Christine Rankin angry Oranga Tamariki uplifts becoming a race issue

Former Families Commissioner Christine Rankin is defending the actions of Oranga Tamariki in uplifting babies from their parents.

Earlier this week, Newsroom released a video investigation showcasing officials from Oranga Tamariki - the Ministry for Children at a maternity ward attempting to take a young baby away from her family out of concern for the child's safety.

The process used by the officials has received criticism, with the Māori mother being isolated from her midwife and whanāu late at night so Oranga Tamariki could try and take her baby.

Oranga Tamariki eventually gave up after hours of standoff and the case is now before the courts.

Rankin told The Project on Thursday evening that she was frustrated responses to the video focused on the rate in which Māori families had children uplifted. Some have referred to those taken by the state as New Zealand's "stolen generation".

"I feel really frustrated that well-meaning people, that have got absolutely no idea about the reality of these children's lives, are creating a story about race, when it is actually a story about the protection of children," Rankin said.

Christine Rankin commented on the Newsroom video.
Christine Rankin commented on the Newsroom video. Photo credit: Newsroom/Screenshot / The Project.

The Project host Kanoa Lloyd said the story had led to discussions of race due to the disproportionate rate in which Māori children ended up in state care. 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.

Dame Tariana Turia, who has called for Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss to resign after the "utterly abhorrent" video was released, says racism is definitely at play.

She disputes statistics from Te Puni Kokiri that Māori children are six times more likely to die from abuse and neglect than non-Māori children.

"The stats aren't telling us that," she says. "In the last few years since 1993, we have had 83 non-Māori children killed, we have had 17 Māori children die, so the fact of it is this is an overkill when it comes to Māori families. Now if you don't want to call it racism, you can call it what you like."

Rankin said the process used by Oranga Tamariki was "traumatic" but no mother was likely to happily give up their child.

"Oranga Tamariki has a responsibility to keep that child safe… The primary concern is the safety of those children, and I feel incredibly frustrated that we are making it into something else.

"You can always make a situation better, but at the end of the day, you are going to take that child from the mother and from the family because it can't be kept safe."

According to Unicef, on average, a child dies every five weeks as a result of violence in New Zealand, with those under 12 months old making up the majority of deaths.

Rankin says Oranga Tamriki would be criticised if it left a child and then it was abused.

"Whenever that organisation doesn't take a child away and it is murdered or badly abused, and there are thousands of them, what does the New Zealand public do? They come down on them like a ton of bricks.

"If we don't want it to be a generation of children taken away from their families, then those families have to make decisions about putting those children first and taking them out of those dangerous situations.

"You would flip if you went into some of those homes, you would absolutely flip."

Judith Collins and Kris Faafoi.
Judith Collins and Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: The AM Show.

National MP Judith Collins and Labour Minister Kris Faafoi told The AM Show on Friday that there are too many cases where children aren't taken away and then tragedy strikes.

"You think about kids who weren't uplifted - the James Whakarurus, the Delcelia Witikas - these little kids who were left in situations where in hindsight people go, 'What the hell were kids doing in a place like this?'" said Collins.

Delcelia's death shocked New Zealand in 1991. The two-year-old had been subjected to horrific abuse and torture before dying alone in a pool of blood, urine and faeces while her stepfather and mother were at a friend's house partying.

Four-year-old James was killed by his stepfather in 1999 after years of abuse, including being hit with a hammer and being poked in the eyes. His family was reportedly well-known to social workers, but the boy remained in their custody.

"As a local MP you see cases come through where you would hope the agency would intervene and remove a child from the situation because you know it's not safe," said Faafoi. "But we continue to see cases where those kids haven't been, and they turn into tragedies. In general, sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."

Dame Tariana Turia.
Dame Tariana Turia. Photo credit: The Hui.

Dame Tariana says far too many" children are being killed in their homes, but Oranga Tamariki are "completely over the top" in how they respond.

"I think these are whakapapa issues, they should know how to work with whanau, hapu and iwi, they should be calling them together if they are concerned about children."

When there are concerns for a child's wellbeing, she says the extended family should be brought together to take responsibility for them.

"All my life I have looked after other families' children and I take it as an absolute privilege to be able to do that. I think we have to restore to ourselves the right and responsibility to take back control over our lives and the lives of our children.

"Taking children, ripping children away from the essence of who they are is not the answer. And I don't care what Oranga Tamariki or whatever they want to call themselves say. The fact is it is not good practice to remove children from their whakapapa."

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

Moss previously told The AM Show that she believes the 45 minute video is a "significant misrepresentation of the total story".

"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."

But Newsroom has rejected that characterisation.

"All interactions between the social workers and the mother in her hospital room... were caught on video by the whānau and Newsroom has used all relevant exchanges, fairly and in context, much of it unedited and in real-time," an article on the site said.