Whānau Ora's Merepeka Raukawa-Tait wants uplifting of Māori children 'stopped altogether'

The Government has ordered Oranga Tamariki to stop uplifting so many children from their families, demanding that uplifting a child should only be a last resort.

A Māori-led ministerial advisory board found Oranga Tamariki is:

  • self-centred
  • has weak, disconnected systems
  • lacks strong professional leadership
  • and is vulnerable to being blown off course

It's the latest in a series of damning reports and reviews of the agency, and Children's Minister Kelvin Davis has dubbed himself the 'Bulldozer' who'll force change.

Grace Hoet has seen so much trauma at the hands of Oranga Tamariki, which she describes as the "worst department in the world".

She's been a caregiver for 18 years and is currently caring for a 15-year-old. They whakapapa to the same hapu.

"I'm one of those extended aunties, I guess you'd say," she tells Newshub.

The boy's baby brother was uplifted, taken from the birthing ward and placed with a Pākehā family. Oranga Tamariki later contacted Grace to try and uplift him again.

"Contacting us three years later to uplift a child that had already grown and bonded with the parents was so wrong, so we said no," she says.

There are more than 5000 children in state care. Three quarters of them are Māori or Pacific.

"Oranga Tamariki lacks strategic direction and is not visionary," says Matthew Tukaki, chair of the ministerial advisory board.

"It is self-centred and constantly looks to itself for answers. Its current systems are weak, disconnected and unfit for the population of tamariki it serves."

The ministerial advisory board recommended fundamental change, and Davis has promised: "You will see change."

The group - Tukaki, Sir Mark Soloman, Shannon Pakura and Dame Naida Glavish - will stay on to become the Governments watchdog on the inside.

"I'm going to be a bit of a bulldozer, and behind me I've got Dame Naida Glavish, the warship, and we just have to actually force these changes through," said Davis.

The ministry has been under intense scrutiny after a Newsroom investigation into the uplift of a baby from a Hawke's Bay mother.

Davis made it clear he wants uplifts to be a last resort.

"It needs to be done in a way that minimises the trauma and it has to be done with respect," said Davis.

But he's not committed to completely ending them.

"We want to see the uplifting of Maori children stopped altogether," says Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency Chair, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait.

The Māori Party wants the section of the law that allows the legal uplift of children repealed.

"Absolutely, that's the least they could have done after the indignitaries they put on our mokopuna," says Māori Party Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Oranga Tamariki acting deputy chief executive Chappie Te Kani said: "The real point is: have we explored all of the other options before we've got to that point? And that's the work we'll have to continuously work on."

Some critics of Oranga Tamariki wanted the entire department actually bulldozed and power handed over completely to Māori.

Short of that, it's now up to Oranga Tamariki to regain trust, prove its worth and for the minister to ensure this isn't yet another scathing review with no real action.