Increasing numbers of Māori babies being removed from families, despite falling rates of abuse - report

Harrowing figures are emerging from a Children's Commissioner report around assessments and removals of Māori babies (pēpi). 

Findings suggest moving pēpi into state care is happening earlier than it does for non-Māori - with the decision increasingly being made before the child is even born, particularly for Māori.

There were eight times more concerns reported for unborn Māori babies in 2019, as compared with 2004. In that same time, reported concerns for non-Māori increased only 4.5 times. 

In 2010 there were 36 approvals for unborn Māori children to be removed from their families at birth - by 2017 that had risen to 93, despite findings of actual abuse decreasing over that same period.

In 2019, 0.67 percent of pēpi aged three months or under were taken into state care, but only 0.13 percent of non-Māori. 

Urgent decisions to remove pepi doubled over the last decade, but stayed the same for non-Māori.

Andrew Becroft.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo credit: The AM Show

And 48 percent of pregnant women whose pēpi were taken into state care before birth had been in state care themselves at some point.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told Newshub some of the numbers rendered him speechless.

"From 2014 to 2017, the removal of Māori babies ordered into state custody before birth almost doubled." 

He says there's no explanation for the increase either, with findings of abuse trending downwards.

"There are serious, long-term and persistent inequities in the removal and placement into state care of Māori babies - and that's an enduring concern."

The Children's Commissioner's investigation was triggered by an attempted uplift from a maternity ward at Hawke's Bay Hospital in May which shocked the nation. Oranga Tamariki initially defended its actions, but later admitted making a litany of mistakes.

As of June last year, there were 6429 children in state custody - 69 percent of them Māori, despite Māori making up only 16.5 percent of the population and 25 percent of all children - "a considerable inequity", according to the new report.

This report will be followed by two more in 2020, seeking to answer questions such as:

  • Why is the inequity between Māori and non-Māori increasing?
  • Why are assessments and removals of pēpi Māori happening earlier in their lives?
  • How well do social work assessments and interventions increase the safety and wellbeing of pēpi Māori by connecting them with services and supports?
  • What impact do social work practices have on pēpi Māori and their whānau?