Children's Minister Kelvin Davis says outgoing Oranga Tamariki boss Grainne Moss "had her critics" but wasn't pressured to resign.
Moss had been facing increasing pressure to step down after more than a year of intense criticism and public outrage over Oranga Tamariki's uplifts of Māori children.
It came after Newsroom in 2019 documented the process of Oranga Tamariki attempting to uplift a one-week-old infant from its young mother in Hawke's Bay.
More recently, Newsroom followed four children as they were shifted to live with wider whānau and taken from the pākehā family Oranga Tamariki had originally placed them with - a reverse uplift.
"I don't want to go," a child could be heard saying in the video.
Despite refusing to resign over the last few months, Moss announced on Friday that she had decided to step down as Secretary for Children and chief executive of Oranga Tamariki.
"I believe it is the right time for the agency, for me to step down and make way for new leadership," she said in a statement. "I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the well-being of children."
Davis agreed that Moss had become the focus of Oranga Tamariki. He told Newshub on Friday that he respects her decision to step down so the focus can return to helping families and children.
"I think she's just made the decision that the time is right now. I tend to agree with her that the focus became about her rather than about the work that needed to be done to support children and families," Davis said.
"She's made that decision, I respect that decision, and I respect the dignified way that she has gone about announcing that decision."
Davis says Moss wasn't pushed out of Oranga Tamariki.
"She had her critics. She did the job as good as she could but she's decided that now is the time to step down and take the focus off her and return the focus to the work that needs to be done to support families and to support children.
"She's done the best she can in the four years she was there, working through those challenges and the transformation that needed to happen, and there's a bit of a platform now to build on."
Davis said Moss' role was "probably one of the most difficult" positions in all of the public service.
"But she led it through significant transformation and change and challenges and I guess now she's saying it's the right time to move on," he said.
"My role now is to focus on working with the new leadership of Oranga Tamariki to fix the system and I'm looking forward to working with the interim CEO Sir Wira Gardiner - his record speaks for itself. Ability in te reo Māori is one of those strengths that is necessary in this line of work and he's got those credentials.
"I look forward to working with him and making sure that we can support families to be the best families they can be and our children are in the best care."
Sir Wira was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, head of the Iwi Transition Agency, and founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development.
In November, Davis ordered a 'please explain' from Oranga Tamariki over the reverse uplift incident recorded by Newsroom.
Newshub's Jenna Lynch revealed that the Chief Social Worker's investigation found the decision to uplift those children and place them with whānau was sound.
However, his report has also raised further questions for Davis around some system-wide processes within Oranga Tamariki and he ordered an immediate pause on any further so-called 'reverse uplifts' until those processes are fully reviewed.
Moss has accepted a new role as chief executive leading the Public Service's pay equity work.
A recruitment process will begin shortly to appoint a permanent chief executive for Oranga Tamariki, and the Greens are hopeful the appointee will be Māori.
"Grainne had lost the confidence of the community, particularly Māori. Her resignation now paves the way for this Māori leadership," said Green Party spokesperson for children Jan Logie.
"We really look forward to seeing Māori leadership for this role. Oranga Tamariki deals with predominantly Tamariki Māori, therefore it is critical that the organisation be Māori-led."
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer tweeted that she agreed with Moss' decision to step down, having previously called for her resignation.
"Given that she has acknowledged the systemic racism on her watch, Grainne Moss tendering her resignation was the only right thing to do. Our policy, released during the election, is very clear - we must shut down Oranga Tamariki and start again with a Mokopuna Māori agency," she said.
"The Government must now implement that policy, and follow the advice of the Children's Commissioner - begin the process to disband Oranga Tamariki and shift the powers and responsibility to an independent by Māori, for Māori agency."