Taken By The State

Case 1: Snatched from school

Case one: Child A and Child B are aged 7 and 5 at time of police removal

In full view of their classmates, Child 1 and Child 2 collected their school bags and were taken by a uniformed police officer and their father from school grounds.

The abrupt and distressing removal occurred when the children’s father filed an urgent application with the Family Court for their day-to-day care. At the time, the children had been living with their mother for the school holidays. According to her, she enrolled the children at her local school after the break because they wanted to live with her permanently. Before this, they had lived with their father for more than a year, and attended school near his house.

His choice to involve police at school shocked the mother, children, and members of the school community.

“It was traumatising,” the children’s mother said. “They didn’t understand what was going on ... because you don’t expect a policeman to walk into a primary school and take kids."

Documents show Child 1 and Child 2 were taken after a Family Court judge approved a without-notice application made from the children’s father.

Without-notice applications for parenting orders are filed in urgent situations. The responding party - in this case the children’s mother - is kept completely unaware of the application, and subsequently unable to dispute it immediately. Once approved, a warrant may also be issued so police or a social worker can enforce the order.

Before this, the family had never been involved with the Family Court. Agreements over the children’s care had been made verbally, between the mother and father, and their extended whānau.

The mother had no criminal record or history of violence or abuse, and had been the children’s primary caregiver for most of their lives.

According to the father, waiting for a parenting order issued with notice, which would have alerted the children’s mother to his application, could have put the children at risk of harm or undue hardship.

But significant points of his affidavit - used as evidence for the warrant and police uplift - were “exaggerated, fabricated and blatantly untrue”, the mother said. And because it had been a without notice order, it took two weeks before she could tell her side of the story to the court and see her children.

The ordeal left the children’s maternal grandparents, and mother, completely disillusioned with New Zealand’s justice system, and the one-sided approach condoned in police removals of children.

“What it showed us is that he [father] could go into the courts and say whatever he wanted and there was no process in place whatsoever to substantiate or investigate what he was claiming before the uplift,” the children’s maternal grandmother said.

“Nobody ever rang [my daughter] or us to get any clarity or to find out what was actually going on with the children - whether it was true or not. There was no consultation or anything, there was no investigation.

“If they had rung, and said - you have 48 hours, or even 24 hours, and if you don’t bring the children back … we’re going to take a policeman and do this - we would have absolutely taken the children back.”

“I think it’s incredibly upsetting, and we weren’t there to protect them. And I know he [children’s father] could have chosen to take a social worker, [but] he ticked the box to take a policeman,” she said.

Since the children were uplifted, both parents have been represented in the Family Court by lawyers.

“It has been a year of hell and has cost our family $10,000 to resolve the situation,” the mother said.

“I lost all faith in the justice system after that.”

The children now stay with their mother every other weekend, and will eventually split their time evenly between parents. They are also due to return to the school from which they were uplifted.

* See Newsroom's investigation here
* Read Case 2: Waking up to cops in the kitchen
* Read Case 3: Pried from home with a crowbar
* Read: The legislation behind uplifting children

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