I write this article with grave concern at an encounter that occurred this week at the Hawke's Bay Hospital.
This issue needs to be spotlighted until it is rectified.
It has been reported through an article that child services Oranga Tamariki entered the hospital premises in an attempt to uplift or remove a newborn child from its 19-year-old mother.
The young Māori mother, supported by two Māori midwives, refused to hand the baby over.
Police intervened and the Midwives Ripeka Ormsby and Jean Te Huia were locked outside along with the patient's family members who were denied re-entry, effectively isolating the young mother to be alone with police and Oranga Tamariki without health or advocacy support. It was reported that Oranga Tamariki staff and police repeatedly tried to uplift the child.
Ultimately affairs escalated into an all-night stand-off between midwives, lawyers, Oranga Tamariki, the police and DHB, all with the young mother and infant in the middle.
It was reported that Oranga Tamariki sought and obtained a court order for the uplift based upon a without-notice application, which means only their side of the case is heard, on grounds that the mother of the baby and her family and advocates dispute.
The result of this was that the mother was left largely defenceless against the state forces when they descended upon her unannounced in the hospital at the time of her birth, a time when her legal and physical defences are lowest and she and the baby most vulnerable.
Luckily for this mother she had the support of two strong prominent midwives, strong community leader and advocate Des Ratima and Wellington lawyer Janet Mason who sprang into action reportedly filing her own urgent application to the court seeking an injunction.
Currently the young mother and infant are homed in a safe facility whilst court affairs continue.
I am deeply disturbed by many aspects of this case.
Firstly it seems to be part of an increasing trend. According to an article, midwife Te Huia states that the "state take" of babies has now got to a point where NZ needs to wake up and open their eyes to what is really happening.
Apparently three Māori babies a week are being uplifted from maternity units and taken from their mothers in this country.
Furthermore, from a health perspective, I believe that the HBDHB has failed significantly in its duty of care to provide safe and adequate care to mother and child in this situation.
On the face of the facts thus far, it appears that this mother was treated in incomprehensible manner.
She was unnecessarily denied legal rights to be heard in a legal matter so crucial to her, she was denied healthcare which is a fundamental patient right at a most critical time and seemingly she was detained with a police guarding her door.
These are human rights violations.
The power imbalance in these invasions is immense and needs to be rectified. Women need to feel safe to birth their babies at the hospital free from these unsafe practices otherwise we risk forcing our most vulnerable women into hiding their pregnancies and births out of fear, which would create immense health risks for both mother and child.
These agencies should never have been there in the first place.
There's more humane ways to do this. Women are pregnant for nine months. If there are concerns, this is a significant timeframe for Oranga Tamariki to work with the whānau, midwives and other professionals to establish a safety and support plan for child and family.
Apparently this did not happen in this and too many cases. I do believe however, that when this patient's support network found out, they sprang into action on the spot and developed a midwife-backed safety provision and support network for the child and whānau in a matters of hours seemingly. If this was done in the nine months earlier it would have prevented this whole traumatic affair.
We also have residential houses we can utilise to run wrap-around support services, like we do for other health areas. I am sure a mother and whānau would appreciate an option of such a house and support over a traumatising ambush uplift. There's a wide range of other options. The goal of the law and responsibility of the agencies is to support and strengthen families and children, not tear them apart.
As a board member I will continue my advocacy on this matter ongoing.
* Jacoby Poulain is a board member on the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, is a Hastings district councillor and an EIT board member.