Children's Commissioner report 'only confirms what we already know'

By Jessica Tyson

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has released a new report where children and young people say, in their own words, what it's like to live in secure residential care.

The report, A Hard Place to be Happy, contains important challenges from children and young people, aged nine to 17, about their experiences in care and protection residences.

"I found this report extremely difficult to read, and I think most New Zealanders would too,” says Becroft.

The report focused on how tamariki were being treated and protected, the physical conditions they were living in, activities they were involved in, contact they had with whānau, what their health care was like, what the staff were like, how Māori values were embraced and upheld and how they were supported to have relationships with their whānau, hapū and iwi.

Whanau Ora Provider Merepeka Raukawa-Tait says, “This report again, thank goodness we've got it, but it really only confirms what we already know.

"So there are a lot of questions, but of course, if the children are Māori, then what we’re saying is no longer should Māori children be placed into state care. It is not safe, and we invariably know where our children will end up.”

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft emphasised the experiences of young people and the impact this can have on them in the long term.

“Bearing in mind, they’ve done nothing wrong, they haven’t broken the law, they’re there because their trauma, the violence that they have experienced, their abuse and neglect is so severe, they need to be securely looked after.” 

Oranga Tamariki has already committed to phasing out the "outdated locked facilities" and replacing them with small community-based group homes.

“We've gone out of the big old institutional residences, we have a small hub, where we stabilize young people for two to three weeks and then move them into community homes. Ideally, we would have over time, all of our residences would be smaller, would be homelike, more geographically dispersed too,” says Trish Langridge, deputy chief executive for Oranga Tamariki care services."

Raukawa-Tait still believes any kind of state care isn’t suitable for tamariki Māori.

“Our children can’t wait for someone to design a system. If you only talk to the families who know what’s at risk, know what’s at stake, and say to them how can we work together... There’s a child, who’s vulnerable who is at risk. We need your help to make sure we can find a safe place for this one.”