Taken By The State
NZ’s own ‘taken generation’
Today we launch a powerful new video story by Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid into the attempted ‘uplift’ of a newborn baby from its mother at a maternity ward by the children’s agency Oranga Tamariki.
For the first time, the process involved in taking a baby from its mother is laid bare. The filming, carried out in the hospital room, shows the pressure a young Māori mother is subjected to as she tries to keep her seven-day-old baby.
The case, which Newsroom reported here and here, has iwi leaders calling for a new national approach to resolve the high incidence of Māori parents losing their babies through Oranga Tamariki applications to the Family Court.
All those spoken to by Newsroom accepted intervention could be needed in cases where clear risks arose to a child's safety - but they argue there is strong whānau support for the mother and child in this case and similar examples exist of Oranga Tamariki refusing to revise its decisions to take children.
Three Māori babies a week are being 'uplifted' from their mothers and of 283 babies taken into care last year, more than 70 percent were Māori or Pasifika.
Increasingly, those aware of the level of removals of Māori babies are discussing the term 'Stolen Generation', reflecting the systematic policy in Australia of taking indigenous children from their communities.
The documentary, which can be viewed above, contains detailed footage from inside the mother's hospital room as officials repeatedly attempt to persuade her to give up the child. At one point Oranga Tamariki officials arrived at night after her whānau had left her alone with her week-old baby in the room and did not relent until a 2am intervention by a tribal leader and police commander.
University of Auckland law professor Mark Henaghan details today for Newsroom it is doubtful the custody order used by Oranga Tamariki should have been granted in the first place, with the court not having heard from the baby's parents. He has serious concerns about the agency's affidavit evidence it put to the court.
Jean Te Huia, a midwife who fought to stop Oranga Tamariki taking this latest Māori child at Hawke's Bay Hospital last month, told Newsroom: "I believe Māori women in this country have a right to be frightened. I believe these women are racially profiled. They have a right to ask why this is happening to us."
In the Hawke's Bay case, concerted opposition by the baby's whānau, midwives, iwi leaders and the media attention resulted in Oranga Tamariki abandoning at least three attempts to take the baby from the mother in her maternity bed. Instead, she was allowed to go with her baby to a care facility while the matter was further discussed ahead of a new Family Court hearing next week.
While Oranga Tamariki had raised concerns over family violence and drug use among the mother and father's whānau in the past, the midwives and iwi say those concerns are either wrong or out of date as the whānau has taken direct action to address them.
The child's 17-year-old father was at the mother's bedside constantly through the standoff with the children's agency and iwi leader Des Ratima has revealed the father "accepts he has issues and is now being mentored" by Ratima and has accepted restricted access to the baby.
Reporter Melanie Reid said: "What I witnessed was a brutal and disturbing process. I don’t think any young mother should have been left in a hospital room at night on her own, without the support of whānau or midwives, while social workers and police try to take her baby.
"The baby was clearly not in any danger and I thought to myself, is this really New Zealand in 2019?"
Māori lawyer David Stone is preparing an application for an urgent hearing to the Waitangi Tribunal about the child removals.
He writes in this story on Newsroom today: "While we might know of the 'stolen generation' of the Australian aboriginal people, few of us know that 'God's Own' has its very own increasing population of people stolen and ripped away from their parents, grandparents and whānau.
"It is happening at such an alarmingly, ever-increasing rate that Māori mothers have just cause for concern."
The young mother, who cannot be identified due to the Family Court action, is still at the care facility. She told Reid: "During the night time uplift I was really scared. Oranga Tamariki told me I had five minutes to say goodbye to my baby and then they were going to take it.
"I hung onto my baby but I was worried they were going to hurt me and the baby."
*Made with the support of NZ On Air
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