Andrew Dickens: Do iwi only care about Māori babies being taken?

Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Monday, 17 June 2019, 12:31PM
Minister for Children Tracey Martin, local iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana and Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis announce details of the inquiry. (Photo / NZ Herald)

The uplifting of the baby from Hastings Hospital by Oranga Tamariki is being investigated from a number of angles.

This is the uplift which was documented by journalist Melanie Reid shocked many who saw it last week. Oranga Tamariki workers tried to execute a court order multiple times but were thwarted by a large number of whanau in the room. 

Eventually the whanau were excluded from the room while the agency pressured the mother to give up the child. Attempts went on until the early hours of the morning before it was decided that baby could stay with Mum in a facility while further decisions were made.

I think it’s worth reminding you that the mother was 18, the father was 17, the father had issues which are unknown to us, and the couple had already had a child taken from their care. And the social workers and police were just following the instructions of a court order.  The whanau were resisting the court.

Now, the Minister of Children Tracey Martin is investigating the case, while the Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft is looking into the taking of Maori babies in particular.

Remember the Hastings iwi has now vowed not to let any more of their whanau’s babies be taken into care and in fact, since the uplifted documented by the Newsroom five weeks ago, they’ve intervened five more times.

Can I just remind you about the scale of this issue. 

According to the boss of Oranga Tamariki the agency got 90,000 reports of concern for 64,000 children in the last year. Of those 64,000 children, the agency is working with 30,000 of them and 1750 were bought into care. That's less than three percent. Maori children taken into care numbered just over 270. So around 80 per cent of the children taken into state care are not Maori

But it’s the uplifting of babies that is at the heart of this latest review of Oranga Tamariki.  About 280 babies were uplifted in the past year.

The agency says Māori babies taken into state care within three months of birth increased from 129 in the year to June 2016 to 160 in each of the two years to last June.

Babies of all other ethnicities taken into state care increased only slightly in the same period, from 118 to 121.

So Maori babies make up about 56 per cent of the babies taken each year.  Three Maori babies uplifted a week compared to two non-Maori babies a week.

My question is why the Children’s Commissioner in particular seems so concerned with Maori children being taken into state care when so many children and families from other ethnicities are facing the same issues?

And what do Maori think about the issues for the 44 per cent of babies taken who aren’t Maori? Or the 80 per cent of children taken into state care who are not Maori.

If the iwi want the role of dealing with the families with babies who need to be uplifted are they prepared to do it for babies who are not Maori?

The uplifting of babies and the placing of children into state care is the last part of a terrible process regarding the safety and care of our children.  While you can understand why iwi object to the taking of babies from their Mums, I think it’s worth reminding them that the real problem is that the care and support of these Mums need to be there at the beginning of the process and not after the horse has bolted and the state has been forced to get involved. 

Because nobody ever wants to take a baby from their Mum.  And Oranga Tamariki is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

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