Former CYF runaways back with whānau

After nearly three years as wards of the state, Oranga Tamariki's custody orders for Temorehu and Anahera McLean have been discharged and their cases have been closed.

While it's cause for celebration, their mother Te Awhina McLean said the struggle to have them signed back into whānau care was painful.

"The pain's over now, the hurt the pain for what CYFS has done to me and my family. And now we are back together."

Their nightmare began in 2015 when the McLean family's state house tested positive for methamphetamine. They denied smoking P in the home, and no prior test had been conducted, but they lost their house.

Housing NZ also notified Child Youth and Family (CYF, commonly known as CYFS), and the two youngest members of their family, Anahera and Temorehu, were removed and placed with strangers.

Their older sister Pepe McLean-Howard, who has had interim care of the children, remembers police arriving at dawn to take her siblings,

"They came to my house on Anahera's birthday… There was like 15 to 20 police officers that had come, banging on my doors - they said they had a search warrant."

Anahera and Temorehu were sent to live out of Auckland, but while in care they made a run for it and made headlines after police launched a search for them.

Anahera McLean.
Anahera McLean. Photo credit: The Hui

At the time, The Hui was invited to speak with the children's grandfather, well-respected kaumatua Bert McLean, who said he felt let down by CYF because he had been an advocate of the system and would have taken his grandchildren into his home.

The law states wherever possible, a child's or young person's family, whanau, hapu, iwi, and family group should participate in the making of decisions affecting that child.

Despite the law and the McLean whānau offering to take the children into interim care, they were sent to stay with Pakehā caregivers they didn't know.

It took years of fighting the system and legal action to get them discharged. The Hui is awaiting a number of answers from Oranga Tamariki about the number of children who have been uplifted from their families following methamphetamine testing, but are yet to receive answers.

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki's DCE Services for Children and Families North Glynis Sandland said: "We can confirm a notification from Housing New Zealand in 2016 was only one of a number of notifications of concern we received in relation to the safety and wellbeing about the whanau at the centre of this case. The decision to place the children in a safe environment with caregivers was the right decision."

Temorehu, who is now 17, is working, while his younger sister Anahera is attending a local school. They both were the scars of separation.

The whānau want an apology from Oranga Tamariki for the pain and disruption to their children's lives. They say their children were uplifted following the notification from Housing NZ that their state house tested positive for meth, and they worry there are other families who have experienced the same.

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki said: "To be clear, so-called meth contamination in a home is not a reason on its own to uplift a child. No child has ever been removed from whanau based solely on previous positive meth testing results. Children are only removed from their family when there are safety concerns of a serious nature, such as issues around family violence, mental health, addiction, abuse or neglect".

The McLeans say no one was convicted following the meth testing at their home.

The number of children in the care of Oranga Tamariki increased between 2016 and 2017. At June 2017 there were 5708 children in care; of those 3518 (60 percent) are Māori.

The Hui