Gráinne Moss has stepped down as Secretary for Children and chief executive of Oranga Tamariki, following months of intense pressure on her to resign.
In a statement released by the Government agency on Friday morning, Moss said she was leaving to take up the position of chief executive of pay equity for the Public Service Commission.
"I would like to acknowledge all those at Oranga Tamariki and our partner organisations who work tirelessly in some of the toughest environments," she said.
"I am proud of all that we have achieved over the last four years. However, I believe it is the right time for the agency for me to step down and make way for new leadership.
"I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the wellbeing of children."
Sir Wira Gardiner - founding chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Māori Development and founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal - has been appointed acting chief executive of Oranga Tamariki.
He will join the agency on February 1 before taking over as Secretary for Children and chief executive a month later.
Moss will finish up as Oranga Tamariki chief executive on February 28, before taking up her new role at the Public Service Commission on April 12. A recruitment process for her permanent replacement will begin in due course.
The agency's bosses have been under intense pressure for months, following coverage of uplifts of Māori babies, who are five times more likely to be taken into state care than babies of other ethnicities.
A Children's Commissioner report in November found Oranga Tamariki was beyond salvaging, and should be rebuilt to ensure better outcomes for Māori. It recommended authority of the organisation be handed over to Māori.
Commissioner Andrew Becroft acknowledged Moss' "huge effort and commitment" to the role. He said the issues at the agency are structural, and go well beyond who is appointed chief executive.
"State decision about and for Māori families can't continue in its present form," he said.
"As our office showed in our recent review of the care of protection of pēpi Maori, there needs to be a total transformation of the statutory care and protection system to a 'by Māori, for Māori' approach.
"This could include a restructure of Oranga Tamariki including a new leadership model that embodies true partnership under Te Tiriti. This resignation needs to be seen as the opportunity for that reset."
Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes hailed Moss' performance as chief executive and described her decision to resign as "selfless".
He described her as a dedicated public servant who had made significant improvements in what was "one of the biggest and toughest roles in the Public Service".
He said during her tenure, fewer children had entered care, social worker caseloads were reduced, investment in Māori services had doubled and the agency had developed new whānau care partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations.
"I commend Mrs Moss for doing what is, at this time, in the best interests of the agency," Hughes said. "What she has done today is selfless.”
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer welcomed the news of Moss' departure, saying her resignation was "the result of the continued strong pressure of the Māori Party".
"We have forced Oranga Tamariki into acknowledging the institutional racism," she said.
"Given that she has acknowledged the continued failings and systemic racism on her watch, Gráinne Moss tendering her resignation was the only right thing to do."
Ngarewa-Packer called on the Government to disband Oranga Tamariki and instead give control to "an independent by Māori, for Māori agency".
The Greens agree. The party's spokesperson for children, Jan Logie, said Moss' resignation paves the way for Māori leadership.
"Oranga Tamariki deals with predominantly Tamariki Māori, therefore it is critical that the organisation be Māori-led. We have faith that the Public Service Commission will appoint the appropriate person," she said.
"If we want a future where all of our children are nurtured and safe, we need to do as the Children's Commissioner has said and transfer power to Māori.
"We must centre the welfare of children - especially Māori children who too frequently fall victim to a broken system, and are disproportionately taken away from māmā, pāpā, and whānau."