Anger and emotions threatened to boil over as MPs debated and one even called for the minister's resignation following the murder of a 5-year-old boy by his carer who'd been approved by the child protection agency Oranga Tamariki.
The debate was spurred by the Chief Ombudsman's damning investigation that found Oranga Tamariki failed to take the "bare minimum" action for Malachi Subecz, who died last November following repeated abuse by his caregiver Michaela Barriball.
MPs from each party also raised issues of confidence in the agency and the minister responsible, Kelvin Davis, who took on the role in 2020 seeking to reform it after controversy around the uplifts and mistreatment of predominantly Māori children.
"Somebody must pay. Somebody must be accountable," Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi, visibly emotional, said.
"Not an education facility. It starts at the Minister, Kelvin Davis."
Earlier Waititi asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern if she would ask for Davis' resignation "given that no officials have been stood down, let alone fired".
Ardern said she would not. She said they were awaiting the practice review, but she would also always draw a distinction over what it was the Minister held personal responsibility for.
Waititi said it was "quite difficult" as a father of a 5-year-old to "sit here and listen to the kōrero about this young boy, Malachi".
"I find it difficult that someone who was entrusted to the State, to ensure that they were safe, has lost his little life, due to the abuse, due to the neglect, and due to being ignored by the State."
Waititi said there had been 14 reviews, yet no change had taken place.
"I realise there is a commitment to reform Oranga Tamariki, and the Minister actively asked for the role to be able to drive that change," Green Party spokeswoman for children Jan Logie said.
"I also realise that, with such horrifically high rates of child abuse and deep structural racism and ableism and a degrading of social work practice by unsafe caseloads and tick-box processes within our child protection systems, the transformation won't happen overnight.
"But I currently lack confidence in Oranga Tamariki and, connected to that, the Minister, to be able to deliver on transformation and do their part to protect our children through that process."
Logie questioned the lengthy process of an internal review by Oranga Tamariki, announced in May, but which was still not finished.
Logie raised issues about repeated concerns raised by Malachi's uncle and cousin about his treatment but which were not taken seriously.
"I want to be very clear in this House and to the public that Malachi's uncle and cousin did exactly what we want everyone to do.
"They stood up for that 5-year-old boy, and they kept standing up in the face of incredibly distressing inaction from everyone they spoke to.
"We're not asking for or wanting an overly risk-averse child protection system that doesn't listen to whānau.
"Not listening to whānau was, again, what went wrong here, and I would say in-built biases were also part of that."
National's spokeswoman for children Louise Upston said there needed to be accountability.
"The accountability has to sit with the people in Oranga Tamariki that the concerns raised about this child's wellbeing were raised with. That's what accountability looks like."
Rather than fewer children in state care, Upston said the right measure was fewer children being harmed.
"The outcome has to be protecting children from harm. We have to make sure that when issues are raised, those people who operate in the system do their jobs, are accountable, and make sure that no child is dropped between the cracks."
Minister for Oranga Tamariki Kelvin Davis said what happened to Malachi was "shocking".
"No child deserves to be treated like that."
He said he was committed to reforming Oranga Tamariki, and it was a work in progress as New Zealand has been "dealing with a child abuse problem for generations".
He said the practice review from Oranga Tamariki was "expected soon" and would be much broader and much deeper than what the Ombudsman conducted.
"It will likely identify further areas where Oranga Tamariki could have and should have done better," Davis said.
"But once we know what these areas are, I expect action to be taken."
The delay was not "Oranga Tamariki dragging its feet" but due to processes involving the whānau.
Davis said overall there had been progress in the child protection space, with uplifts down 73 per cent since 2018 and number of children in care down by about a third.
There were also key partnerships with five iwi and communities.
Yet still, child abuse in the community was occurring at a high rate.
"There are over 70,000 reports of concern every year—200 a day—and 50,000 children at any one time who have come to the attention of the agency who social workers support to stay safe and out of care.
"They are protected by the work that Oranga Tamariki social workers do, and that's fantastic. The problem is the one mistake is what Oranga Tamariki is judged upon."