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He Oranga Tamariki CEO Must Go

He Oranga Tamariki CEO Must Go.

Associate Professor Leonie Pihama
Thursday May 9, 2019

The CEO of He Oranga Tamariki must be held accountable for the increased removal of Māori children, states Associate Professor Leonie Pihama of Te Kotahi Research Institute, University of Waikato.

Statistics show that over the past four years there has been a significant increase in the number of Māori Newborn babies taken by the state with figures, obtained from the Ministry by journalist Michelle Duff in December 2018, showing an increase from 110 in 2015 to 172 in 2018. Over the past months, we have also seen the increase of child abuse inflicted on Māori children in the state system.

Dr Pihama notes,
“There has been a failure for many years by Child Youth and Family (CYFS) to make changes. We were told in 2016 that a change in legislation would make CYFs more accountable to Māori for their absolute incompetency in supporting our tamariki and whānau, but as predicted then the Ministry has increased its removal of Māori children from whānau. The CEO Gráinne Moss is responsible for this and she should be removed.”

The most recent reporting of the attempt to remove a newborn baby in Hawkes Bay and the demeaning, disrespectful and traumatic treatment of a new mother and her whānau has highlighted that the Ministry is not fulfilling the requirement to ensure whānau are at the centre of the wellbeing of tamariki Māori.

“It is evident that the Ministry is lacking in the capacity to enact a meaningful relationship with Māori and as such we need our whānau, hapū and iwi to take control of the wellbeing of our tamariki. We also need to be clear that the Ministry is not worthy of the name ‘He Oranga Tamariki’ and we should stop referring to them in that way, they do not enable the wellbeing of our children, they are perpetuating more state abuse ” notes Dr Pihama

Dr Pihama is one of the Principal Investigators for the research project “Te Taonga o Taku Ngākau” through the Better Start National Science challenge, which is highlighting the need for whānau to be at the centre of changes for Māori. This includes Māori defining who is a part of their whānau rather the current experience where social workers within the Ministry who have no connection to the whānau or community are making decisions without whānau.

“What we are seeing is social workers predetermining pathways, thinking they can define who whānau are and then imposing processes. We have also been hearing increasingly of Ministry staff threatening whānau with removal even when changes are being made and support systems are in place”.

In 2016 the Māori Women’s Network ‘Te Wharepora Hou’ sent an open letter to Māori organisations stating “Evidence highlights that such State violence has been perpetuated upon generations of tamariki and mokopuna who have been removed and placed into State institutions” (https://tewhareporahou.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/hands-off-our-tamariki-an-open-letter/ ). Three years later this statement continues to ring true.

Dr Pihama highlights that there was strong opposition by Māori to the legislative changes as it was clear that the Ministry did not have the capacity to work with Māori in ways that aligned to the needs of whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori community needs.

In August, of this year, the Māori Council called for the establishment of an Independent Māori Children’s Commissioner, which was supported by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Beecroft.

“Judge Beecroft has been consistent in his call for change”
states Dr Pihama
“… and we need that to happen at every level. But firstly Minister Martin needs to direct the Ministry to stop these oppressive approaches that are creating more harm for whānau. Then we need to restructure the system and for our people to be resourced to take control of the wellbeing of our tamariki within a Kaupapa Maori and Whānau Ora framework. That requires a commitment to systemic change and a revisiting of philosophies such as those that underpinned Puāo Te Ata Tū and Mātua Whāngai”

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