Māori mothers share horrors of child welfare system in new report

By Regan Paranihi

Māori mothers of newborns have described their experiences with the child welfare system as brutal, racist and dangerous. 

Their insights have been revealed in a new report into Oranga Tamariki by the Children's Commission.

The report is based on the experiences of 13 families of babies who were either at risk of removal or had been moved into State custody.

But Oranga Tamariki has hit back - saying it was not given an opportunity to have its say and the sample size is too small. 

The Children's Commission says the report is a combination of the voices that reveal the trauma experienced by some in the child welfare system.

Dr Kathie Irwin, Children's Commissioner Chief Advisor Māori says, "The first voice you hear [on the marae] is the call from the women. That's what we've done with this report. We've said before everything else comes on to the table we need to listen to the voices of the women and the pain in these stories."

In the report, one mother described being in a bad relationship and living with severe depression. She said instead of being offered help, Oranga Tamariki took her children.

  • "I was just in a really bad relationship and had severe depression and instead of being given the support they took those children." 

Judge Andrew Becroft says, "They feel let down by the State, they feel unsupported and in some cases, they feel harm has been done and they want things to change."

Another woman said that while she was giving birth she was told her baby would be taken into State care.

  • "It wasn't til I was halfway through labour I found out there was already an automatic uplift."

"In what context would a woman be in the birthing unit on the birthing table with the pepī in the birthing canal to then be told your baby's about to be uplifted," says Dr Irwin.

"Māori babies aged nil to three months were being removed at a rate five times higher than non-Māori babies. Decisions about whether or not to remove unborn babies were being made two to three times higher for Māori unborn babies than non-Māori unborn babies," adds Judge Becroft.

The report cites six areas where change is needed in Oranga Tamariki. It includes the treatment of mothers and babies, social work practices, racism and discrimination and better partnerships with iwi.

"I'm hopeful that Oranga Tamariki hearing these cries will say we need to do better and indeed Oranga Tamariki have indicated to me that it does take these voices seriously," says Judge Becroft.

Oranga Tamariki hit back at the Children's Commission saying the agency was not given an opportunity to have input into the report. It said the families spoken to represent just a fraction of the more than 60,000 children it worked in 2019.

Oranga Tamariki highlighted New Zealand's shocking child abuse rates and said the agency is always trying to find ways to improve on how it protects the wellbeing of children.

The Children's Commission's wider review is due later this year.