Oranga Tamariki spent over $1000 in one week on fast food to lure young offenders off roofs

Oranga Tamariki spent over $1000 of taxpayer money on fast food in just one week to end standoffs with young offenders who escaped onto the roofs of its youth justice facilities, AM has revealed.

Earlier this year, there were multiple occurrences when teenagers in the government justice facilities escaped onto the roofs where they remained overnight until they were bribed to get down. In one of these incidents, a staff member was injured by the offenders and suffered a fractured wrist.

Official information sent to AM found $846 was spent in July when a group of teenagers spent 24-hours on the roof at Korowai Manaaki Youth Justice Residence in Wiri, Auckland. Oranga Tamariki said the food was also given to police officers and other emergency personnel involved in responding to the roof-top stand-off.

Just one week earlier, the ministry spent $268.50 on KFC to lure five teenagers who escaped onto the roof at Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo near Christchurch.

Oranga Tamariki has defended its use of fast-food bribes, saying the roof-top incidents posed a significant risk to staff, emergency services and young people.

"Our staff needed to act in the interest of safety and security. Negotiating the young people off the roof using appropriate tools was a priority," Oranga Tamariki said in a statement.

"It is worth remembering that there were other young people in the residence when this occurred. We had a responsibility to ensure they were able to resume normal activities as quickly as possible.

"In this situation the risk to safety and property outweighed the cost of takeaways."

Offenders on the roof at the Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo.
Offenders on the roof at the Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo. Photo credit: Newshub.

Children Minister Kelvin Davis noted the cost of the takeaways in the Korowai incident was mostly to provide emergency services and staff with food to recognise their hard work.

He said the alternative was to risk the stand-offs going on for much longer which would risk a huge cost in both staff time and potential damage.

"If the call is made by the experts that offering takeaways is the best option to end the incident, then that is what should happen," Davis said.

However, ACT spokesperson for children Karen Chhour has slammed the spending, telling AM the principal of it is wrong.

"I do know they use fast food as positive reinforcement within these facilities, and I am okay with that, if young people are earning those rewards. But I don't see having that as a reward for bad behaviour is acceptable," Chhour told co-host Ryan Bridge.

Chhour said by rewarding bad behaviour there are wider, unintended consequences, pointing at the increase in staff assaults.

Figures released to AM under the Official Information Act showed there was a 118 percent increase in youth justice staff assaults from 61 assaults in 2021 to 133 in 2022.

Chhour, who grew up in the child welfare system, move youth justice functions from Oranga Tamariki to Corrections.

"Oranga Tamariki is an organisation that's there to care for our most vulnerable and Corrections is an organisation that deals with the ones that have got violent and have committed serious crimes," she said.

"What I would like to see, is actually to separate those two departments and bring Corrections in to run the youth justice facilities because they understand the needs of people who commit crime, they can help with rehabilitation, they can also help with making sure these young people are safe.

"It's about making sure that the people in those facilities actually understand trauma, understand these young people and understand how to rehabilitate them so they come out better then they went in."