The Office of the Ombudsman has announced a wide-ranging investigation into the steps Oranga Tamariki takes when newborn babies are 'uplifted' from their parents.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said the investigation was already underway when he appeared before parliament’s Governance and Administration committee today.
"Cabinet announced in April that from July 1, I will have a greater degree of oversight over Oranga Tamariki which will include reviewing complaints and conducting investigations. It is important for me to start looking at this issue immediately," he says.
Boshier says there has been a great deal of public concern following an attempt by Oranga Tamariki to remove a week-old baby from its mother in Hawke’s Bay hospital last month. The uplift attempt was filmed by Newsroom and sparked renewed scrutiny of the organisation.
"No one is more vulnerable than a newborn baby. I think the public needs assurance that the right policies and processes are in place for their protection while at the same time safeguarding the rights of whānau," says Boshier.
"My investigation is focused on what a good system should look like. As an Officer of Parliament, I have unique investigative powers under the Ombudsmen Act to require all relevant information from Oranga Tamariki and others to get to the heart of things and form an independent view."
Boshier says he is pleased Oranga Tamariki is doing its own internal investigation into the Hawke’s Bay case and notes the Children’s Commissioner is also launching a thematic review focused on Māori newborns.
"My investigation will provide a broader overview aimed at identifying best practice. It is important my investigation looks into the circumstances faced by all newborns and their whānau."
Mr Boshier says his powers also allow him to examine Oranga Tamariki’s interactions with other agencies, such as district health boards, in the removal of newborn babies.
"There is often more than one agency involved, as well as court decisions and Police protocols that Oranga Tamariki needs to take into account.
I want to find out whether these kind of interventions by Oranga Tamariki are being carried out in an appropriate way.
This is a key part of my job as New Zealand’s Ombudsman, to make sure there is trust and confidence in the system, and to make recommendations where I see the need for improvement."
Boshier says his investigation will not focus on the actions of individuals involved in the Hawke’s Bay case.
"I do not want to intervene in this particular case at this time because Oranga Tamariki is conducting its own review and there are ongoing legal proceedings.
Boshier has assigned a team of investigators specialising in the review of agency practices and processes, and notified Oranga Tamariki of his intention to investigate two weeks ago.
The Ombudsman aims to complete the investigation by the end of the year and to publish and findings and recommendations for the public.