Oranga Tamariki: Damning reports reveal shocking levels of self-harm, suicide attempts in care facilities

A series of reports from the Children's Commissioner have highlighted serious problems at facilities run by Oranga Tamariki for some of the country's most vulnerable kids.

The agency's Care and Protection Residences are for tamariki with no place to go. Inspections last year revealed high risks of suicide, and children in danger from each other and staff.

Facilities like Epuni in Lower Hutt are supposed to offer support and stability but an unannounced inspection in May last year found urgent problems. A series of reports released to Newshub Nation reveal young people felt "unsafe at Epuni."

"Most of this was due to the inability of staff to protect them from intimidation and assaults," the report stated.

Staff said in the report: "Suicide attempts and self harm had 'never been so serious' with some that could have resulted in fatalities. The situation was so bad, one staff member described their daily goal being 'no deaths on their shift."

Speaking to Newshub Nation, Children's Commissioner Frances Eivers said 'no mokopuna' should be put through what was detailed in the report.

"The concerns were serious. They related to safety, not just of the mokopuna there, but also the staff."  

And this was a follow-up visit. The residence had been warned by the Children's Commissioner about many issues only months before. Instead of improving - they had become worse.

According to Allan Boreham, Oranga Tamariki Deputy Chief Executive of Service Delivery, Oranga Tamariki has since instituted changes in response to the report’s findings. 

"We've got to get it 100 percent right. And it's clear from that report that we haven't got it 100 percent right. So we've had to make a lot of changes to address that."

An unannounced inspection of another facility in Christchurch revealed further problems there.

'Te Oranga' was shut down in July after a video was leaked to Newsroom - showing a child being tackled and placed in a headlock.

The report reveals before the incident, "staff reported concerns to management and Oranga Tamariki National Office, about how unsafe the operational environment was."

They said "the closure of the residence was poorly managed." The report also found "the announcement went badly and was traumatizing" for mokopuna and staff.

"That video was a surprise and we had to move very quickly to be confident that tamariki were safe in that residence," Boreham told Newshub Nation, insisting the issues had been addressed.

"I'm very confident that since that most recent report things have improved significantly."

The facility's now set to be reopened but Eivers says she will be ensuring the same suffering won't be felt by any more tamariki. 

"As Children's Commissioner, I will be making sure those changes are made. And I'm confident in my discussions with Oranga Tamariki that they are very much of the same view."

In the long run, both the Children's Commissioner and Oranga Tamariki want the residences closed. 

"It's not where we want to be. It's not our destination. We very much want to have smaller, more home-like capability in the community,' says Boreham.

"I would like to see us not need to have care and protection residences," says Eivers.

"And if we really refocus, reframe, rethink about how we do things, I think that's possible. But in the meantime, where are these mokopuna going to go?"

Responding to the reports on Newshub Nation, Minister for Children Kelvin Davis echoed the push for closure of the facilities but wouldn't give a timeframe for when it will happen. 

"I want to make it clear that there is no long term future for that model of care. I agree. I believe that these residences need to be closed. But it isn't a simple matter of just closing. As we've heard, these young people have extreme needs.

"They've got to be more homely rather than institutional, but they still have to have appropriate security measures. They also need recreational facilities. So, you know, there are issues around the planning and consenting and the design. So it does take time, but we have to make sure that we do it right. These children deserve the best."

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