Māori over-represented in state care harm statistics

Māori children are over-represented in new state care harm statistics released in a report on Tuesday.

The third Safety of Children in Care report revealed that between January and March this year 103 children in the Ministry of Children's care had findings of harm recorded.

While 103 children were recorded as harmed, the report revealed there were 154 findings of harm in total - meaning that some children were harmed more than once.

Eighty-one percent of the findings related to incidents that occurred within the previous six months. Sixteen children had findings of neglect, 33 had findings of emotional harm, 54 had findings of physical harm, and 19 of sexual harm. 

Māori were disproportionately represented, with 76 percent of the children harmed being Māori, but Māori only make up 59 percent of children in care. As of March 31, there were 6400 children/young people in care/protective custody, and 170 in youth justice custody.

The proportion of Māori children recorded as harmed is up from the July to September 2018 quarter (72 percent) and the October to December 2018 quarter (65 percent).

Breaking down the children harmed by gender reveals that 59 percent were female, compared to females making up only 46 percent of children in care. 

Thirty-four percent harmed were over the age of 14, with a large proportion of this coming from the 19 findings of sexual harm. Fifteen children over the age of 14 were found to be sexually harmed. One was between six and nine, and three were between 10 and 13.

The report says there are several possible outcomes for individuals alleged to have caused the harm, including criminal charges. The agency also puts into place a range of support systems for the child subjected to the harm.

Hoani Lambert.
Hoani Lambert. Photo credit: The AM Show.

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert said the agency wants to understand the level and nature of the harm and how to reduce it.

"We're releasing this information because we want to be open, transparent and learn from it," Lambert said in a statement.

"The conversations surrounding this are not easy ones to have, but the more people who engage in issues about child safety and wellbeing, the more likely it is that change will happen."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says he remains "deeply concerned" and the figures are "utterly unacceptable". He told Newshub the figures shine a light on a "long and chronic" issue.

"After three reports now the question has got to be: 'What's being done?'," he said.

"I hope by the next quarter we start to see some significant drops, because we can't continue as we're going at the moment."

Andrew Becroft.
Andrew Becroft. Photo credit: The AM Show.


The agency, which is tasked with ensuring vulnerable childrens' safety, typically uplifts children from their family and places them with other caregivers if they have been harmed or are at risk. The report reiterates that the vast majority of children are not harmed during their time under Oranga Tamariki's care.

However, the uplift process has also been scrutinised, with leading Māori figures suggesting there are poor long-term outcomes for some Māori children who have been in state care.

Oranga Tamariki has been under fire recently after a Newsroom video investigation showcased from the agency at a Hawke's Bay maternity ward attempting to take a young Māori 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.

Image from the Newsroom video.
Image from the Newsroom video. Photo credit: Newsroom / Screenshot.

Multiple inquiries into the case and the practises of Oranga Tamariki have been announced since, with one by the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency to ensure one of the reviews was led by Māori.

While Lambert says Māori and iwi are "quite rightfully" putting pressure on the agency to ensure uplifts aren't unnecessary, if the child is staying in the home, the agency has a duty to make sure it is safe. 

He says that isn't a simply black or white determination, but the Government is channelling additional money into early intervention services to put support around families and their newborns.

"Families will say 'if only we had the support earlier, then we could have addressed the causes of harm', that is what we are trying to do with these families," he told The AM Show.

Oranga Tamariki is also doing more to work with iwis, like Ngāti Kahungunu and Waikato Tainui, to ensure children are kept within a familiar environment.

After the report's release, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said it showed the "current processes of the state are not keeping tamariki safe".

"This affirms what people have been saying for a long time, that the state is not a suitable caregiver for tamariki. The current processes for keeping children are simply not working and are causing harm.

"Our system needs an overhaul, and I will continue to work with the Minister to do that."