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Oranga Tamariki Services Not All Bad

Friday last week I cried for the first time in a long time, for the memory of myself and the joy of meeting a young Maori kid who had been rescued by Oranga Tamariki.

Much has been written recently about the failure of Oranga Tamariki to provide the correct level of care for the attempted removal of a child from their parents in the belief that it was in the best interests of the child's health, safety and wellbeing.

The internal enquiry showed that this was not a systemic failure across all child uplifts and while there were mistakes made in this individual case this should not define an organisation that works in the complex and often hostile frontier of child abuse.

On Friday, my worlds collided.

I visited a small country school and met a real bonafide hero. A young kid of uncertain age with a rascal demeanour and holding a clipboard. He was running the whole school assembly programme with consummate confidence and a winning smile.

He is a natural leader, and I am in awe of him.

Rescued by Oranga Tamariki from his meth-addicted parents, he was placed into care with a loving and caring family that had adopted other kids in need.

He is safe and happy in a new family, and the world is now his stage, and we laughed and hugged each other. And I cried.

I forget how old I was when my mother beat me unconscious, and I placed into care, but it was the start of a decade of living in halfway houses and orphanages.

There were times when I was “orphaned out” with a loving family, and there were times when things were not so good.

In one “care” facility, my best friend and I were routinely sexually abused by both other senior inmates and caregivers.

To mitigate this problem, I would go to the toilet and put poo into a tobacco tin and then keep it under my blankets, and at the right time when someone was about to jump into my bed, I would open the lid between my legs.

The smell of fresh poo would put off the most ardent paederast. You learn to survive.

When I met this kid, I knew his journey, and like me he still had a big smile and knew how very lucky he was to have a second chance at life.

So lets not brickbat a whole organisation for mistakes made in an individual case or by individuals and escalate the argument into “the stolen generation”.

It is not a world that most New Zealanders could even begin to understand and comprehend and to try to find solutions to these complex problems is not for the fainthearted. Those who work tirelessly to try to make things better have an unenviable task and one I could not have the courage to deal with day in and day out.

The care of children that are violated or just because of an accident of birth brought into this world by parents struggling to cope with their lives will never be a pristine discipline or an exact science.

There is a dark underbelly of abuse in modern society, and no one knows this better than I and the kid with the winning smile.

We both went through shit but saved by people whose day job is now being stigmatised by the media.

Oranga Tamariki can never win concerning the media’s coverage of its activities. If Oranga Tamariki takes away a baby because it believes it is in harm's way, then the media may criticise it for being heavy-handed. If it leaves a baby with the abusive parents because they object to Oranga Tamarariki’s intervention and the baby is subsequently critically abused, it will be Oranga Tamariki’s fault.

Rather than allocating blame to an organisation that has been given a hospital pass to deal with the growing dysfunctionality of our society and who is dedicated to helping children grow up in a safe and loving family we need to look at the root causes of why so many New Zealand children need to be put into care.

What are the key drivers of cultural and institutional racism endemic in New Zealand society and what drives parents into a cycle of poverty and they seek solace in drugs and alcohol and end up neglecting or abusing their kids?

Why does New Zealand have the highest teen suicide rates in the whole world? Why do Maori rank highest by Ethnic origin in suicide rates and prison populations?

The responsibility should not be on Oranga Tamaraki alone, it is the responsibility of all New Zealander’s. Kaumatua and Whanau advocate Des Ratima perhaps summed this up best when he said,

“The Ministry wants to change, but it could not do this on its own, we can't do this without assistance from Iwi and the community.”

So let’s all focus on fixing the underlying problems rather than fixing the blame which sets the scene for hate and mistrust.

I see a lot of me in this little kid, and I’m going to see what I can do to make his dreams come true.

He is already a winner because he has survived hell thanks to Oranga Tamariki’s timely intervention and has not lost his killer smile.

Neither have I. Nor have I lost hope that if we all focus on making New Zealand the best place in the world to bring up children we can have a country we call all be proud of.

Sir Ray Avery


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