Oranga Tamariki uplifts 'too brutal' - Willie Jackson

The days of Māori children being taken into care by the state are "gone", says Whanau Ora spokesperson Merepeka Raukawa-Tait.

The claim comes as a new inquiry into the uplifting of Māori children gets underway - the fourth, this one led by Māori.

A national hui at Mangere's Holiday Inn on Saturday will launch the inquiry into the way Oranga Tamariki operates, sparked by the controversial uplift of a Hastings baby which made headlines in May.

"Our review will be done by Māori, for Māori, with Māori," she told Newshub.

"That's quite different to from the Ministry of Children's, their own internal one, and from the Commissioner for Children and the Ombudsman. People will share information with us they wouldn't share with anyone else."

Whanau Ora says many Māori do not trust Oranga Tamariki. 

"We don't want to strengthen a Government organisation to go into the homes - or anywhere else - and to uplift Māori children. Those days are gone."

Around half of all children taken into state care by Oranga Tamariki are Māori. In recent times on average, three Māori babies a week are uplifted by Oranga Tamariki.

Willie Jackson.
Willie Jackson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Labour MP Willie Jackson will be at Saturday's hui in his role as chair of Ngā Whare Waatea Marae. He agreed with others, including Whanau Ora creator Dame Tariana Turia, that Oranga Tamariki has a problem with institutional racism.

"How do we know that? Because Māori have been ignored for many years... There's plenty of evidence Māori have been separated and not included in the process."

He told The AM Show on Friday while the agency under Children's Minister Tracey Martin is doing its best to improve its processes, it's still ignoring the Māori way of doing things.

"When you pick a baby up, get in touch with Maori, get in touch with hapu, get in touch with the people. Don't just go in and pick a baby up. Talk with the local kaumatua, talk with people who know the whanau...

"They're trying. Things have not been good over the last few years. But we've got a new administration in place. They're trying to work with Māori. Is it good enough? No it's not. Our organisations are saying this is too brutal. You can't just go in and take babies and traumatise a whanau, traumatise a community."

He stopped short of joining the chorus of calls for a moratorium on uplifts, saying sometimes it just has to be done.

"If a baby's in danger and has to be taken, there's no argument."

Judith Collins and Michael Wood.
Judith Collins and Michael Wood. Photo credit: The AM Show

He also disagreed with Dame Tariana's call for Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss to resign.

Labour MP Michael Wood told The AM Show Oranga Tamariki was often stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"In cases like these, there's huge media scrutiny; in cases where a child gets hurt and Oranga Tamariki doesn't take action there will be huge media scrutiny and they'll be bashed up publicly as well. It is the most difficult, difficult area of work. Any time you have an uplift situation that is going to be difficult and it is going to be traumatic. 

"Where I really strongly agree with Willie is we are sometimes going to have to, very sadly, uplift children. But there is a question of the how, the degree to which we involve wide whanau to make sure that it's done in the best way possible."

Appearing with Wood was National MP Judith Collins, who flatly rejected claims Oranga Tamariki was acting racist.

"I think it's real insult to the social workers who work so hard to try and keep children safe... People have been abusing their children, hurting them, killing them in some cases, and the Family Court is involved in all these uplifts. 

"It's not like social workers are wandering around the corridors of maternity hospitals looking for children; a Family Court judge has gone and said this child needs to be kept safe from this particular family."

She said Oranga Tamariki wouldn't need to get involved if people treated thier kids right in the first place.

"Stop beating up kids and you won't need Oranga Tamariki."

Wood also stopped short of calling it institutional racism, and pointed to new legislation which added more steps Oranga Tamariki must take before resorting to an uplift.

In addition to the Māori inquiry starting this weekend, there are investigations being conducted by the Chief Ombudsman, the Children's Commissioner and Oranga Tamariki itself. 


A previous version of this story said the hui was going to be held at Ngā Whare Waatea Marae - it was, but has been moved to Holiday Inn due to extra demand. 


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