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The Nation: Children's Minister Tracey Martin

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Children's Minister Tracey Martin

Its been a year of reckoning for the Children's Ministry, Oranga Tamariki - from the Newsroom investigation of the botched removal of a newborn from the arms of its teen mother to the apology of its chief executive Grainne Moss this week and promises of reform. Children's Minister Tracey Martin joins me now. So the review of this case in Hastings is just one case and Oranga Tamariki seem to fail on every measure there. How do we know this isn’t one of just many cases?

Tracey Martin: What we’ve had, as part of the Chief Social Worker’s Office, there is a practice review there. They have taken, of the 300-odd Section 78s, this was a Section 78, so an uplift without notice. Of the 300-odd Section 78s, they’ve taken 153 and gone through those to date, and they have found no other case like this case.

So when you say 309 Section 78 uplifts, those are the court orders that say Oranga Tamariki can take a baby without notice to the whanau.

Without notice to the whanau, without giving the whanau an opportunity to speak.

And those 309 are from when Oranga Tamariki was first—

From the 1st July 2017 and to the 30th June 2019.

Okay. I asked Oranga Tamariki for the breakdown of those figures of Section 78 yesterday, and they said that they couldn’t give that to me. Is there a different path going on? Is there not communication going on with Oranga Tamariki about how many Section 78 uplifts there are.

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Well, I’ve had that figure for the last four days, so I’ll go back and find out who they are and why they can’t answer you.

(Please Note: The Children's Minister later clarified the 309 cases she referred to were for those under three months old and her office clarified the numbers Newshub Nation asked for were not available)

Okay. So you say that 153 cases have been reviewed and as yet no other case is similar to what happened in the Hawke’s Bay, but Grainne Moss said on Radio New Zealand that there were five cases under review. Who is right?

So my understanding is that those five cases have come forward since we’ve actually put the review out there, and said if people want to make a complaint, if they want their case reviewed, then this is an opportunity to do so.

So five more cases have come to light since the—

Five people, five families, have asked for their case to be reviewed. That doesn’t mean they are the same as this case. It just means that they said, ‘We want to take advantage of the changes that have been made now.’

Okay. Let’s talk about the court order, the Section 78 uplift. Now, you can do it two ways. You can do it with notice to the whanau or without notice, but this is the most common way — these court orders — of taking a child into care for Oranga Tamariki. Should it be?

No, it shouldn’t be, and that’s actually part of what we need to have a look at. Some of that, and it’s a concern that we’ve had for a little while actually, is around — is part of this happening because the Family Court’s actually taking too long. Oranga Tamariki is only one part of a system, and if the Family Court, when we want to do an order with notice, if that’s three to six months, and you have high concerns for a baby, it’s one of the consequences of the Family Court delay that our social workers are using a Section 78 without notice too often.

So you’re saying the under-resourcing of the Family Court is leading to babies being uplifted?

I say that’s one of the things we are looking at, and having conversations with the Minister of Justice around.

At what stage are those negotiations or consultations?

Well, he’s obviously just finished quite a large review of the Family Court, but unfortunately this piece was carved out. It’s early stages, ultimately.

The other part of the coin is the under-resourcing, perhaps, of social workers who, in this situation, it’s one social worker who has to make that decision about whether to apply to get the baby uplifted from a court order. That’s not acceptable, is it? That’s being reviewed.

Well, it’s not being reviewed; it’s being changed. From this moment on, it won’t happen that way. If a social worker believes that they need to do a Section 78 without notice, there are now, I think, another two people above them that have to sign-off on that before that goes forward.

These social workers, though, have 30-40 cases, some of them. So are there enough resources for these social workers to be making the appropriate decisions about whether to apply for a court order?

We’re still putting in resourcing. We got, only on the 1st July this year, we got the $1.1 billion dollars, so we’re still putting in resourcing. We have upped our level of social workers — to the point now that the NGOs are complaining I’m taking too many of their social workers. So we are pushing more resource in there. So I’m not going to say that it’s not that. We’ve identified resourcing, and we’ve been moving in that space.

So have babies been uplifted or are being uplifted because there is a lack of resources for social workers?

Well, that is not what is put out in this review. That’s not what has come to light in this review. What came to light in this review was that the practice standards that should have been applied were not applied by the particular social worker in this case.

And again, is that because of under-resourcing?

That has not been mentioned at all in the review that it’s under-resourcing.

So it’s more incompetence, then?

I’m going to say yes.

It was incompetence, okay. There’s another provision that you want to review, and that is called the subsequent child provision. So if a child’s been uplifted in one family — as in this case — the presumption is of guilt for the family, isn’t it? They presume that the next child has to be taken into care and protection or have that kind of assessment. That’s a presumption of guilt over innocence.

It is, and again, what’s come out of this review is a lack of understanding around the subsequent child laws. There’s only two reasons why a child by a parent would be considered a subsequent child — that parent has killed a child already or a family group in the court has said you will never get a child back because your behaviour is so bad. None of those things applied in this case, so we need to do better at making sure our social workers understand what subsequent child really means. However, I also want — and Oranga Tamariki had already started work on this — I want a review of the subsequent child legislation, the unintended consequences of it, and where is the pathway back? If at 19, something happened really tragically inside your life, but by 25, you’ve completely turned your life around, where is that doorway back? And it don’t see one at the moment.

You don’t see one at the moment?

