‘OT need to own their part in this’

“Oranga Tamariki have remained silent on their role in this horrific situation,” a Māori leader tells Melanie Reid and Bonnie Sumner.

A respected Hawke’s Bay kaumatua, who has been supporting the whānau whānui of a four-year-old boy being treated in hospital for brain injuries, says Oranga Tamariki needs to take responsibility for its role in the tragedy.

The young boy was found with severe head injuries and bruising to his body at a home in Hastings on January 29 and flown to Auckland’s Starship Hospital.

Des Ratima, an independent family advocate, describes Oranga Tamariki as a runaway train that needs to be stopped.

“At the moment it’s just chugging on down its pathway knocking everyone to the side as it keeps going forward. Oranga Tamariki have remained silent on their role in this horrific situation. I'm not excusing anyone for damaging our tamariki. I am saying that this situation occurred because of poor decision-making by people and institutions which should and must know and do things differently.”

“I am concerned that Oranga Tamariki, through their silence, have lumped total responsibility on this family. I would call out Oranga Tamariki, their social workers and again ask for an investigation into their decisions which placed this child back into a high-risk situation.”

After the boy was injured in June 2019, Oranga Tamariki met wider whānau and a plan was put in place for him to live in Auckland with his grandmother. Ratima says this plan had been working well until Oranga Tamariki changed it without consulting key family members who helped set up the plan.

“There were processes in place that kept [the boy] safe. There was no need for anybody, including family, to interfere with this plan. Everything was in place. Oranga Tamariki were the prime movers that changed it, against the advice of the wider family.”

He says Oranga Tamariki’s silence, and inaccurate media reports that the family have not been talking with authorities, have put people at risk.

“The whānau whānui have been absolutely concerned, and so they’re not ‘closing ranks’. They’ve actually been talking to Oranga Tamariki, they’ve been talking to the police and saying to them ‘Here’s our concerns’. My understanding with the family is their concerns aren’t being heard – that is, you shouldn’t have put the boy back [to the home in Flaxmere]. That’s what the wider whānau is saying, so why weren’t people listening to that?”

He says the whānau whānui were kept in the dark about a meeting between Oranga Tamariki and immediate family members in which they were given funds to travel to Auckland to pick up the boy from his grandmother.

“My information is that the [immediate family] were funded by Oranga Tamariki to go to Auckland and pick up the four-year-old and bring him back. Common sense says why? Oranga Tamariki said to me today [Monday] they had funded the travel for them to go and bring him back.

“We know we have our issues as Māori and we are not shying away from them, but Oranga Tamariki needs to own up. It needs a serious overhaul because it is their ill-informed decisions and lack of ability, training and intelligence in risk analysis that placed this child into the jaws of the lion. They did that.”

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