Mother Ellen Hiini. Source: File
Parents struggling to cope with their children being uplifted by Oranga Tamariki are demanding the ministry conducts more robust investigations involving members of a child's wider whānau before seeking orders to uplift.
Concerned families met in Raglan during the weekend to discuss the treatment of children in state care and what they perceive to be a lack of consultation with whānau.
One of the organisers from the group Whānau First, Ellen Hiini of Ngāti Raukawa says that when a child is removed from whānau it’s not always justified.
She says social workers need to be responsible for the investigation into the backgrounds of families before children are uplifted.
“Instead of supporting those families and putting services around those families, they go for an immediate uplift. There’s no investigation into whether those allegations are true,” she says.
Oranga Tamariki spokesperson, Glynis Sandland says the investigations Oranga Tamariki undertake must first go through the Family Court process and prove that no other alternative care arrangements are possible.
“Before making a final custody order, a judge will hear evidence from a number of other parties, often including lawyers representing the parents, and as well as lawyers for the child," says Sandland.
She says the way children come into the care of Oranga Tamariki is "often misunderstood".
"In some situations, taking a child into care can be the only way to keep them safe. It is a last resort, often after we have worked alongside the whanau for weeks, months or even years."
Mother, Diana Marie Paekau. Source: File
One mother, Diana Marie Paekau, of Tainui, says, "We have to remember that there are families that have had positive outcomes through Oranga Tamariki so we acknowledge that.
“What I’m noticing is that there seems to be an uprising in children being uplifted, recently babies being taken from their mums, taken straight from birth....no mother wants their child taken from them especially when they’ve just been born."
Recent research shows the number of Māori newborns taken into state care rose from 110 in 2015 to 172 last year.
Hiini says that when children from Māori whānau are taken and put under the care of non-Māori caregivers it can have negative effects on the child.
“Definitely a loss of culture. My children have been placed in a situation where I know they won’t be practicing the culture that they should be practicing. Their Māori culture will be lost because they’re not with people who can give them that."
Hiini says Māori children who are uplifted need to stay within their extended whānau.
“There needs to be the return of the whānau-first clause and there needs to be work around that and greater collaborating amongst Māori to stop uplifts in the first place."
Sandland says 65 percent of caregivers that Oranga Tamariki work with are within the child's extended whānau.
The Whānau First group plans to seek an urgent meeting with government ministers to convey some of their concerns.