Solutions for Māori in state care 'ignored' 30 years ago

By Jessica Tyson

Co-author of the Puao-te-ata-tu, Day Light report, Neville Baker says the answers to reducing the number of Māori children in state care were handed to the government more than 30 years ago- but they were largely ignored.

The report, published in 1988, provided 13 recommendations in achieving social equality for Māori people, especially Māori children.  

“[I'm] absolutely disappointed and disgusted actually that the bureaucratic system did not do what it should have done and the political system did not actually take clear note of what the report is saying to them,” says Baker.

Baker was part of a team led by Ngāi Tūhoe academic and leader John Rangihau.  They travelled the country to listen to the concerns of Māori from more than 65 marae regarding the racist treatment tamariki and whānau faced dealing with state agencies.

Some of their solutions included providing leadership programmes, incorporating cultural values and beliefs and developing strategies and initiatives to harness the potential of all people, especially Māori.

“People were angry and quite rightly so and I think that what disseminated today is that anger is starting to take place again, so it’s a replay of what we got.”

Baker has witnessed concerns rising again following the attempted uplift of a newborn baby at a hospital in Hastings last month.

“Māori are sick of being second class citizens in this country and what actually puts us there is the actual behaviour which has gone on within Te Oranga whānau and the latest which has been going on in Hastings.”

Response from the Minister for Children

The Minister for Children Tracey Martin says the solutions listed in the report are still relevant and she doesn’t know why they weren’t fully implemented.

“The document had laid out quite clearly the conversations we're still having, the issues we're still having and quite clearly listed the recommendations to address those concerns,” she tells Te Ao.

As a review of Oranga Tamariki looms, Martin says she has taken a keen interest in enhancing the mana of a key concept outlined in this resource, maatua whangai.

“Whangai has always interested me and the fact that it’s not recognised under family law in any way shape or form.  So, I have actually asked staff to go and find out more about that for me and I will investigate that further.”

She's also looking at implementing a solution in the report to allow tamariki in state care to visit their marae to learn about their whakapapa.

"There was a really nice suggestion in there that hadn't been made to me; a fund so that some of our children in our care could have the opportunity to travel back to back to their rohe, to travel back to the marae, from where their ancestors came from and spend some time there learning about that," says Martin.

"Oranga Tamariki can have whakapapa navigators so we can connect them, we can find out who they are.  But I've said to Oranga Tamariki, you can't teach them their whakapapa. That's something you have to sit down, on the marae, with elders.  You have conversations, you need time to actually learn that."

Time to step up

Baker says other agencies within parliament need to step up.

"I think the minister needs to look closely at not just her organisation but the other agencies that are around her agency." 

He also thinks Māori members of parliament need to have more of an input.

“My expectation is that they need to front. They need to listen to what the people are saying to them," he says.

“If you’re going to be a politician in this day and age you need to front up and deliver to the people.”