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The Nation: Minister for Children Tracey Martin

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Minister for Children Tracey Martin

Simon Shepherd: Minister for Children Tracey Martin, Thanks for your time this morning. So, we’ve seen this jump in the number of newborn Maori babies being taken from their parents in the last three years. Is that because it’s a directive from Oranga Tamariki to get involved earlier?

Tracey Martin: First of all – two things – between 2015 and 2017, certainly, there was an increase in the uplift of babies. Between 2017 and 2018, there’s been a decrease. In the Waikato, there’s been a decrease; in the Hawke’s Bay, there’s been an increase. So none of this is just a standard ‘we’re going in and picking up babies’, which is a little bit what is being portrayed across the media at the moment.

Okay. But there has been— I mean, let’s just talk about those figures. Maori babies in the first seven days, between 2015 and 2016 – 164 in those two years. Bring it forward, 2017, 2018 – 230. And that’s in the first seven days of a newborn. And in the first three months, there’s been a 33% increase.

Sure. And I would think that some of this is around the ‘subsequent baby’ situation, which was a piece inside the Oranga Tamariki legislation put in by the previous government. I believe that the intent of that insertion was appropriate – which means that what we’re talking about here is that the mum, the parents, have already had a child that has been removed due to neglect or violence or other issues, and then they now have another baby coming. So what the intent of that legislation was was – is the second child, the subsequent child, safe?

Yeah, and so is that a default setting, then? So that if you have that second child, it automatically gets removed?

No, it’s not a default setting. I’ve actually sat in on one of the ‘subsequent children’ conversations, in a particular one, in one of our offices – three social workers and their team leader, dividing the whiteboard up into, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What do we think we know?’ and having a conversation about a particular case where one of the children had been killed previously by this particular mother. It wasn’t an instant ‘go in and pick up’. It was a, ‘How can we secure this baby’s safety?’

Okay. So you’re sort of saying that it’s leveled out; it’s plateaued. But from July, you’ve got these laws that come in and say, ‘You’ve got to improve outcomes for tamariki Maori.’ So how are you going to do that?

Well, first of all, one of the ways that we’re doing that is our strategic alliances. And Waikato-Tainui, for example, the CE, if you go and have words with her, she would say in the last six months, 250 Maori children did not come into the care of Oranga Tamariki because of that strategic alliance.

So where did they go?

They’re in the care of Waikato-Tainui. That’s a different way of us working there. And that is actually— that’s the goal. I would go so far to say – I would agree – we have more children in Oranga Tamariki’s care than should be there, because we don’t have an intensive intervention service, and the intensive intervention service must be on the ground by the 1st of July 2019.

Okay. You talk about measurable outcomes in this legislation. So what are these measurable outcomes? Are you going to put targets in place to reduce the number of Maori in care?

I don’t like targets; that’s the first thing.

So that’s a no?

Yeah, because that says that there’s an acceptable level. I want to see a reduction of— And actually, something like 80% of the Maori children who are in the care of the Oranga Tamariki are living in whanau placements. So they’re not inside care and protection areas or anything like that. They are with whanau, but the CE still technically has legal guardianship rights over them.

Well, if you look at the statistics, 59% of children in care are Maori, and yet Maori are 15% of the population.

That’s right.

Would it not be a goal to say it would be actually representative of the population?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a wonderful goal for it to be representative of the population. But let’s be clear –Oranga Tamariki cannot change all the social ills; Oranga Tamariki’s job is to protect children. That’s why it was formed. We wanted to go from what was CYFs, which was a child crisis organisation, to a child protection organisation. And we want to do that working more closely with iwi, and we are working more closely with iwi.

Okay, so, talking about that – social workers have told us that, yes, they’re trying to find iwi and hapu to place children with. But it’s time-consuming, specialised, and no one’s really telling them how to do it. So how are you going to give social workers the skills to do that, or the means, or the resources?

Well, we’ve actually put out across the country – and I can’t remember the specific number – of whakapapa navigators at the moment to do specifically that, to find what the connections are for those children. We’ve got 400 more caregivers than we had 12 months ago. We are creating those relationships and creating different working relationships with iwi Maori organisations. So, for example, up in the far north, looking for remand homes, iwi there said, ‘We want to professionally develop 30 families for young people to be remanded into their care, rather than actually go into a youth justice facility.’

