Oranga Tamariki Minister Tracey Martin says Māori can start to have a greater level of "hope" that her agency is changing. This despite the number of Māori children being removed from families and into state care.
“The children that come into our care, come into our care because of multiple pressures that are on those families, Oranga Tamariki didn't create those pressures," Martin says.
It comes as the agency is under pressure over the attempted uplift of a newborn baby from its Māori mother in hospital last month, provoking further distrust of the agency in Māori communities.
Martin says, “I do believe that Māori can start to have a greater level of hope that Oranga Tamariki is changing from the organisation that used to be called Child Youth and Family. Are we there yet? No.”
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says, “It’s really clear on the face of it that the practice in Oranga Tamariki is failing. What mothers are wanting and are asking for is for more support, not to have their babies taken away.”
Martin, flanked by Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Gráinne Moss and Deputy Chief Executive, Voices of Children Hoani Lambert answered questions about vote Oranga Tamariki in the Social Services and Community select committee hearing.
“98.5 percent of Māori children are not in state care and for every 166 babies that are born only one needs to be taken into care,” says Moss.
Recent media reports state at least three Māori babies per week are being uplifted from their mothers and taken into care.
Davidson says the agency’s practices are not only failing mothers, but their babies and wider Māori whānau.
“I disagree that the agency is currently operating to a kaupapa Māori understanding of the oranga (wellbeing) of tamariki. We need to fix this issue and focus on empowering families and new mums to keep their babies."
Martin says the agency needs to earn “trust” in the first instance.
Davidson says she’s spoken with and offered support to Martin to address the process and its problems. She suggests improved coordination between Whānau Ora and Oranga Tamariki will create better outcomes for Māori families.
“Whānau Ora and Oranga Tamariki working together will empower new mums and their families to keep their babies.”