For you to be able to, not necessarily with that child, but if you have another child, if you’ve changed your life— And that’s part of the other thing in this review. There was no recognition of the effort by this mum and her mum to actually change their lives cos they knew that the environment that the first child was taken from was dangerous, and they made a commitment to make change, and they got no recognition for it.

Out of all the uplifts that have been going on, the Section 78s, and it’s like 800 a year…

No, no. You see, that figure’s really interesting. It’s not Section 78s, 800 Section 78s; that’s all uplifts over the last period of time. There are 309 Section 78s from the date that we talked about at the start.

Uplifts without notice?


That’s right? Okay. So, of all of those, why has it taken all of those– just this one case to figure out that the subsequent child provision like this that you want reviewed needs reviewing, needs to be changed?

It had been raised with me by the Maori Advisory Group. It had been raised with me by other groups. So it was already a piece of work I was talking about. But what this has done is, this has focused our minds. We knew we needed culture change on the front line. We’ve only been here two and a half years. We knew we needed culture change. This shows we need to do it faster.

Okay. Maori don’t trust Oranga Tamariki.


You’re trying to do this culture change, but Maori don’t trust Oranga Tamariki and the systemic failures that you’re talking about. So do you actually know what’s happening in terms of people coming forward to Oranga Tamariki? Or are you not getting the full picture? Because people like Janet Mason, the lawyer for the lady in Hastings, saying it’s widespread; she’s inundated with calls.

Lots of people contact my office. So there’s a large amount of information that comes directly to me. I’m in conversations with Ngahiwi; I’m in conversations with Tuhoe; I’m in conversations with Waikato-Tainui; so I’m working with Maori to deliver what I believe we all want, which was the vision of Puao-te-Ata-tu. Right? But that’s been decades in the making to get to this point. I can’t do that in 2.5 years.

Maori, though, are saying– or some Maori are saying, ‘Scrap Oranga Tamariki completely, and let’s have a by Maori, for Maori model.’ Why not?

Well, first of all, there’s not just Maori inside the child care and protection system, so that’s the first thing.

But what about having an independent Maori organisation that looks after the state care of Maori children?

Well, I couldn’t shut down Oranga Tamariki tomorrow and leave all these children waiting while we set up an independent Maori organization. And iwi are coming to me. I’ve had iwi representatives say, ‘We don’t want to do Oranga Tamariki’s work,’ because there’s a hard end piece of this work that they don’t have the capacity and resourcing to do. So we have to help them build that capacity. But what we all want is – let’s stop having our children come into care. That’s the prevention and early intervention. That’s where we’re working with iwi. That’s where the future lies for child protection.

Have you looked at many other indigenous models for child care and protection around the world?

Yes. I was in Canada recently looking at First Nations. It was recommended that I go there by Ngahiwi from Ngati Kahungunu. So I went and spent some time over there, so that was interesting.

Was it applicable here, though?

There are pieces there that I thought they did really, really well. For example, recognition that the First Nations have an interest in the child that is separate from parental interest, and I think that resonates with the Maori and that the children are taonga of the iwi and hapu. And they get representation by right at any conversation in the court. I’d like to have a conversation with iwi about that. But then the thing I came away with was, strangely enough, we are so much more advanced than they are.

And yet the common perception is that we’re not.

That’s right.

The way that you’re dealing with Oranga Tamariki, how do you think that’s sitting with New Zealand First?

Actually, well, I was having dinner with Winston last night, right? I was having dinner with Winston last night.

Okay. What did he say?

And I had an interview on Radio New Zealand with Corin Dann yesterday, which got to a little bit of a fractious place. So I went through that with him and said, you know, ‘I’m not sure I’m managing this well.’ And he says, ‘This was always going to be a hard portfolio. When we got it for you, we knew we’d have to back you, and we back you.’

So you’re saying that he is backing you? The reason I ask about that is because earlier this year, Winston Peters said, ‘Rather than accusing Oranga Tamariki of institutional racism, Maoridom must address issues of abuse towards women and children instead.’

Well, we do need to address those as well. You know, there are five reasons that children come into the care of Oranga Tamariki. Ninety per cent of the children in our care have been affected by family violence. And as I said in Whakatane and Rotorua and Whanganui, come and tell me what it is that we need to give you and your community to actually be able to get into prevention and early intervention in those five places, and I’ll fight for it.

That responsibility of Maori to sort out Maori problems that Winston Peters is talking about, does that sit well with you?

Well, isn’t that Maori for Maori? I mean, that’s what Maori’s asking for. Give them¬ – Trust them; trust them. They want us to trust them. And to be frank, they couldn’t do any worse than what the State has done over a 30-year period. So I’m trying to build the trust– I hope that I’m starting to get the trust from iwi to say, ‘I am willing to try and help us make this change that you’ve been asking for.’

Okay. Just one more thing. So, the Whanau Ora chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, she wants Oranga Tamariki gone, and she also says of the review, ‘The fish rots from the head,’ and that is leadership needs to take responsibility for what she calls the toxic culture and not throw its workers under the bus. Is the leadership taking responsibility?

Well, I’m the leadership. I’m at the top of the tree.

And what about Grainne Moss, are you still supporting her?

I am still supporting her. But I’m the boss; I’m the one at the top of the tree. So if Merepeka would like to come and have a conversation with me and make whatever statement she wants to make about the leadership and it rotting at the head, then I’ve always got my door open.

And you’re also absolutely sure that you have the backing of the New Zealand First caucus – other members apart from Winston Peters?


Okay. Tracey Martin, Children’s Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Transcript provided by Able.

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