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Speech to Puao-te-ata-tu - CYFS Maori Staff Hui

Hon Tariana Turia
Speech Notes
6pm Tuesday 12 June 2001

Speech to Puao-te-ata-tu - CYFS Maori Staff Hui

Turangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia

Waikato taniwha rau, tena koutou. Anei tenei awa a Whanganui e mihi kau ana ki nga kawai tangata o Waikato. Ki a koutou me to koutou kawai ariki a Te Ata i rangikaahu, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Ki a koutou, nga kai mahi Maori o te tari toko i te ora, tena hoki koutou.
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you.

I am impressed that you have chosen Puao-te-ata-tu as the theme for your hui.

I am impressed, as I know that despite what may have occurred within departments since the publication of the document in 1986, it has lived on in the hearts and minds of many Maori whanau, hapu and iwi.

It has also not been forgotten by the judiciary, evidenced by Mick Brown's reference to it in his recently completed report "Care and Protection is about adult behaviour".

Puao-te-te-ata-tu emphasised in 1986, a return to the principles and practices of having our tamariki and mokopuna returned to be cared for by whanau.

The programme under which this initiative had been taken in 1984 was the 'matua whangai' programme, which was at that time a programme of kin care and deinstitutionalisation supported by the departments of Maori Affairs, Justice and Social Welfare.

"Matua Whangai" as a programme tried to be all things to Maori, which caused the Rangihau committee in 1986 to call for a return to its 'original focus of nurturing children within their family groups as the primary alternative to a child coming in to care'.

It was a call to return to kin based care principles as opposed to institutionalisation and stranger care.

Puao-te-ata-tu is probably the only government policy document, which has been "owned" by Maori people and is probably why Maori have continued to make reference to it over the last 15 years.

As a policy document it has been rated extremely highly by academics, who believe effective policy is policy created and owned by the people who will be affected by it. It fits very well with the Labour/Alliance government’s position of encouraging 'bottom up' solutions.

Last month for instance I, along with Parekura Horomia, launched a project in Tuhoe under the auspices of the Puao-te-ata-tu a Tuhoe Trust. The focus of the work is 'the Tuhoe way' and the control will be with Tuhoe.

So while Puao-te-ata-tu has a special place for Tuhoe because of John Rangihau, it nevertheless shows how much it impacted and continues to impact on our people.

What I wish to address can be found expressed within the policy document Puao-te-ata-tu. It is not new.

What I want to share with you is the need to be skilled.

Skill & Competence
I believe all whanau deserve the best service that we are able to give and that nothing less would do. I am sure there is not one person at this hui, who believes it is okay to be untrained and unskilled.

To enable the best service to be given we need the best workers to be available to deliver the service. It is therefore important for workers to be skilled in working with the issues which confront whanau and knowledgeable about the whanau who they work with.

While I believe 'clinical' skills and knowledge are important I also believe that each person's values, beliefs and attitudes need to be examined.

I say this, as I am concerned that in November 1999, 55% of the 1416 Maori children in care were in 'stranger care'. There are now over 2,225 Maori children in care and, I am advised that as I speak here today in June 2001 "it is not expected that the general picture [will have] changed significantly".

In other words the percentage of Maori children in stranger care remains constant at 55% or 1,223 of the 2,225 Maori children in care are with strangers.

I understand the situation with Pakeha children is worse. An even higher percentage of Pakeha children are placed with strangers. I do not find that acceptable.

All children have a right to be cared for by and within their family groups. All family groups need the opportunity to care for their children.

How many of us here today are prepared to have our children or our nieces and nephews cared for by strangers?

How many of us here today are willing to go home tonight and tell our children, nieces and nephews that if they ever needed care, our whanau, hapu and iwi were not where they would go, but we would recommend they go with strangers?

If we are not prepared for that to happen to our children, nieces or nephews, then why is it that so many children are placed with strangers and who is doing the placing?

Australia is still coming to terms with "the stolen children" of its indigenous peoples.

Are we in a so-called enlightened 2nd millennium creating another generation where children lost to and alienated from their whanau and families here in Aotearoa?

Have we not met enough Maori adults who have been alienated from whanau as a result of child welfare practices of the past?

Do we not concern ourselves any more with the principles of the Children Young Person's and their Families Act 1989? Does Puao-te-ata-tu not matter?

It concerns me that so many children are being cared for outside of their whanau, hapu and iwi or family group. I need to be advised by you as to why and how this has come about.

We have the legislative mandate to guide us with one of the most enlightened child welfare legislation; the Children, Young Person's and their families Act 1989. Legislation, which is more highly recognised internationally than it is here in its country of origin and that is a worry.

I believe the reason Maori children are placed with strangers is because of the mis-trust of Maori whanau, hapu and iwi combined with the inability of many workers to access whanau, hapu and iwi.

A combination of attitude on the one hand, (mis-trust and a negative view), and the inability to relate respectfully to whanau on the other, therefore not being able to access whanau, hapu and iwi as a resource.

If we believe that the best interest of a child is served by having them cared for within their whanau, hapu and iwi, why are they being placed with strangers?

I have never known of a situation where a child's whanau, hapu or iwi could not be located or were unwilling to care. Unless the young person concerned is the child of parents who were themselves from a generation of children lost from their whanau, hapu and iwi as a result of the child welfare practices of the past, including adoption.

In 1984 when Matua Whangai was introduced as a programme and Maori demanded the return of their children from stranger and institutional care, children were returned to whanau, hapu and iwi. Whanau were resourced to enable them to carry out the task of caring.

The great expectations of Maori that their children would be returned were realised, as the worst alienating practices of Charles Dickens England, upon which much of our Child Welfare practices are based, were put aside.

I appreciate that many of the issues facing children are complex but the experience of the mid-eighties demonstrated that when institutions and senior and middle management are committed to a particular course of action change would occur, despite the complexity of the issues facing the children.

If workers believe in kin-based care, children will be placed with whanau, hapu and iwi.

If workers do not believe in kin-based care and they function in an environment, which supports their belief they will place the children with strangers. It is as simple as that.

They will return to practices of a past era, which resulted in the alienation of children from their whanau and also resulted in the building of institutions where children were incarcerated. Our society cannot afford the human cost of returning to those old practices.

I believe we need to examine and question the basis of our values, beliefs and attitudes and how these impact on our practice.

I know many of you here are very skilled and dedicated workers and that you aspire to delivering the best service, which is the least that family, whanau and hapu deserve.

I also know that many of you have a very keen interest in upskilling yourselves and continuing to seek knowledge both western knowledge and for a growing number of you, traditional indigenous knowledge, processes and practices which can be adapted to meet today’s needs.

I believe we should set ourselves some very simple targets.

For me, one of those would be reducing the number of Maori children in stranger care, another would be stopping children from being placed with strangers.

I also believe another task would be ensuring that whanau, hapu and iwi are properly funded to enable them to care for those with whom they are genealogically connected.

In ending therefore, I want to quote from a letter I recently received in my office about one of you, who may well be here today. The letter goes:

"Tangiwai (not her real name) has impressed my wife and I as being a dedicated social worker who genuinely cares for people. That kind of dedication is rare in this day and age. What warms my cynical old heart is the fact that she understands what it is to be Maori, she walks the talk and backs up her words with actions"

Perhaps the last challenge I will leave with you is to emulate the practice of Tangiwai.

Na reira, huri noa i to tatau hui, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatau katoa.


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