Wellington protesters at a rally in July last year against Oranga Tamariki's removal of Māori children from whānau (Photo: RNZ/Ana Tovey)

Children’s commissioner calls to disestablish Oranga Tamariki

A second review by the Children’s Commission has made four key recommendations, including the transfer of power to iwi, hapū and whānau.

A new report from children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft is calling for an immediate overhaul of Oranga Tamariki – largely through a transfer of power to Māori.

The report, released yesterday, found Māori were poorly served by the current systems, and that racism and inequality is entrenched and reproduced for pēpi, tamariki and rangatahi Māori by these systems.

Basically, in the same way that having a Māori friend doesn’t mean you’re not a racist, or that using a koru in your company logo doesn’t mean you’re honouring Te Tiriti – changing your name from CYFs to Oranga Tamariki, also doesn’t mean you’re not racist or honouring te tiriti.

It’s the final part of the report, Te Kuku O Te Manawa, which is looking into the care and protection of Māori pēpi in the child welfare system.

In June, the first part of the report detailing the experiences of Māori mothers of newborns involved with Oranga Tamariki was released. The report gave insight into 12 whānau and their encounters with the state care system. While the first report didn’t give recommendations, the commissioner did make an initial call for fundamental change at Oranga Tamariki.

This latest part of the report focuses on a range of recommendations concerned with how to transform the system for Māori.

The key priority within the report is that the approach must move to one that is ‘by Māori, for Māori’, recognising that when it comes to the needs of pēpi and their whānau – iwi, hapū and whānau are best placed to care for their own.
“I believe only Māori can do this for Māori in a way that will deliver the best and enduring outcomes for tamariki.” Andrew Becroft says in the report.

To do this, the prime minister and cabinet are being urged to transfer power and resources from government to Māori entities that are determined by Māori.

There’s precedent for this transfer of power too. In August this year, Oranga Tamariki signed an agreement with Ngāi Tuhoe to ensure that the numbers of Māori children going into state care was reduced. Since then, Ngāi Tuhoe have dramatically reduced the number of their tamariki in state care through this power sharing agreement with Oranga Tamariki. Through the partnership, iwi are working with the agency to identify vulnerable children and collaborating to avoid state intervention.

Key recommendation from the report:

– Government [prime minister and Cabinet] commit to transferring power and resources, from government, to enable by Māori, for Māori approaches that keep pēpi Māori in the care of their whānau.

– Oranga Tamariki to act immediately to stop harm from occurring, and improve the experience for pēpi and whānau, in the current statutory care and protection system through urgent changes to social work policy and practice.

– Oranga Tamariki change the contracting process, and increase funding and support to iwi and Māori organisations, to deliver better services now, and to support and resource a transition pathway to by Māori, for Māori approaches.

– Minister and Oranga Tamariki act to improve the legislation and mechanisms in the current system to better work with Māori, both in the short and longer-term.

The report also makes an endorsement for the idea that Oranga Tamariki should be disestablished – drawing on the fact that there’s a lack of evidence that the ongoing pattern of incremental change can deliver for Māori.

“It is unlikely that Oranga Tamariki, or any other iteration of it, can deliver care and protection interventions in a way that will be most effective for tamariki and whānau Māori.” Becroft says in the report.

“History has shown that this task, so far, has been beyond any state structure.”

The recommendations made in Te Kuku o Te Manawa will be reviewed alongside the findings of the urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki by the Waitangi Tribunal, which will reconvene from Wednesday this week.

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