Oranga Tamariki's uplift processes must be restructured and focused towards Kaupapa Māori, says Dame Tariana Turia.
Dame Turia was on the front line of a large protest outside Parliament on Tuesday which called for the state to stop "stealing" Māori babies from their whānau.
She has personal experience with Oranga Tamariki and believes things must change.
"I am a child who was taken from my mother at birth," she told The Project on Tuesday evening.
"I have raised two grandchildren and many other children."
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She says the department needs to ensure babies who are taken from their mothers remain within their whānau.
"The department would have to actively go out and search through those families that that child belongs to, for those families to be able to step forward and take them," she said.
"For example, if we had a child of Whanganui descent, rather than put it on Trade Me as [Oranga Tamariki] did not so long ago, they would put out a call to the various hapu to come forward and perhaps take that child."
Dame Turia says she feels lucky this was her experience.
"Families who were relatives of mine stepped in and raised me so I knew everything about my tribal heritage. It was a very well-rounded childhood."
Watch the full interview above.