Week in Review

Māori leaders repeat call for OT resignations

Following Newsroom’s investigation into concerning practices within the country’s child protection agency, Māori leaders are again calling for the dismissal of its chief executive, Grainne Moss, and the children’s minister Tracey Martin. Will they be listened to this time?

A group of prominent wāhine Māori last night called for the sacking of Oranga Tamariki CEO Grainne Moss and children’s minister Tracey Martin following the publication of Newsroom’s months-long investigation into issues within the agency.

The two-part inquiry published over the past week included reports of qualified social workers being replaced with unqualified youth or care workers, children being misrepresented in documents going before courts, a top-heavy executive without child care or social work backgrounds and a tokenistic approach to Te Ao Māori.

Dame Naida Glavish, chair of the governance group for the Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki – one of five launched since Newsroom’s damning documentary on the attempted uplift of a newborn from Hastings hopsital last year –  with Dame Tariana Turia, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi, Dame June Mariu, Lady Tureiti Moxon and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait are “demanding immediate dismissals”.

“The chief executive and the minister must go immediately, so we call on the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to act swiftly to address a ministry that is out of control,” says Dame Tariana.

“We’re all mothers, aunties and grandmothers who love our babies deeply, so to be confronted with yet another reminder of the systemic dysfunction of Oranga Tamariki is heartbreaking. Enough is enough, it’s time for a total rehaul if we value our children in this country,” says Dame Naida.

Dame Iritana agrees, “This is an absolute indictment on the ministry.”

But Martin told BFM radio yesterday she needed to ask her advisers to go through the Newsroom investigation and tell her what needed her attention as minister. She stopped short of endorsing Moss but criticised the 'personal' nature of allegations made against the chief executive - saying few people could stand scrutiny if media asked questions of 'everyone' who had known them in the past - and questioned if what was being alleged would 'turn out to be real'. 

Martin said her matron of honour was a social worker at Oranga Tamariki and she, Martin, was not aware of the kinds of issues being raised to Newsroom by social workers anonymously.

The minister also suggested children ended up under OT's custody because New Zealanders liked to watch fighting, and that it was racist against Pākeha staff to question the relatively small proportion of Māori social workers (20 percent) at OT in relation to the 70 percent of children dealt with by the agency being Māori. 

Māori leaders and organisations have repeatedly called for the resignation of Moss and Martin for more than a year.

Lady Tureiti Moxon

The call comes after Oranga Tamariki was slammed in a succession of inquiries, beginning with the agency’s own internal investigation into the attempted uplift, which found “significant gaps” in the agency’s work.

“We know from the overwhelming evidence in our own national inquiry that Oranga Tamariki has repeatedly abused its power by inflicting trauma on tamariki,” says the group about the release of their investigation in February this year.

The same issues were echoed last month by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft reporting that “the child welfare system is dangerous, brutal and racist.”

His damning review into uplift practices and its effect on Maori mothers and pepi was released on June 9.

The fifth such inquiry will be the Waitangi Tribunal Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry on October 25 - which will look into why there has been such a significant and consistent disparity between the number of Māori and non-Māori children being taken into state care under OT.

Chair of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, says the evidence in Newsroom’s story detailing concerns from social workers within the agency, with the first-part's revelations over Moss’ sudden departure from her role as managing director of private aged care company Bupa, show a lack of credibility within the organisation.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait

“The evidence in both news items impugns the integrity of the organisation, the leadership, and the ministry, as it evidences the dark shadow of Oranga Tamariki. How many more condemning reports need to come to light before the Government swiftly acts?

“We have no trust, faith and confidence in the ministry, the leadership and the Government processes whatsoever.

“This organisation not only fails tamariki and whānau, it fails its own social workers, and ultimately it has failed our nation - for years and this is totally unacceptable.

“This damage cannot go on. It is time for fundamental change. Our babies lives matter.”

The group says when leaders bestowed with power do not choose to operate by principles, the principled way of operating fails.

They want a full, independent investigation “given the mounting evidence of misrepresentation, unethical conduct and abuse of power that has been fueled by a Government sanctioned $1.1b budget.

“It comes as no surprise to know it all starts at the top then insidiously has trickled down infecting the entire organisation which serves no-one, least of all the most vulnerable of our next generation.”

Timeline:

June 11, 2019: Attempted uplift video story, NZs Own Taken Generation, is released on Newsroom

June 19, 2019: A broader inquiry by the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, is announced

Nov 7, 2019: an internal investigation into the attempted uplift finds numerous failures

February 3, 2020: Whanau Ora releases its damning report into the Hastings uplift attempt

June 9, 2020: Release of Children's Commissioner review into “heart-wrenching” experiences of Māori mothers at the hands of Oranga Tamariki.

25 October, 2020: The Waitangi Tribunal Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry will look into why there has been such a significant and consistent disparity between the number of Māori and non-Māori children being taken into state care under OT.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly captioned Dame Areta Koopu as Dame June Mariu in the main photo. Our apologies.

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