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Racist policies towards Māori children need to change

In response to an investigation led by Newsroom on the uplift of Māori children by Oranga Tamariki, Te Rau Ora CEO Maria Baker has said that Māori already experience disproportionate rates of mental illness, addiction, self-harm and suicide, and with this current situation it will only make it worse.

“Māori tamariki are more likely to be removed from their whānau than any other tamariki in Aotearoa, it seems this has changed very little since the problem was identified 30 years ago in Puao-te-ata-tū,” says Baker.

Puao-te-ata-tū is a pivotal report that was produced in 1998, which amongst its many recommendations pledged to ensure that whānau, hapū and iwi were properly resourced to enable them to care for those with whom they are genealogically connected.

“We know that whanaungatanga (relationships) are important to Māori. With the early loss or separation between a mother and child – however long for - will be conducive to major issues in life such as increased propensity for mental distress, depression, anxiety, substance use and suicide,” explains Baker.

“This report made it clear there were persistent levels of racism in the public sector which had negative impacts and harms to Māori,” says Baker. “Though, strategies and processes since have acknowledged Māori solutions for Māori whānau, and the right of whānau Māori to raise Māori tamariki. The broader perspective to this overall problem has made little impact if we consider the persistent impacts of historical and current issues, including racist policies toward Māori.”

Baker is the current CEO of Te Rau Ora, formally Te Rau Matatini, an organisation that focuses on supporting those in the Māori mental health and addiction sector. She says this could possibly be the beginning of dire consequences.

“The removal of tamariki from mothers, of mokopuna from whānau will be a presenting factor to an increased vulnerability to mental illness, addiction and suicide amongst Māori. Already, Māori experience disproportionate rates of mental illness, addiction, self-harm and suicide, this situation will only make it worse!”

Baker, of Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa descent says there’s only one solution.

“We need to invest more in whānau and community based responses that empower Māori in order to protect our mokopuna,” she says, “there are positive outcomes from the Whānau ora programmes and initiatives at the ground level with whānau across Aotearoa, and more efforts are needed here not in the state. As our kaumatua said all those years ago, the solutions are in Whānau, Hapū and Iwi.”


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