So are you confident that the iwi will have approved caregivers or trained or qualified enough caregivers?

Well, they must do. There’s not two levels of care here. All New Zealand’s children – this is the standard of care, and we’ve actually put in the care standards to say exactly what they are. But there certainly is – and Oranga Tamariki will be working with – a need to strengthen some of our iwi organisations, because some aren’t ready for that, and how can we partner with them to help them lift their skill level?

Okay, so, 59% of children in care are Maori; we’ve just mentioned that. 24% of social workers are Maori. Should you try and align those two? Should you get more Maori social workers?

Well, yes, and I think we do need more Maori social workers. We need our social worker workforce to be as diverse as what is the general populace. So that’s a space that we’re working on with TEC and so on and so forth, around social— I have responsibility as the Associate Minister of Education for social worker initial training. So those are conversations going on – How can we better support? How can we actually encourage Maori to become social workers?

Okay. Let’s talk about examples recently in the news. We had the Hawke’s Bay lockdown. You can’t talk about the specifics, I understand, from a privacy point of view. But are you happy with the way that babies are being taken by the state when they’re at risk?

Well, you’re right; I can’t comment on individual cases and, sometimes, whether individual social workers have managed the communication as well as they could. But I’m disappointed to have seen a series of articles in the last few weeks where the nation or the media has decided already that Oranga Tamariki is the problem, as opposed to Oranga Tamariki being part of the solution. We see articles over here about meth problems. We know that we have massive domestic violence figures and so on and so forth. Yet, apparently, Oranga Tamariki is ‘snatching’ babies. I think it’s unfortunate reporting, and I think it doesn’t cover…

Okay, so, that case has been in the headlines, but I’ve talked to other social agencies, and they’ve given me an example of a 17-year-old who had a baby, went to have a shower after three hours and came back, and the baby had been taken.

Is that in Oranga Tamariki’s time?

Yeah. In the last year, yeah.

Right. So I would be very interested if people— In the same way that I have made the offer to Jean through the MP Meka Whaitiri, I would be very interested for them to actually email me specifically about those cases.

Right – because you don’t believe that’s an acceptable way to handle this? Why can’t Oranga Tamariki get involved before the birth?

And I happen to know the background of some of the cases that are sitting in the media, and they were. So this is part of the problem. Oranga Tamariki is— Every now and then, they are unable to defend themselves, because the privacy of the child and the privacy of others are at stake here. So more often than not, there is a bigger backstory than what shows up by one individual saying something. But I’m interested; if people feel that there is an issue there, then let me know.

All right. Go straight to you, to the minister?


All right. So, you told me last year, when we had the chat about this, that the average caseloads for social workers had dropped to 25. But recently I’ve seen a caseload list where one social worker had 66, and the supervisors were carrying caseloads. Can you stick by that average of 25?

Well, see, averages are unfortunate, aren’t they? Because what you do is you take the whole workforce and you average it out. And I know that we’ve got 270 more social workers than we had previously. So again, that would be something that, from an operational perspective, I’d be interested to know why that individual had 60-something-odd cases.


I’d be interested to know why. And again, if they’d like to contact my office, and what office it is, and what is the support that we can put into that office if it’s required. You can’t have a straight average, though. Some cases are quite simple; some cases are incredibly complicated. So again, numbers can mislead from what is the reality of human beings.

Okay. I’ve just got one last question, and it’s about this practice of employing people called trackers. So, Oranga Tamariki employs external trackers who are contracted to babysit children who are in between care. So, this is outsourced – how can you guarantee the quality of those people?

Well, my understanding is that if we enter into any contract, there are specifics inside that contract for those individuals. And it would be the responsibility of Oranga Tamariki to make sure that the standards for those individuals have been met.

So is this a case of reducing resources of social workers so you have to outsource to this kind of care?

Well, I believe what we’re talking about is actually— Let’s say, for example, that we haven’t got a place for a young person; often it’s mostly because they are violent. And so we might have to use a motel for a period of time. To put a highly trained social worker in there for a period of time to be with that young person probably is not a good use of our resource. But certainly, the person we put in with that young person, to just be with them for that period of time while we’re trying to sort out a more permanent placement, must have a level of skill so that they are able to manage what are often very difficult and complex young people.

Okay. Minister for Children Tracey Martin, thank you for your time.

Kia ora.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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