Uplift of baby spurs protest

Timaru uplift of baby linked to Oranga Tamariki protest

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by Chris Tobin

An Oranga Tamariki uplift of a baby at Timaru Hospital earlier this month is one of the latest incidents to fuel planned protest marches into what looks to be turning into a hot political issue.

Christchurch-based social worker Gwyn Beard was in Timaru following an uplift at Timaru Hospital (not involving Māori) earlier this month and questioned the manner in which it was handled.

Ms Beard is organising a march from the Bridge of the Remembrance in Christchurch on July 30, and a march to Parliament Buildings in Wellington on the same day is also being planned.

Ms Beard and other Māori feel aggrieved and believe Māori are being unfairly targeted.

The issue received wide publicity earlier this month when a video appeared of Oranga Tamariki attempting to uplift a baby at Hawke’s Bay Hospital in Hastings. It is now being reviewed.

The numbers

The total number of children in Oranga Tamariki care in Timaru as of June 30, 2018, was 80, of whom nine were aged up to 1 year.

The total number of children who entered care in South Canterbury (includes Oamaru) in 2016 was 40; in 2017 the total was 35; in 2018 it was 27.

Children can stay in care until their 18th birthday, meaning more children are staying in care longer.

Minister of Children Tracey Martin visited Timaru last week and commented briefly on the issue.

“We’re trying to keep children alive and have normal lives.”

She said cases in which uplifts occurred usually involved either one or a number of factors such as synthetic cannabis, P, alcohol, family violence and mental health issues.

Ms Beard believed the department’s policies were racist.

“We’re saying they are; they’re saying if you’re Māori something will happen to your child. Look at the statistics and murders of children.”

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Allan Boreham said their staff had “the deepest respect” for the whānau they worked with.

“We are committed to working with whānau, hapū, iwi and kaupapa Māori providers to ensure we uphold the mana and whakapapa of tamariki Māori and the whanaungatanga responsibilities of whānau, hapū and iwi,” he said.

“Our Māori cultural framework guides all staff to deepen their understanding of key Māori values, practices, concepts and events that have impacted Māori.

“We’re trying to keep children alive and have normal lives.”
– Tracey Martin

“The aim is to strengthen our confidence and competence to work more effectively with Māori to improve outcomes for tamariki and their whānau.”

Mr Boreham said the department was open to feedback and had systems and processes in place for people to report behaviour they believed fell short of the standards required.

“In the end, we all want the same thing, for all babies, children and young people to be in the safe, loving care of their parents and whānau.”

Ms Beard claimed statistics showed only a minority of Māori children were killed by caregivers and others.

This could not be confirmed at the time of writing as the information would require an Official Information Act (OIA) request which would take 20 days.

Statistics Ms Beard obtained through an OIA request showed five Māori children died in state care in 2017 and 2018 due to natural causes and one Pākehā child died last year, with the cause of death classified as “other”.

“It’s time to seize control of our direction”
– John Tamihere

Last weekend a large hui was held in Auckland to launch a Maori inquiry into uplifts. It was supported by leading Māori figures including Dame Turiana Turia and Sir Wira Gardiner.

John Tamihere, of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, said Māori could not have intervention being made by an agency “that has failed 14 reviews in 20 years – it’s time to seize control of our direction”.

Meanwhile, Ms Martin said in Timaru a child and youth wellbeing strategy would be run out of the prime minister’s office in the next couple of months with Oranga Tamariki input.

“We need the prime minister’s clout to get some government departments to change their approach.”

Earlier, she had said Oranga Tamariki would have to partner with iwi to provide safe homes for children in state care, which Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft called “a revolution in the way the State honours Treaty obligations with Māori in respect with care of children”.

Oranga Tamariki receives 90,000 calls of concern regarding children each year.

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Legislation Act, which came into force on July 1, requires Oranga Tamariki to provide a practical commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.