This week marked the first stage of Oranga Tamariki's Te Tai Tokerau Children's Team transition to a community-led model run by Māori organisations based in Northland.
"Our whānau hear Oranga Tamariki and automatically think that their children are going to be taken off them. It just makes sense that the support side of what Oranga Tamariki does comes over to us [Tai Timu Tai Pari], because that's what we're doing anyway," said Te Uri o Hau Tangata Development manager Tania Moriarty.
Te Hau Āwhiowhio ō Otangarei Trust CEO Martin Kaipo said, "Māori providers have been at the coalface for up to 30 years ... The biggest advantage that we've got is we can get into the doors of our whānau and have these challenging conversations, because we're in the communities, we know the behaviours, we know the trends, and we can challenge them."
A hui held on Monday at Ngāti Hine Health Trust in Whangārei was well attended by representatives of the various organisations working under the banner of Tai Timu Tai Pari, the group set to take control of Oranga Tamariki's Children's Team.
Previously, the Children's Team had been tasked with working with referrals to develop plans of support that would ensure the wellbeing of identified children. Three members of Oranga Tamariki's Te Tai Tokerau Children's Team will soon begin working with Tai Timu Tai Pari and will be based out of Te Uri o Hau Tangata Development.
"With all the issues with Oranga Tamariki and now the Government making a move to devolve a lot of these services, Māori providers have put their hands up and said to the community 'collectively, we're going to work together and work stronger but we're going to have that relationship with you. We're going to show you what we do'," said Kaipo.
Moriarty said, "Let's try to support them to stay out of our service – that's why we're there. Everybody wants the same outcomes; the thing is we're doing it differently. It's about making changes with Oranga Tamariki to make sure that our whānau they have contact with are treated better but also admitting that our whānau need to step up as well. We're here to support that."
The Tai Timu Tai Pari coalition includes Ngāti Hine Health Trust, Te Hau Āwhiowhio ō Otangarei Trust, Te Uri o Hau Tangata Development, and He Iwi Kotahi Tātou Trust. The group of providers joined forces three years ago following a series of controversial events involving Oranga Tamariki that thrust the organisation under the national spotlight.
"As a collective of Māori providers, we thought why don't we get together and start helping Oranga Tamariki and make things better for our whānau? Because we're non-threatening as a Māori non-governmental organisation, there's a bit more buy-in from whānau with all of the services we deliver," said Moriarty.
In November 2020, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft released the second part of the report Te Kuku O Te Manawa, which considered the uplift of Māori babies and tamariki by Oranga Tamariki, and urged the Government to commit to a transfer of power to Māori. Soon after, Oranga Tamariki began the transition of Children's Team services to community-led models in Rotorua, Hamilton, and Te Tai Rawhiti.
"It's exciting and about time that we start moving along these initiatives that we've been talking about for a long time," said Moriarty.
"For us, it's a big shift in terms of Oranga Tamariki handing something over to us as Māori providers ... This Government is starting to identify where the failures are and it's a systemic failure," said Kaipo.
Despite previous criticism, both Moriarty and Kaipo agreed there was a need for Oranga Tamariki to keep working in the space, as they had a legislative mandate to do so. However, they both also acknowledged that the programme, now rebranded as Mihi Mai, would be a kaupapa Māori led initiative and that Tai Timu Tai Pari would not compromise its values when carrying out the work.
Moriarty said, "We're not going out there as a brown Oranga Tamariki, that's not what we are. The way we will design and roll out Mihi Mai is our way ... Our priority is making sure that our babies are safe and we're not going to compromise that for anything.
Kaipo said, "It [Oranga Tamariki] has the statutory space and I think it provides more strength to what we want to do. If our whānau don't want to conform to being good citizens, to being good parents, then they need to face the wrath of the law ... We hope to emulate the good things that have happened from the Children's Team but it's totally kaupapa driven in terms of how we deliver those resources to our whānau."
Both Moriarty and Kaipo said the group is focused on ensuring better outcomes for whānau and tamariki, with an emphasis on data collection around this to not only justify the handover but also to ensure they are achieving their goals as a collective.
Kaipo said, "We have created our own database within the organisations so we can say 'this has been the change for our whānau. This is what we've done'. That data is probably the most vital thing we could have to justify the handover."