Oranga Tamariki CEO out

updated By Kereama Wright

Controversial Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss has resigned, as Te Ao Māori News predicted late last year. 

But she has been rewarded with a new senior public service job after resisting pressure to step down after Kelvin Davis took over as the agency's cabinet minister post-election.

Last year leading wāhine Māori,  including Dame Tariana Turia, Lady Tureiti Moxon, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Dame Naida Glavish, Dame June Mariu and Whānau Ora leader Merepeka Raukawa Tait called for her departure and sought an urgent claim with the Waitangi Tribunal into Oranga Tamariki. They sought a mokopuna authority to replace Oranga Tamariki.

“Māori have the capability and the capacity already through whānau ora to successfully look after their own without the coercive interference of the State,” Moxon said then.

Those views were expressed after a shocking report by Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft highlighted failures in the way the agency deals with Māori whānau.

The report found 12 Māori families of babies aged 0-3 months had been subjected to poor social work practice, racism, and were not treated with dignity.

Mothers talked about having information kept from them, experiencing threats and coercion, not having confidentiality respected, and being lied to.

When Kelvin Davis took over, he declined to express confidence in the chief executive. Te Ao Māori News was told then that was because negotiations had begun for her departure with the State Services Commissioner and involving facilitation by Sir Wira Gardiner. Gardiner has now been appointed as acting chief executive.

'The right thing to do'

The Māori Party has welcomed the resignation, which it says is the result of the continued strong pressure of the Māori Party "and our esteemed members, the kahurangi (dames).

"We have forced Oranga Tamariki into acknowledging the institutional racism,” Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said.

“Given that she has acknowledged the continued failings and systemic racism on her watch, Grainne Moss tendering her resignation was the only right thing to do.

“Our Māori Party policy, released during the election, is very clear – we must shut down Oranga Tamariki and start again with an independent Mokopuna Māori agency.

“The government must now implement that policy, and follow the advice of the Children’s Commissioner – begin the process to disband Oranga Tamariki and shift the powers and responsibility to an independent by-Māori, for-Māori agency.

New government role

Moss has accepted a new job with the State Services Commission as the chief executive leading the Public Service’s pay equity work. State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said this was one of the government’s top priorities and it was great to have an experienced leader to drive progress across the public sector. 

He said the body of work needed to progress pay equity was significant.

“Mrs Moss led the successful pay equity claim for social workers at Oranga Tamariki- Ministry for Children and was also part of the team which developed and delivered pay equity to aged care workers. As such she has significant experience and expertise.”

Mrs Moss will move into her new role on April 12 April. Her initial contract as chief executive for pay equity will run until March 31, 2022.

Mrs Moss’s last day at Oranga Tamariki will be February 28.

'In the best interests'

Hughes said he respected Moss’ decision to stand down from Oranga Tamariki.

“I commend Grainne for doing what is, at this time, in the best interests of the agency,” Mr Hughes said. “What she has done today is selfless.”

Hughes said Moss was a dedicated public servant and leader who had made a number of significant improvements in what was one of the biggest and toughest roles in the Public Service.

During  Moss’s tenure at Oranga Tamariki, fewer children and young people had entered care, social worker caseloads had been reduced, investment in iwi/Maori services had doubled and the agency had developed new whānau care partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations.

Moss said it had been a privilege to lead the Ministry for over four years through a time of significant transformation, challenge and change.

“I would like to acknowledge all those at Oranga Tamariki and our partner organisations who work tirelessly in some of the toughest environments,” Moss said.

'The right time'

"I am proud of all that we have achieved over the past four years. However, I believe it is the right time for the agency for me to step down and make way for new leadership. I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the well-being of children.”

Sir Wira Gardiner, the acting chief executive, has whakapapa links to Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and te Whakatōhea. He has been involved in significant interactions between the Crown and Māori iwi on treaty settlements and negotiating between parties on complex issues.

He was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, head of the Iwi Transition Agency, and founding chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development.

A recruitment process will begin shortly to appoint a permanent Chief Executive.