Taken By The State

Two inquiries into baby ‘uplifts’

Two inquiries will now be held into the controversial Oranga Tamariki attempted 'uplift ' of a baby - but critics are still demanding a broader investigation into the children's ministry itself.

Oranga Tamariki will hold its own review of the way its staff tried to take the newborn from its mother's hospital room in Hawkes Bay - captured on a Newsroom video story published last week. That report will not be made public, on the grounds of protecting the family's privacy.

Shortly after the children's minister, Tracey Martin, announced that limited internal review, the Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft revealed his office would take a wider independent investigation into Oranga Tamariki's uplifts of Māori babies aged up to three months old.

The minister and Hawkes Bay iwi Ngati Kahungunu agreed at an urgently convened meeting yesterday that the ministry would consult Māori agencies before any future child removals in that region and work with them to "design interventions to prevent this happening in the future and it will be in concert with other govt agencies".

This stopped short of calls by three separate groups for an inquiry into Oranga Tamariki's policies and practices, an end to Māori babies being removed from wider whānau and iwi care and, late yesterday, for a Royal Commission into the children's ministry.

A petition calling for the Royal Commission, by a group called Whānau First, had 4700 signatures last night. An earlier petition by Hands off Our Tamariki seeking the end of removals of Māori babies and for Oranga Tamariki to be overhauled and restructured in line with kaupapa Māori had 15,000 signatures last night. 

A third group Te Ao Pepi, of Māori leaders and the lawyer for the young mother in the Hawkes Bay case, asked the Prime Minister for an independent inquiry into the ministry and, crucially, for Tracey Martin and the Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss, to be stood down and kept out of any review of the ministry's actions.

These demands were not addressed after yesterday's meeting in Hawkes Bay between Martin, the Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta and Minister for Māori-Crown Relations, Kelvin Davis with Ngati Kahungunu leader Ngahiwi Tomoana, district Māori council chair Des Ratima and others.

Ratima featured on Newsroom's video story when he intervened with police commanders to stop the 'uplift' after he, whānau and midwives were shut out of the hospital in the early hours on the May night Oranga Tamariki staff and police tried to remove the baby from the teenage mother.

He told Newsroom after the meeting with Martin she made it clear she wanted him and others to tone down public statements about the events in that case.

"She has asked me to step back though from being so contentious in the media – those weren’t her words – but she was just talking generally about how the media has highlighted this. Well without the media 'you wouldn’t be sitting here, now you’re sitting here', but I’m saying I think our work is done in that space.

"I now want to go into solution-focused space and actually get some real focus on okay here’s what’s been highlighted, here’s what we got fix, how do we fix it so there’s a lot of discussion around that side," Ratima said. 

He was happy with steps made yesterday. "I think there’s a lot to be encouraged by. I think that three ministers coming to visit with us, it’s a powerful message of recognition of the plight of this family. They’ve already indicated they want to go wider."

Tomoana told media his iwi would "work with whānau hapu, roopu and practitioners, including Māori midwives, to ensure there’s integrity around whānau, around whakapapa going forward and that this doesn’t become disruptive in any way or manner."

"Though we're dealing with one whānau it’s probably more widespread that’s come to the surface, that this incident, this crisis, has brought some solution opportunities right across the country that we'll all be sharing with our iwi colleagues our experiences and drawing on their experiences to support Oranga Tamariki live up to their name."

Martin said the ministry had already been changing after an earlier review. "The expert advisory panel that created Oranga Tamariki said that everything had to change. The $1.1 billion that was announced in the Budget a couple of weeks ago is specifically to make this change. There have already been three strategic alliances signed to make sure there is a different way of Oranga Tamariki working with iwi for their children, for our children."

The internal inquiry will focus on the specific attempted uplift revealed in Newsroom's video story. It will involve a person whom Ngāti Kahugnunu endorses and will look at the ministry's processes in this case.

"I came to make sure that iwi and the whānau knew that as the Minister for Children I was particularly sorry to see the events that unfolded in the hospital that day. Everybody in that room has been impacted negatively and we need to come back together and work together constructively not just for this whānau, but also for the whānau of the future, and the whānau that are actually in the process now," Martin said.

The Children's Commissioner's inquiry will go wider, looking at Oranga Tamariki's uplifts of all Māori babies up to the age of three months.

Becroft said: "My Office has been concerned about this issue for some considerable time and discussions with several parties involved have heightened the need for a review of Oranga Tamariki's practice when they are notified of serious care and protection concerns for young babies."

It had become clear over recent weeks that the community was "profoundly uneasy" with the way our current care and protection of tamariki Māori was carried out.

Oranga Tamariki's legal argument over the young Hawkes Bay baby is set down for a further Family Court hearing on Wednesday June 19, but the ministry has already said the mother and baby have progressed well in a care facility so it would seem unlikely it would press the case for removal.

Read all Newsroom's baby uplift coverage in our Taken by the State section

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