Empty nest - a mother's struggle to reunite with her uplifted tamariki

updated By Iulia Leilua

Two years ago Māori Television did a story about a woman we called “Mary” who’d had three of her children removed from her in 2016 by Oranga Tamariki.  She later had a one-day-old baby removed from her at a provincial hospital by social workers and police.

At the time of the story, we were unable to reveal her face or true identity because of family court rules to protect her children.

It was a complex case.  Mary said the state overreacted. The state said they had no choice.

Social services cited concerns of child neglect, risks from being associated with the Mongrel Mob and a lack of good parenting skills.  But their main concern was the incidences of domestic violence between her and her children’s father.

Two years later, Mary is still battling unsuccessfully for the return of her children and we are still unable to reveal her true identity.  She has only seen her children twice this year.

She’s also back in a relationship with the father of her children, a former Mongrel Mob member who abducted their children while they were in state care. 

Both are determined to turn their lives around to get their children back and say they are committed to raising their kids in a drug, alcohol and violence-free home.  They also want to work with Oranga Tamariki to help reunite their whānau.

The children's’ father has attended a range of anger management programmes and is being assisted by police to get his full drivers’ license.  He’s also been de-patched by the Mongrel Mob, many of whom are whānau, because of the stigma they feel was placed on the couple by police and social services.

“I know I’ve got issues and I’m still working on my issues,” says the children's’ father.  “I just want to be proactive and work towards showing them that I can be different, be a better father and partner.”

Mary's lawyer, Arama Ngapo Lipscombe, says the 40-year old mum has been traumatised by her experiences with losing her children and needs non-judgemental support. 

“I would say my client and any other client that’s been in a similar situation are probably some of the most courageous and bravest women that I’ve worked with,” says Arama.  “If you can imagine what it’s like to be lying in a hospital bed and have your child removed from your care with the police in attendance - that creates significant trauma.”

The Tokoroa lawyer has been studying the new amendments to the Oranga Tamariki Act, which came into force on Monday 1st July 2019.  Section 7aa of the Act requires Oranga Tamariki to:

  • Develop strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori;
  • Have regard for the whakapapa of tamariki Māori and their whānau, hapū and iwi;
  • And reduce disparities by setting measurable outcomes for Māori.

“From what I’ve read of the changes, predominantly it’s all about early engagement and communicating with the whanau and the iwi and hapū,” says Arama.

“That will be quite important for new cases but my client’s case has been before the courts and before Oranga Tamariki for some years.  So unless the social workers and the supervisors involved with her case implement those changes for cases that are already existing, it will mean very little for her.”

Although the couple is fearful of what might happen should they have another baby, they have other fears about trying to unite the family they already have.

“They’ve been three years under someone else’s care, it’s like we’re going to have to retrain them to adapt back into our family,” says Mary.

(Note: The name of the subject of this story has been changed to protect her identity).