Jacinda Ardern admits she hasn't watched harrowing Oranga Tamariki uplift video

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hasn't watched the video investigation which prompted multiple inquiries into Oranga Tamariki and its practise of uplifting babies from their families. 

Earlier this month, Newsroom released a video investigation showcasing officials from Oranga Tamariki - the Ministry for Children at a Hawke's Bay 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.

The video has prompted an internal review into the Hawke's Bay case, an inquiry by the Children's Commissioner into the agency's protection of Māori children under three months old, and a more wide-ranging investigation into the uplift process by the Chief Ombudsman.

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition, titled Hands Off Our Tamariki, calling for transformational change in how the state deals with vulnerable children and a rally is scheduled for outside Parliament on July 30 calling for reform.

But despite that, Ardern hasn't watched Newsroom's video - although she says she understands the issues it represents.

"The actual footage of the removal, no, but I have seen other incidents like that in the past," she told Newshub Nation's Simon Shepherd on Saturday.

"I've been the spokesperson for children for Labour for a number of years, and this has been an issue that has been debated for a number of years.

"I certainly know the circumstances. I know the case; I know the issues around it; and I know the theme that’s being raised here," she said.

Ardern said a key issue is how to best protect vulnerable children.

"No one wants children to be raised outside of their families. It's heartbreaking for the families and for the wider community. But also, no one wants the child abuse rates that we have in New Zealand either."

"The state is always the parent of last resort, and it is not the best option. We need a system that prevents the state becoming the parent, and we are trying to turn that ship around."

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. 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.

One outcome so far from discussions between the parties involved in the Hawke's Bay case, like the Children's Minister, Ngāti Kahungunu and the Māori Council is that Oranga Tamariki will now work more closely with the iwi to prevent a baby going into state care. Similar partnerships are also in place with Tainui.

"We need more of that, and this is our chance to do that," Ardern said.

There will also be several changes to Oranga Tamariki's support practises from July 1, including a flurry of new care standards.


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