, the report said.

“Māori have their own solutions that work . . . when resourcing and decision-making is transferred to Māori, transformative change is possible”.

Becroft said there was a history of “patching and tinkering” with the state care and protection system, and this had failed mokopuna Māori, “too often resulting in severing their links with whānau, hapū and iwi”.

“This creates life-long damage and must stop.

“While there will be times when pēpi need to be away from their birth parents, every aspect of the decision and placement should be managed by Māori, for Māori. The connection with whānau, hapū and iwi is central to their wellbeing and should never be severed.”

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss said transferring power and resources from Oranga Tamariki to Māori to enable a Māori-led approach would be a decision for Government to make.

“All New Zealanders want the same thing,” Moss said. “We want to ensure that tamariki Māori are safe and well cared for.

“Over the last two years we have seen a 50 per cent drop in the number of pēpi coming into care.This is due to our commitment to working alongside Māori to support tamariki.

“Our shared goal is that tamariki and rangatahi are at home thriving under the care of their whānau, hapū and iwi.

“When a child needs to urgently come into Oranga Tamariki care, practice changes made last year have led to a significant reduction in without notice applications to the court.”

“We will be looking to guidance from the Waitangi Tribunal and direction from Ministers before commenting further on the vision expressed in Te Kuku o Te Manawa.”

The tribunal is currently assessing whether Oranga Tamariki legislation, policies and practices are consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, with specific regard to the disproportionate numbers of tamariki Māori being taken into state care.

The four recommendations to Government are:

• To commit to giving Māori power and resources so they could keep pēpi in the care of their whānau

• For OT to act immediately to stop harm and to improve the experience for Māori children and their whānau in the current system by implementing urgent changes to policy and practice

• For OT to change the contracting process and increase funding and support to iwi and Māori organisations to deliver better services, and to support and resource a transition to a “By Māori, for Māori” approach

•For the minister and OT to act to improve legislation and mechanisms in the current system to better work with Māori

One of the recommended steps to stop harm to families was preventing the use of without notice removals of pēpi by ensuring all practical steps were taken to determine care plans at the earliest opportunity.

The report also recommended stopping the practice of removing pēpi from a hospital maternity ward or birthing unit, in order to respect the needs of pēpi to bond, breastfeed, and have a calm and safe environment.

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