Oranga Tamariki report: Government must transfer power to Māori – Children’s Commissioner

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Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft is calling for an urgent and significant transformation of Oranga Tamariki – and is telling the government to commit to a transfer of power to Māori.

Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It’s the commission’s second part of the report, Te Kuku O Te Manawa, into the care and protection of Māori babies – and has a raft of recommendations for government and state agencies.

The first part of the report, released in June, detailed the experiences of Māori mothers of newborns involved with Oranga Tamariki – which said the child welfare system was dangerous, brutal and racist.

The second part, released this morning – focuses on a range of recommendations of how to transform the system for Māori.

“After decades of calls for change from Māori this is an opportunity to listen and get it right for mokopuna Māori,” Becroft said.

The first recommendation asked the prime minister and Cabinet to commit to transferring power and resources from the government to enable by Māori, for Māori approaches that keep pēpi Māori in the care of their whānau.

Steps the commission recommended to make this happen included: a ministerial-level partnership with iwi and Māori leadership, agreeing to establish by Māori for Māori approaches to the current statutory care and protection system.

Subsequent recommendations form a blueprint for making immediate changes to the statutory care and protection system while that transformation is achieved.

These include that Oranga Tamariki makes urgent changes including explicitly capping the caseload of social workers.

The Children’s Commission believes its recommendations will lead to what it calls a new ‘daybreak’ that has long been envisioned by many – the realisation of tino rangatiratanga through Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and a future where Māori can achieve their own moemoeā for their pēpi, tamariki and rangatahi.

Key recommendations from the Children’s Commission 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.

Oranga Tamariki respond

Grainne Moss

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Oranga Tamariki acknowledged the report and said while the ministry had made progress in those areas – it was crucial to listen to the views of others.

Chief executive Grainne Moss said it was useful to see that the issues identified in the report were similar to those highlighted in previous reviews.

“All New Zealanders want the same thing,” Moss said.

“We want to ensure that tamariki Māori are safe and well cared for.

“Over the last two years, we have seen a 50 percent drop in the number of pēpi coming into care. This is due to our commitment to working alongside Māori to support tamariki.”

She said the recommendations of Te Kuku o Te Manawa would be assessed alongside the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry, which will reconvene in Wellington later this week.

Moss noted that the key recommendation from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is that the prime minister and Cabinet commit to transferring power and resources from government to Māori to enable a Māori-led approach.

While the organisation was committed to moving further down this path within the limits of current law, any further changes were a decision for the government to make, not Oranga Tamariki.

“We will be looking to guidance from the Waitangi Tribunal and direction from ministers before commenting further on the vision expressed in Te Kuku o Te Manawa.”

The minister for children, Kelvin Davis, has not yet been available for an interview to respond to the report’s recommendations.

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