'We've been ready for over 30 years': Veteran Māori midwife welcomes overhaul of Oranga Tamariki

Advocates who've been calling for major reform of the way the state handles at-risk children are quietly confident Kelvin Davis is the right man for the job.

But they're waiting to see the self-proclaimed "bulldozer" get results before hailing the reforms, announced on Wednesday, a success. 

The Government has accepted all the recommendations made by an independent panel on how to fix Oranga Tamariki, also known as the Ministry for Children, after complaints about its operations stemming back decades. 

"When I appointed the board, I asked it to get to the root of the problems with Oranga Tamariki and be completely honest with me about what it found," Davis said on Wednesday. "What they provided was a confronting yet powerful report and I am pleased to say the Government has accepted all their recommendations."

The recommendations come after two particularly bad years for the ministry, regularly in the headlines over its apparently racially biased targeting of Māori and Pasifika children for uplifts among other things. 

The biggest change is arguably the move to decentralise much of the ministry's decision-making and funding to local communities. 

"The root cause of that is we centralised the problem-solving, we stuck it in a Wellington office," Māori mothers' advocate and midwife Jean Te Huia told The AM Show on Thursday. 

"They say, 'How can we fix the problem in Kaitaia or Wairoa or Waipukerau?' They don't have the answers to that."

She said Davis "has the potential to do the job", but it's a "huge" one. In the mid-1980s the Government commissioned a report into the treatment of Māori in the welfare system, which led to the 1988 report Pūao-Te-Ata-Tū. Former Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss in late 2020 said the Crown had " failed to fully implement the recommendations of Pūao-Te-Ata-Tū in a comprehensive and sustained manner", which " impacted outcomes for tamariki Māori, whānau, hapū and iwi" and "undermined Māori trust and confidence in the Crown". 

Te Huia said the recommendations made by the recent panel aren't new, many having been made way back in 1988. 1 News reported on Thursday it was the 19th report into the agency.

"We've been ready for over 30 years," said Te Huia.

"It's about time that we had an opportunity to care for our own, to do it our way - to be able to provide good support for whanau who are birthing, good parenting programmes. We need to prevent the need for Oranga Tamariki."

Green Party MP Jan Logie told Newshub she hopes it's the last report into child protection services New Zealand ever needs. 

"We're looking forward to seeing [change] actually happen, rather than receiving more reports… The Green Party's always said communities are best-placed to care for tamariki and their whanau... change will not come from strengthening an outdated, problematic system. Government needs to follow through and shift power from the Crown to whanau, hapu and iwi who have been failed by broken Treaty promises and systemic racism for far too long."