Oranga Tamariki strip searches to be 'phased out' - Minister for Children Kelvin Davis

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis says he doesn't want kids being strip-searched in Oranga Tamariki facilities, but it can't just be stopped without a replacement. 

Newshub Nation on Saturday morning revealed dozens of strip searches have been carried out in the state agency's Youth Justice residences in the past six months, mostly at a single facility in Christchurch.

Items found ranged from broken glass, a sharpened felt-tip and marijuana, to ripped clothing and string.

"Nobody likes strip searches - not the people being searched, not the people doing the searches - and it is something that is being phased out," Davis told Newshub Nation, after being shown reporter Anna Bracewell-Worrall's shocking report

"We need to look at other ways of checking that people don't have concealed objects - scanning, patting down those sorts of things. So it is happening. 

"But we've got to make sure that we phase it out in a way that is safe because, you know, there is criticism of Oranga Tamariki conducting strip searches on young people, but they'd also be the same people who would criticise Oranga Tamariki if someone was able to self-harm or harm others because they hadn't conducted those searches."

In a strange twist, Oranga Tamariki itself lobbied the previous Minister for Children, New Zealand First's Tracey Martin, to change the law to ban strip searches. They're now asking Davis. 

"Staff don't want to do strip searches. It's the final tool of the toolkit," Youth Justice Residences general manager Ben Hannifin told Newshub Nation, saying all 41 of the strip searches was necessary at the time. 

"It's a last resort. It's not pleasant for the staff, it's not pleasant for the young people."

Davis said there is no date set for phasing them out. 

"I'd like to see it phased out as quickly as possible into the year, hopefully by the end of the year. But like I say, Oranga Tamariki would also be criticised if somebody was able to harm themselves or harm others because a search hadn't been conducted."

The defence echoes that used to back uplifts, where the state takes a child off parents for its own protection. Most of the kids taken into state care are Māori, well beyond their share of the population. 

"New Zealand has one of the worst child abuse rates in the world and Oranga Tamariki is the only organisation that has the statutory responsibility for keeping children safe," then-boss Grainne Moss said last year.

A recent report from the Waitangi Tribunal called for compensation for parents whose children have been removed. It said, "tamariki Māori were suffering or likely to suffer significant and irreversible prejudice as a result of the current or pending actions of Oranga Tamariki".

Davis said the report "aligns with the direction that I've given Oranga Tamariki" and he hopes to have changes "starting to happen in the next 12 months or so". 

"I've directed Oranga Tamariki to move in a new direction and we will start to see the changes. But, you know, that's my commitment. That's why I wanted this role as Minister for Children - to turn those inequities around."

He said compensation for families remained a possibility. 

"I can't make guarantees now because we are still in the process of determining that in future... There's nothing off the table we're looking at how we can best support whanau, so, you know, we'll continue to have those conversations... The Ministerial Advisory Board will report back to me by the end of June."

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