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Tim Beveridge: The responsibility should go back the families and communities themselves

Tim Beveridge,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Nov 2023, 1:36pm
Photo / Getty Images | File
Photo / Getty Images | File

Tim Beveridge: The responsibility should go back the families and communities themselves

Tim Beveridge,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Nov 2023, 1:36pm

I don’t mind telling you that I sort of avoided talking about this topic a couple of days ago because it’s simply grim.

But the revelations are continuing following the death of baby Ru, with the latest including that the uncle of the slain toddler has criticized Oranga Tamariki saying that he asked the agency back in December to remove the child from the family home.

And so, the Groundhog Day style naval gazing examination begins with the inevitable accusations that Oranga Tamariki is not up to the job.

There probably haven’t been too many of us who haven’t thought that simply the fact that the baby was named “Ruthless-Empire” should have been a red flag from the start.

I mean seriously, who names a beautiful little baby “Ruthless Empire”?

But perhaps that’s a bit of a distraction when the inevitable questions about who is to blame begin, and whether Oranga Tamariki is fit for purpose.

It’s not helped by the revelation that more than fifty children have died since the establishment of the agency.

But isn't the fact simply that they have an impossible job and it’s just lazy and easy to make them the culprit, when in fact the picture, the failure of these children, ultimately must go back to the communities and the families in which they reside.

That’s not to place blame too widely either, because members of the wider family, it seems, were very concerned. As we can see from the uncle who had complained about the safety of this child.

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that if you’re working for Oranga Tamariki, surely you are there to make a difference and the very last thing you want to see is a catastrophic failure that results in a child's death.

I can’t help but think of other agencies that are often under fire —such as Pharmac for not providing all the medicines we need— when it’s an impossible task when there is a limited resource trying to cope with an inexhaustible supply of problems.

Just look at the stats:

Around 70,000 complaints received a year.

38,000 had investigations completed, around 51,000 individual children. That’s 1% of our population. 

57 child homicides since Oranga Tamariki came into being seven years ago.

There will be questions, people who will want to see Oranga Tamariki disestablished, and a new agency set up but what would that achieve?

Who’s it going to be staffed by? Probably the same people who work for the existing agency, who struggle with the scale of the problem that they have to deal with.

Are we going to require that every child is uplifted when there is a question raised about their safety?

Well, there will be those who say that’s the right answer, but then we’ll see stories of communities objecting to being children being removed and destroying the family and those communities in which they live.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But one thing that’s certain is that as soon as we are relying on a government agency to provide all the answers, we’ve demonstrated that we’re failing as a society and as communities. When that government agency surely can only be as effective as the willingness within communities it serves to help them do their jobs.

Personally, I think the problems go a lot deeper. The ongoing narrative that people's problems are always someone else's fault – the lack of demanding personal responsibility, entrenched reliance on the welfare state, the list goes on.

And let’s be honest, we're only another few news cycles away from another tragedy just like this. 

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