Oranga Tamariki: Jacinda Ardern describes staff behaviour in whistleblower video 'totally unacceptable'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has now watched recently released CCTV footage showing Oranga Tamariki staff tackling and head-locking a child in care, describing the behaviour as "totally unacceptable".

The footage, provided to Newsroom by a whistleblower, shows staff at Care and Protection facilities - run by Oranga Tamariki for youths put in state care by the Family Court - using unapproved restraint techniques on a child. 

Kelvin Davis, the Children's Minister, has tasked his independent ministerial advisory board with getting to the bottom of what's happened, while the agency has triggered its Child Protection Protocol - involving police - and stood down several staff members.

The Prime Minister has now viewed the video.

"I thought it was totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable," Jacinda Ardern said. "No question that from time to time there will be issues that escalate that staff have to deal with. Most social workers would have been appalled by what they saw on that video."

She said a child sustaining injuries from restraint in care wasn't acceptable. 

"What we have seen, the video that has been produced in the last couple of days, clearly not meeting our expectations," Ardern said. 

"We have asked Oranga Tamariki to look at the practices within those facilities. Our goal is not to have facilities like this. We are working towards group homes which we hope will be a better environment for these young people."

Sir Wira Gardiner, the agency's acting chief executive, told a parliamentary select committee on Wednesday morning that it is moving away from large facilities to smaller ones being built over the next three to four years. They want to replicate a homely environment and allow those in case to have one-on-one attention. 

The behaviour of staff at the facility is just the latest in a string of scandals to recently beset Oranga Tamariki. 

"I think we can all agree over the past few years that it's obvious that Oranga Tamariki are failing to live up to their new name," Davis said on Wednesday morning

"Today, I am not here to defend the indefensible. Oranga Tamariki has made some serious mistakes and there is no hiding away from them. Uplifts, social workers under pressure, a lack of training, and just recently, care and protection residences displaying unacceptable behaviour."

Davis said the "vast majority" of those working in residences are "doing a great job", but in an organisation of thousands, "there will always be someone, unfortunately, who does something they shouldn't".

"We want to eliminate that behaviour as we want to make sure all children are safe. We are not going to stand here... and defend the indefensible. It is about understanding what the problem is, the extent of the problem and then fixing it."

He told the committee he was committed to fixing the system and seeing power transferred to those on the ground in the regions. 

"I expect Oranga Tamariki to be that enabler that allows the regions to decide what is right for their particular area, to empower communities and Maori to help children and their families in a way that suits them and not us here in Wellington," Davis said.

"The move will see the decentralisation of Oranga Tamariki and the handing over of trust and power to those at the frontline."