Taken By The State

Baby’s whānau rejects Minister’s internal inquiry

The lawyer for a mother of a baby saved last month from a state 'uplift' says an internal inquiry into the affair is 'like leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank'.

An internal inquiry into the Hawkes Bay baby uplift by Oranga Tamariki has met a potentially fatal problem even before it begins - the baby's mother and whānau are refusing to participate and seeking an independent review instead.

The mother's lawyer, Janet Mason, told Newsroom this morning the family was dismayed at Minister for Children Tracey Martin announcing details of the inquiry yesterday without reference back to the family or iwi.

"It is not independent and it is not what we have asked for. It is akin to leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank."

Martin's announcement was of an internal inquiry led by Oranga Tamariki's chief social worker, with a person to be approved by Hawkes Bay iwi Ngati Kahungunu.  It followed a meeting between Martin, two other ministers and iwi representatives at the weekend.

However one of the attendees at that meeting, Des Ratima, says: "At that meeting, we agreed to an independent inquiry, and to be involved in the terms of reference and in the appointment of the Inquiry Panel. We are surprised that a mere two days later, without any further discussions with us, terms of reference, and the persons to conduct the review have been publicly announced”.

Mason told Newsroom the family wrote to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last Friday asking for an independent inquiry to look at the conduct of Oranga Tamariki, the Hawkes Bay District Health Board and the police over the attempted uplift last month, which was revealed in this Newsroom video story last week. 

They had asked that the people on the inquiry and the terms of reference be agreed by the Prime Minister's Office, representatives of the mother and the Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft.

The office of the Children's Commissioner has also announced an inquiry, into Oranga Tamariki's uplifts of Māori babies aged up to three months. Mason says the whānau is happy with that 'thematic' inquiry because the commissioner and his staff are independent.

Martin's announcement was "certainly not what we had requested", Mason said.

“Our team are meeting today to determine terms of reference and the persons we propose to lead an independent review. We will also be contacting the relevant ministers' offices today to clarify and reiterate our original request as so clearly set out in our open letter to the Prime Minister. We will also be sending the government our proposed terms of reference and the persons proposed to lead the independent review”.

The young mother and month-old baby boy are now in a care facility for young mothers. The 'uplift' last month was only stopped, at 2 am one night, after the intervention of Ratima, Mason, midwives and the presence of Newsroom resulted in police encouraging Oranga Tamariki not to continue with a third attempted uplift of the baby from the mother's hospital room. 

Oranga Tamariki had obtained an urgent Family Court order for the uplift, but had applied 'ex parte', without any notice to the family or ability for the family to challenge the claims of one case worker. The young woman had previously had another newborn baby taken by Oranga Tamariki. The whānau say she has been the victim of guilt by association with others and has no record of wrongdoing. She had a care plan in place and is vouched for by midwives and iwi.

Martin announced the review would 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 would 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.

To read Newsroom's full coverage of this case, go to our Taken by the State section.

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