Taken By The State

Govt reveals terms for Oranga Tamariki inquiry

The Government has released the terms of reference for a review of Oranga Tamariki's controversial attempt to uplift a newborn baby in Hastings, with Children's Minister Tracey Martin defending the lack of an independent review.

The release of the inquiry terms came after Labour’s Māori caucus met Martin to discuss growing concerns about the practices and procedures of the children’s ministry regarding uplifts, as exposed by a Newsroom investigation.

After meeting with the family involved in the case documented by Newsroom, Martin confirmed Oranga Tamariki would carry out an internal review of what had occurred, while Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft announced a separate, independent inquiry into the ministry’s uplifts of Māori babies.

On Tuesday afternoon, Martin released the terms of reference for the review, which will be conducted by Oranga Tamariki's professional practice group.

The review will examine the ministry's actions in relation to the baby and its mother both before and immediately following the birth, with a particular focus on its engagement with the mother, father, whānau, iwi, and other professionals.

It will look at the quality of the assessment and planning process, how Oranga Tamariki worked as part of a wider interagency group, and the methods used in the attempted uplift, as well as the communication related to a Family Court custody application and whether that application should have been without notice.

The goals of the review are to understand what has occurred from the perspective of those involved, what can be learned from the incident both at a local and national level, and to promote "restorative actions" to strengthen local relationships.

"The loss of trust inside Child Youth and Family and Oranga Tamariki didn’t happen in the last two years, so my job is to rebuild a child protection service to make it trustworthy and i’m still in the process of doing that."

The review will cover the period from February 12 this year - when Oranga Tamariki first became aware of the mother's pregnancy - until May 9, when the mother and her baby were discharged from hospital.

It will be overseen by New Zealand's chief social worker, while somebody would be appointed in collaboration with local iwi Ngati Kahungunu to provide independent oversight of the work.

Speaking to media, Martin said the review was unlikely to take long but she did not want to put a deadline in place, in part because of the family's preferences.

"One of the complaints of family has been that it’s been constantly push push push to and in particular to a Pakeha timeline so one of the things we’re trying to be is respectful for them."

Martin defended the decision to hold an internal, rather than independent, review, saying the Government was heading in the right direction with both Oranga Tamariki's work and Becroft's separate inquiry.

The goal of the Oranga Tamariki review was not to address wider public concerns about the ministry's practices, as that would be addressed through the Government's wider work.

"The loss of trust inside Child Youth and Family and Oranga Tamariki didn’t happen in the last two years, so my job is to rebuild a child protection service to make it trustworthy and i’m still in the process of doing that."

Labour Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson says the issue of uplifts is not black and white. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The release of the terms came after Martin met Labour’s Māori MPs to discuss her work and address the concerns they had about the process.

Labour Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson said the meeting had gone well, with Martin outlining her strategy for addressing concerns about Oranga Tamariki.

"We had candid and honest korero, honest views given, and she was very good in accepting a lot of the views from the Māori caucus."

Jackson said the issue of whether or not to uplift a child was never black and white, but the processes that were in place had to be improved and Māori needed to be involved "from the start to the finish".

"The whānau is paramount and the safety of the children is absolutely paramount...sometimes there are times when workers have to move in, but they have to get the right workers, they have to get the people who are working at the coalface."

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said the party’s Māori MPs and ministers had offered their support to Martin and had confidence in her work.

Henare also spoke to media before the meeting, saying the legislation and intent behind Oranga Tamariki was for whānau to play “a key part” in the process, and he would work to ensure that was the case.

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare says iwi must have a greater role in Oranga Tamariki issues. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The legislation and intent behind Oranga Tamariki was for whānau to play “a key part” in the process, and he would work to ensure that was the case.

“Kahungunu leads the way, other tribes do, that’s fine for tribes but at the core of this is whānau and we need whānau involved.”

While the agreements signed between Oranga Tamariki and iwi to date were about connecting to whakapapa, there needed to be more work on “really practical and pragmatic ways of working with families and those who are affected by this”.

“Iwi have long wanted to be at this table so i think it’s about time we strengthen that ability to work together on these issues.”

Asked about a press release issued by the Government on the Oranga Tamariki issue, which incorrectly spoke of meeting “kanui to kanui” instead of kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), Henare said simply: “Yeah, that doesn’t help.”

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