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Incarceration rate for Maori children stands out

Incarceration rate for Maori children a stands out in Children’s Commissioner’s report of CYF

Two Maori child advocates say that the high incarceration rate for Maori children is one of the most shocking aspects of the Children’s Commissioner’s report of Child, Youth and Family released today.

“58% of Child, Youth and Family’s care and protection clients are Maori,” says Child Advocate Anton Blank, “which confirms what we already know about tamariki Maori, who experience more child abuse than other groups.

“Once they are part of the Child, Youth and Family system, however, they are more likely to be taken into care and spend time in Child, Youth and Family institutions. A whopping 68% of children in these institutions are Maori.”

Whanau-focused solutions are key to good outcomes for tamariki Maori says Kathrine Clarke, Manager of the government-funded Maori SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) prevention programme Whakawhetu.

“A positive aspect of the report is that the solutions for tamariki Maori are clear,” Kathrine Clarke says.

“Maori kids in CYF care talk about the importance of cultural activities. Immersing tamariki Maori in Maori culture generates tangible and positive change.

“This is something we experience with the prevention of SUDI. Our research tells us that young Maori want to experience a Maori narrative of parenting. They want to see Maori imagery and words on our resources because these are things that affirm their identity.”

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Anton Blank says that there is an unconscious bias towards Maori children.

“CYF staff don't set out to make racist decisions about Maori children. Unconsciously they make subtle assumptions about interventions and outcomes for these kids however. The end result is higher rates of incarceration.

“Decades of research have shown this bias at play in New Zealand schools. As recently as last year researcher Hana Turner found that teachers had highest expectations of Asian students, followed by Pakeha, then Pasifika. They had very low expectations that Maori children would achieve academically.

“I am currently working with academics from Cornell University in New York and the University of Auckland, comparing how this unconscious bias impacts Maori and African American children and young people.

“CYF staff need developmental training to explore their biases and develop strategies to mitigate this in their decision making.”

Kathrine Clarke says that poverty continues to be a major influence of outcomes for tamariki Maori.

“Research tells us that poverty contributes to high levels of family violence. Increasing benefit rates and addressing the issue of an adequate living wage need to be policy priorities for the government.”

Kathrine Clarke and Anton Blank welcome the Children’s Commissioner’s report and believe that the potential for change is significant.

“We would like to see CYF engage with the Children’s Commissioner in a continual process of review and development,” Anton Blank says.

“Russell Wills continues to evidence a courageous approach to advocacy on behalf of New Zealand children. He has considerable expertise located in his office, which could be deployed to address the issues he has illuminated.”

“As a Maori child advocacy organisation Whakawhetu would be keen to lend its support to address Maori practice within CYF,” Kathrine Clarke says.

“We have considerable expertise in reducing Maori SUDI rates, by professional development to existing and future workforces. The lessons we have learned could be a applied to CYF practice.”

Ends


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