Andrew Dickens: Too much power has been given to family in baby uplift case

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 19 June 2019, 12:24PM
Police attend the scene of an Oranga Tamariki uplifting. (Photo / NZ Herald)

I hate to bang on about the Oranga Tamariki baby uplift story again but daily I am reminded how one sided the whole debate has become.

By allowing Melanie Reid into the hospital room to film the attempted uplift from Hastings Hospital, the family lifted the secrecy on actions that happen 5 times every week.  Maori and non-Maori.  Understandably it’s unsettling and shocking and difficult.  But it’s the reality in a country whose child abuse statistics are amongst the worst in the world. In that regard the video did a good job of reminding us of this dishonour.

But it did a terrible job of addressing all of the issues and it’s done a dishonour to Oranga Tamariki. Last week I said that we need a look at Oranga Tamariki’s side of the story before we should comment.  But the child agency is constrained from telling their story due to privacy law and concerns. 

That hasn’t stopped Maori elders and social workers have a good crack at the processes even though Oranga Tamariki is powerless to respond publically.

A family lawyer has written an opinion piece this week, though that talks about the agency’s side of the story in general terms.

She reminds us the decision to uplift is never made by one person acting alone, or without professional consultation. It's never made without genuine care and protection concerns.

Children must first come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki via a report of concern – schools, doctors, or people within the community are making these reports, which social workers are tasked with investigating.  Attempts are made to engage with families. But if families refuse to engage, and concerns are substantiated, little choice is left for Oranga Tamariki.

In serious cases, a "without notice" application is made to the Family Court, for a decision on an uplift before the parents have a chance to be heard by the judge. An order without notice has to reach a very high threshold, so many things have to happen before that point. 

Oranga Tamariki don’t just walk into hospitals and take babies just because they’re Maori which is what is being insinuated by activists.

So today I saw the aims of the review of this case which is being done by a representative of Oranga Tamariki and the local iwi.  Firstly it’s being done on whanau time.  In other words the family and iwi will decide the pace of the review. This family seems to be given a lot of sway.

Meanwhile the three objectives of the review are:

- To understand what occurred from the perspective of the mother, father, whānau, Oranga Tamariki staff, iwi and other professionals

- To identify what can be learned from a local and national perspective.

- To strengthen local relationships and ways of working together.

But here’s the kicker.  The decision about whether to make the findings public will be made after consultation with the family and the iwi. I think they forfeited that right when they invited the cameras into the hospital room to film their side of the story.  

The public needs to know ALL the story if confidence in Oranga Tamariki can be restored after this one sided debate.

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