Whānau with children in state care receiving help to understand rights

By Jessica Tyson

Social service workers are empowering whānau to look closer into their legal rights and the steps they can take when dealing with Oranga Tamariki.

Whānau Ora navigators Karen Mills and Kylie Jane-Phillips say there are common misconceptions about Oranga Tamariki which are stopping whānau from learning about the steps they can take.

“Whānau feel that they have no rights. Once Oranga Tamariki is involved, whānau believe that’s it, they're in trouble and it will never go away," Mills says, who works for Te Whare Hauora, Māori Women's Refuge.

“The processes are really foreign to our people so they then feel again that they’re not being heard.”

Mills and Jane-Phillips have received training from the legal education programme Te Korimako, which they utilise when helping whānau with children in state care.

“It’s the most excellent training that you could have really because it breaks down the barriers to the court system. It breaks down the barriers to lawyers. It makes you understand that what a role of a judge is, what a role of the lawyer for a child is, and it’s about whānau being better informed,” Mills says.

Jane-Phillips works at Waitaha Primary Health and says 12 staff members from her workplace received the training.

"The way that we support whānau and those kinds of processes is completely different because we understand the legislation.”

Jane-Phillips says whānau should be persistent.

“If you don’t know, don’t stop trying to know. There’s answers out there and there’s people like myself who've had opportunities to grow my knowledge in that area and people will help you.

“If we sit there and keep doing what we're doing without the right knowledge and without the right understanding then it’s going to be more and more detrimental for our families.”

Te Korimako has delivered to 1,000 social service workers, director Tania Williams says.

“We expect that people will start to stand, will start to hold their own, and the idea is to have iwi standing beside them lending their strength and their mana to the whānau so that they can stand.”

For the next six months, Te Korimako will work closely with the family court.

“The family court is looking at how we can strengthen and it's sitting alongside iwi leaders and Oranga Tamariki how can we make this work. To do that they are using the results from a survey with whānau to say what the whānau think. So I think if we could line those up, the responses, we would have a much better chance of making a difference for our whānau and our tamariki,” Williams says.