Oranga Tamariki claims uplift video doesn't show the whole story

The boss of child welfare agency Oranga Tamariki says video showing the attempted uplift of a week-old baby is a "significant misrepresentation" of what happened.

But the editor of the news site that released the video has rejected her claims.

The clip, released earlier this week, showed a young Māori woman being pressured to hand over her child to the state. Officials turned up late at night after her whanau had left to try and take the baby, and reportedly didn't give up until 2am.

On average, three Māori children are taken into care every week, Newsroom reported, and that number is rising - while the rate of uplift for non-Māori is staying static.

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss was reluctant to discuss the details of the case during an appearance on The AM Show on Thursday, citing privacy.

But she said Newsroom shot 40 hours of material that was cut down to 40 minutes for their report.

"I would say there's a very significant misrepresentation of the total story," Moss said. "We bring them into care with the approval of the courts after we've provided evidence that actually, this may be the only way to keep that child safe."

Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy was listening and took to social media to reject her claims.

"It wasn't of course. Was completely as it happened," he tweeted."Ask all the whanau, midwives and the lawyer who were in that room. She should see the footage that didn't make it. Would make an interesting second episode."

Moss said the attempted uplift will be reviewed - a standard process for all cases. Asked if there was perhaps a better way to remove children from dangerous situations than turning up to the hospital, at first Moss agreed - before placing the blame for the child's predicament on the families Oranga Tamariki has to deal with.

"I think we can always do things differently - everybody wants children to be safer, and there's things that can be done differently so a child is never placed in that position...

"There is always a better way - it's better not to have drugs and alcohol, it's better not to have family violence, it's better to deal with toxic stress factors so babies are not born into environments that most New Zealanders would be shocked and saddened at."

Grainne Moss.
Grainne Moss. Photo credit: The AM Show

Moss detailed the sheer scale of the problem Oranga Tamariki has to deal with.

"We got 90,000 reports of concern for 64,000 children in the last year. Of those 64,000 children, we're working with 30,000 of them - 1750 were bought into care. That's less than 3 percent.

"We would all love that number to be zero, but we bring children into care because they are in need of care and protection. New Zealanders, I think, would be very shocked and saddened if they saw some of the conditions children live in - things like significant family violence, significant addiction to drugs, mental health problems, poverty, very poor housing, very poor hygiene, poor ability to actually meet their needs every day - nutritional needs, medical needs."

She also pointed out in order to carry out an uplift, Oranga Tamariki has to prove to a judge all other avenues have been exhausted. The child will also have a lawyer present in court, as will the family.

"This is the hardest work that probably anybody in New Zealand ever does. This is the hardest work a social worker does."

Placement with pākehā

More than two-thirds of babies taken into care last year were Māori or Pasifika. Some were placed with pākehā families, leading to talk of a new 'stolen generation' - echoing similar concerns about Australia's former policy of placing Aboriginal children into state care.

"Children should go to the place they're the safest and they're going to thrive," said Moss. "The vast majority of the time that is with whanau, and we work incredibly hard to make that happen."

She said 80 percent of Māori children taken away from their birth families end up in the care of whanau or other Māori carers.

"It is really important to have that cultural connection and identity."

She stressed the fact "98.5 percent" of Māori children are not in state care.

"The vast majority of Māori babies are thriving, they're well-loved, they're resilient. Let's have more of that."