Newsroom Special Inquiry

Don’t take my baby

A contingent of police officers spent Tuesday night at Hawkes Bay Hospital because of a standoff between midwives, lawyers and whānau and Oranga Tamariki over the uplift of a newborn baby.

Two midwives were locked out of the hospital leaving a 19-year-old mother of the baby alone in a room overnight, while Oranga Tamariki staff and police tried to uplift the child.

The midwives, Ripeka Ormsby and Jean Te Huia, of Māori Midwives Aotearoa, were trying to prevent authorities taking the baby boy from his mother.

Her midwife Ormsby spent the night camped outside the hospital after the midwives' swipe card access was revoked and security prevented them from gaining access.

The pair, with the mother’s whānau, have been trying to prevent the uplift of the seven-day-old. The Family Court ordered the uplift on the grounds his wider family had a background of domestic violence and drug use - a claim disputed by the whānau.

The mum, who had her first baby taken in the same way last year, delivered by caesarean section on May 1. The following day, Oranga Tamariki applied for, and was granted, a without-notice custody order. It was directed by the judge to notify the woman, but this didn’t happen.

Five days later on May 6, three Oranga Tamariki workers arrived with a car seat and forms and told her they had come to take the baby. Her whānau and support people had no notice of the uplift.

Unusually for such a situation, she had the support of Wellington lawyer Janet Mason and two prominent midwives - including Māori Midwives Aotearoa CEO Te Huia.

Mason put in an urgent application for an injunction at the Family Court, and spoke to Oranga Tamariki workers via speakerphone in the hospital room. Three further attempts by them to take the baby were stopped.

Yesterday, family and support workers attended a hui with Oranga Tamariki and came away believing it would not act until the judge had considered the situation. For the first time in days, they left the hospital and went home to rest. Just before 9pm, Oranga Tamariki arrived back at the hospital with police to uplift the baby.

The mother would not give the baby up, and Mason and Des Ratima, chairman of Takitimu District Māori Council, negotiated with police and case workers until 2am.

“At about 2am everyone was settled, I got a call from a policeman wanting to broker a deal with the family. I went back in, spoke to the family, the police came out for an offer. The policeman comes out and says he’s talked to the head of Oranga Tamariki in Hawke’s Bay. They have agreed baby will stay in hospital with the mother to rest up and today there will be a meeting."

Ratima, who is also an officer of the NZ Order of Merit, said police gave their word everyone would be safe, but that no one could go in to see her as it “wasn’t part of the deal”.

The mother had finally got some rest, and it was “good she wasn’t going to wake up and know baby’s not there”, he said.

Meanwhile, the baby's grandmother waited in the car park with her whānau. She had been at her daughter’s side since the birth.

“At yesterday’s hui, Oranga Tamariki definitely left us assured baby would not be uplifted and as soon as the whānau left the hospital to have a rest they pounced and went in.”

The distraught grandmother tried to support her daughter via video calling from the hospital car park.

“Last night as {the mother] lay alone clinging to her baby, the police stationed outside her room and a hostile case worker in her room. Her mother and her Māori midwife spent the night outside in the hospital car park. The DHB locked everyone out. This is a 19-year-old girl enduring day three of Oranga Tamariki trying to rip a baby from her alone. What is that New Zealand?”

Eventually family moved mattresses and blankets to the maternity ward entrance to keep vigil until they were asked to leave. By 2am, they left after hearing the baby was not going to be uplifted.

“We’re exhausted, destroyed, distraught and very upset and angry that this is happening.”

In an affidavit supporting an application for a court order to uplift the child, a social worker said there were ongoing family violence issues between the baby’s mother and father.

She also cited drug use, lack of parenting skills, and transient home environments as reasons to uplift.

The affidavit said the baby’s father had admitted daily marijuana use and had not yet had a hair follicle test to establish whether he was using other drugs.

The mother's family dispute that evidence, saying it is based on assumptions and that both young parents have good whānau support. They accept they lack parenting skills but have expressed a willingness to learn.

Des Ratima said he had read the affidavit.

“I’ve never seen so many assumptions in a report that determines the future of this family. She’s up for a bruising in court.”

Oranga Tamariki documentation for last year shows three Māori babies a week on average are being uplifted from maternity hospitals within three months of their births - a rate 100 percent higher than those termed ‘other’.

Police wait outside the mother's room. Photo: Supplied

The young mother herself told Newsroom: “If I had three wishes it would be to keep my baby, have a house and to have Oranga Tamariki leave me alone.

“I’m really exhausted, I so want to see my midwife. I cannot be up against the police and OT on my own - it's just not fair.”

Her midwife, Ormsby, said last night she was “deeply concerned” she was inside alone, with no support.

“Oranga Tamariki are currently in the room with her with police ready to uplift her baby. I tried to go through the maternity entrance, they advised me to hang on but that was four hours ago ... they locked the doors and deactivated my swipe card.

“It is now 10.50pm and I’m waiting outside to get in. All other workers have been advised to go through the emergency department so I am going through there. The hospital is in lockdown. All this for a 19-year-old and her baby.”

Jean Te Huia, also locked out of the hospital, said the case illustrated the appalling reality for young vulnerable Māori women.

“The ‘state take’ of babies has now got to a point where NZ needs to wake up and open their eyes to what is really happening. Three Māori babies a week are being uplifted from maternity units and taken from their mothers in this country.”

The state’s authority to uplift children is based on information from Oranga Tamariki, often from anonymous sources, so the women have no defence against the uplifts, she said.

“Last night as [the mother] lay alone clinging to her baby, the police stationed outside her room and a hostile case worker in her room. Her mother and her Māori midwife spent the night outside in the hospital car park. The DHB locked everyone out. This is a 19-year-old girl enduring day three of Oranga Tamariki trying to rip a baby from her alone. What is that New Zealand?”

While there was an issue with the suitability of parents in some cases, a support system and network had been put in place to ensure the mother and her baby were safe and supported, Te Huia said. The midwives and the family had been assured [them the baby] would not be uplifted until the situation was heard in court, yet authorities did a “complete about face” and went in with “all the institutional force they could muster”.

“She had a baby stolen by the state last year, and for this young girl who has no criminal background, no alcohol or drug problem to be enduring this again just illustrates that Oranga Tamariki are out of control, ” Te Huia Said.

Lawyer Janet Mason requested the mother's file from Oranga Tamariki under the Official Information Act on On March 21. The file has still not been received, passing the deadline and breaching the Act itself.

This afternoon Hawke's Bay Oranga Tamariki's regional manager Te Pare Meihana released a statement saying the situation was highly complex and very distressing situation for everyone involved.

"For mum and her baby, our staff involved and all the other agency staff involved locally.

"This afternoon we are continuing to talk with mum and whānau members to look at every option possible. Our focus will always be on the safest solution for the baby."

Tonight Alison McDonald, Oranga Tamariki's Deputy Chief Executive, Services for Children and Families, South, issued a statement to Newsroom saying. “The picture painted in this story, is a total misrepresentation of our work. Uplifting a child is always a last resort, and we only take this step when a court determines that a child is at risk of harm.

"Our duty is the safety of children and we are relentlessly focused on this. All of these situations are complex, and we are committed to working with parents and families and a range of professionals to fulfil our duty to keep children safe.”

She claimed it was incorrect to say that the judge's direction that the mother be advised didn't happen. "The mother was advised at the appropriate time for a “without notice application”.

This claim is disputed by the whanau.

The legislation behind uplifting children

Taken by the state

Courts don't get all the facts before uplifts 

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