Woman says Oranga Tamariki staff member 'inappropriately' touched her when in care

Warning: This story contains details that may be upsetting for some people.

Despite the number of children in Oranga Tamariki residences falling, the number of staff members inflicting harm on those tamariki is on the rise.

Now, a young woman speaking out about her time in custody has told Newshub she was abused by a staff member.

It started with talking.

A young woman who was locked up in a youth justice facility said that's how a staff member earned her trust.

"The staff member started making inappropriate comments which led to her inappropriately touching me," she said.

The woman - who we've agreed not to name - was just 17 at the time.

She complained about what happened to her at Te Au rere a te Tonga in Palmerston North.

"I was assured that I wouldn't have to see the staff member at all but a few days later I did across the compound which made me really angry and frustrated and uncomfortable," she said.

She's now out of the system and speaking out.

After Oranga Tamariki last week launched an investigation into two other allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, Children Minister Kelvin Davis said: "By making it known what Oranga Tamariki is doing, it gives people the opportunity to say, 'Hey, this happened to me'."

Former police commissioner Mike Bush has been brought in to run Oranga Tamariki's residence facilities until the end of the year.

He told Newshub any allegation of poor or unprofessional behaviour is extremely disappointing. 

"I want to thank those who are bringing issues to our attention and assure them I am listening," he said in a statement.

"The process that we've put in place will encourage others if there have been situations to come forward because that's what this is about, it's not about hiding things and sweeping things under the carpet," Davis said.

The number of children in Oranga Tamariki residences has been steadily declining. By last year it was just over 1000.

However, the number of times harm has been caused by a staff member is increasing. Between 2018 and 2022 it jumped from 16 to 80.

In those four years, there were at least 150 known instances of harm caused to children by the very people employed to care for them.

And it could be even higher because some numbers in the Safety of Children in Care reports are suppressed.

"OT is failing in its core function of care and protection," ACT MP Karen Chhour said. 

"We have seen time and again that they are unable to give assurances that basic protocol is being followed. Example, not being able to say accused staff of recent event were police vetted.

"There needs to be accountability for those who drop the ball when it comes to protection protocols."

Davis said they want to "get to the bottom of this" to "make sure that all of our children in care are safe".

Because keeping children safe in care is meant to be the core function of Oranga Tamariki.

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