Māori authority for tamariki Māori and whānau - Annette Sykes

By Kereama Wright

Māori activist and lawyer Annette Sykes has joined calls to establish a separate Māori authority for Māori children and young people.

In her submission to the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into Oranga Tamariki, Sykes opened her address saying, "I could not think of anything more horrendous than the disconnection and severance of children from their whānau and their whakapapa." 

In 2012 the Ministry of Social Development estimated 20,000 to 30,000 children and parents would receive intensive interventions, with almost half expected to identify as Māori. Since then, the overall number placed into state care had grown significantly and Māori children and young people had been particularly targeted, she said. 

Māori accounted for about 15% of the general New Zealand population and 26% of those under 18 years of age. But in June 2013 2711 of the 4960 children and young people in state care were Māori, which was 54%. Five years later in May 2018 68% or 4300 of the 6300 children and young people in state care were Māori. Sykes said the number had increased in real and proportional terms.

Transition plan

"Conversely, the actual number of Pākehā children and young people in state care declined over a similar period from 1630 or 33% in 2013 to 1528 or 27% in June 2017. This factual matrix is the impetus to the allegations of Te Tiriti breach," Sykes said. 

The first recommendation put to the tribunal was a national Māori care and protection transition plan and implementation process to be developed by hapū, iwi and Māori collective leaders that over time would reallocate the care and protection of all tamariki māori and whānau to whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori collectives as envisaged by Te Tiriti.

"The Māori care and protection plan is to be accompanied by a second plan that, in effect, winds back the statutory authority and resources of Oranga Tamariki in associated sectors of government. The wind back plan is to be developed by whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori collectives, which we have suggested be an interim rather than a final Māori authority." 

Sykes said it must also be in partnership with the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki and the chief executives of other relevant sectors of government. 

"In the medium term and in keeping with Te Tiriti the wind back plan envisages transitioning statutory authority and resources for the care and protection of tamariki māori and whānau to a Māori authority. The plan is accompanied by a reallocation of the Oranga Tamariki funding and resource quantum to the interim Māori authority to implement the Māori Care and Protection Transition Plan."

Law changes

"Models for the optimum care and protection required by tamariki Māori and whānau are foreshadowed in Pūao Te Atatū and subsequent models have been developed according to the knowledge and experiences of whānau, hapū and iwi collectives." 

"Legislative changes are required to support as part of the transition planning and implementation.

"It is proposed that the activities of the interim Māori authority will be the care and protection of tamariki Māori and whānau. The activities of Oranga Tamariki will more properly become the care and protection of all non-Māori children and families."   

Sykes also recommended that the interim Māori authority envisage a time when legislation for the care and protection of tamariki Māori and whānau across multiple sectors, education, welfare, employment, justice are compliant with Te Tiriti.

"This is an important one because of the cycle of poverty - you cannot have any outcome without a multidisciplinary governance approach."  

Sykes said Oranga Tamariki must shift its focus from the child as an individual to the child as a member of a whānau, hapū and iwi.