Children's Minister Kelvin Davis condemns Oranga Tamariki staff filmed tackling, head-locking kids in state care

Children's Minister Kelvin Davis has condemned Oranga Tamariki staff filmed tackling and head-locking kids in state care. 

A whistle-blower has released CCTV footage to Newsroom, showing staff at Care and Protection Facilities - run by Oranga Tamariki for youths put in state care by the Family Court - using unapproved techniques to restrain young men. 

"I watched the video this morning and I need to say that it is totally unacceptable. I've asked Oranga Tamariki to review each of the four residences to make sure there isn't a system-wide problem," Davis told reporters on Tuesday. 

"We've also asked Oranga Tamariki officials, as well as the independent ministerial advisory board, to be on site to get to the bottom of things."

The whistle-blower who gave the footage to Newsroom on the condition of anonymity, said he feared the consequences of Oranga Tamariki finding out what he did. But Davis says he appreciated the staffer coming forward. 

"Just in terms of the whistle-blower, look I support anybody who raises issues around bad practice and Oranga Tamariki needs to make sure that they have a robust system to make sure that any reports of bad practice are acted on," Davis said. 

"This is why I put my hand up to the Minister for Children, to make sure that all children in New Zealand are being fairly treated and are safe.

"It's unacceptable. This is what Oranga Tamariki needs to address to make sure that everybody has the skills to be able to work in those environments. If they don't have those skills then they shouldn't be working there."

Davis acknowledged there has been a reduction in the amount of qualified social workers at the facilities, with more youth workers - for whom there are no specific qualification requirements - filling the gaps. 

"I believe the youth worker to social worker ratio has in the last few years changed so I've asked Oranga Tamariki for more information around that," Davis said. 

"It's a difficult job but that's no excuse for what we're seeing in the video. It won't help those kids whatsoever and that's why we need to make sure that the people who work there do have the skills necessary to deal with those types of behaviours."

Davis said it's up to police to take it further if an official complaint is made. 

The Office of the Children's Commissioner has asked Oranga Tamariki to activate the Child Protection Protocol (CPP) which includes calling in police. It has has repeatedly called for the closure of the residences. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was equally disappointed after being briefed about the leaked CCTV footage. 

"Of course, our priority has to be - in these environments where we have the responsibility for the care and protection of children - to make sure everyone is behaving to the standard we would expect," she told reporters. 

"We have a responsibility as a state, when children are in our care - to make sure that even in the most difficult circumstances - that we are applying standards and that applies across the board, even in those difficult circumstances."

In April Ardern acknowledged failings in Oranga Tamariki after the Waitangi Tribunal released the findings of an inquiry launched in October 2019 over concerns Māori children were significantly overrepresented in state care. 

The Waitangi Tribunal told the Crown to step back and let Māori establish an independent Māori authority to overhaul Oranga Tamariki, the Government department that came under the spotlight after distressing child uplifts were caught on camera. 

A report from the Children's Commissioner in November found Oranga Tamariki was beyond salvaging, and should be rebuilt. It also recommended the authority of the organisation be handed over to Māori.

Ardern has not yet decided if an independent Māori Transition Authority is the way to go.