How ACT wants to create 'more humane, accountable' Oranga Tamariki

ACT is promising to create a "more humane and accountable" Oranga Tamariki - which it claims is failing our most vulnerable kids.

On Tuesday, ACT announced its policy to reform Oranga Tamariki which includes transferring youth justice functions to Corrections, more rights for caregivers and a "truly" independent oversight system.   

It comes as the government department has been in the headlines over the last three weeks with major questions raised over the culture within Oranga Tamariki's facilities. 

ACT's children spokesperson Karen Chhour grew up in state care, entering Parliament with the goal to "make a difference for kids like [her]".

"I know what it's like to be a child moving between homes dealing with the state care system," Chhour said. 

"All these years later and despite the name change, Oranga Tamariki is no better than Child, Youth and Family was when I was young."

Just this year alone, Oranga Tamariki has been hit over and over by scandals, with a total of 13 staff removed from youth justice facilities in recent weeks and multiple investigations underway.

In February, a staff member was stabbed with a makeshift weapon as five teenagers escaped onto the roof of Te Puna Wai o Tuhinapo Youth Justice Facility in Rolleston.

At the same centre in June, a group of teenagers once again escaped to the roof and a week later young offenders in Auckland's Korowai Manaaki Youth Justice Residence also broke out onto the roof - in both cases, the youths were given fast food to end the standoff.

Serious allegations of sexual misconduct also emerged in June, with former Police Commissioner Mike Bush brought in to investigate. 

Most recently, Newshub exclusively broadcast footage last week showing an MMA-style fight at an Auckland facility.

"Oranga Tamariki (OT) has failed our most vulnerable children by avoiding accountability, treating kids as an ethnicity first, and failing to preside over youth justice facilities they never should have been running in the first place," ACT Party leader David Seymour said.

"We've seen where the current path leads. It's easier to help a broken kid than a broken adult, ACT will better equip Oranga Tamariki to do just that."

ACT Party leader David Seymour says Oranga Tamariki  has failed our most vulnerable children.
ACT Party leader David Seymour says Oranga Tamariki has failed our most vulnerable children. Photo credit: Getty Images

Part of ACT's newly-announced reform is to shift the youth justice functions out of Oranga Tamariki and into Corrections.

The Party said Corrections personnel have more experience in ensuring facilities are secure, as well as in the need to rehabilitate offenders so that they do not go on to re-offend.

"While it is true that many children who go through youth justice are known to OT, not all children known to OT go on to be criminals," Seymour said.

"The decision to put state care and youth justice under the same roof is admission of state care's failure, and reads like an expectation that these vulnerable kids will go on to offend."

ACT said this will ensure Oranga Tamariki is not conflated with criminal offending and is solely focused on the safety and well-being of kids in its care.

The Party also wants to give more rights to caregivers.

It is promising to give adoptive parents full decision-making rights for everyday decisions and caregivers full decision-making rights by default unless other arrangements are made with the birth parent/s in a Family Group Conference or Family Court.

"I hear time and time again that OT makes being a caregiver difficult and unpleasant. Decisions about the child's life as small as whether they can get a haircut or go to school camp cannot be made without approval from OT and the birth parents," Seymour said.

The Party hopes the move will help attract more "responsible" and "caring" people into caregiving. 

The Party is also proposing to establish a monitoring and oversight system that is independent from the government.

ACT will move the Independent Children's Monitor out of the Education Review Office and make it truly independent by establishing it as an Independent Crown Entity. The Monitor would have the same constitutional status as the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

ACT's Oranga Tamariki reform policy:

  • Establish an accessible and child-friendly monitoring system which is truly independent from Government
  • Offer kids the continuity of support in care they need by dividing the 'social worker' duties into a 'Mentor', focused on support and advocacy, and a 'Child Protection Officer,' focused on statutory duties.
  • Increase public accountability of OT's chief executive
  • Devolve service provision, empowering support from within communities
  • Make caregiving more attractive to address a national shortage
  • Transfer youth justice functions from OT to Corrections

"ACT's visionary overhaul of Oranga Tamariki will create a more humane and accountable system focussed on children’s safety and freedom from abuse and neglect," Seymour said.

"By creating transparent and independent systems of accountability, it will eliminate the 'sweep it under the rug' attitude which has been so pervasive in the state care system. 

"It's obvious that Oranga Tamariki is failing our most vulnerable kids. Only ACT is drawing on lived experience in the state care system to propose an alternative."