The uplifting of children to return them to their court-appointed guardian has been described as "a battle of enforcement" that does not have the child's welfare at heart.

Dean of the faculty of Law at the University of Otago, professor Mark Henaghan, told Newsroom that uplifts were terrorising the children involved.

"It's become a battle of enforcement between the parents, courts, saying we've made an order, therefore it has to be enforced otherwise the court's not carrying out its job.

"But the primary job of the [Family] Court is the welfare of the child. And I think if they saw some of the consequences of some of these warrants they may look at it differently."


Uplifts occurred when a Family Court order over custodial rights is breached, enabling the aggrieved parent or guardian to apply for a warrant to have their child returned - with the use of reasonable force as necessary.

Video footage obtained by Newsroom showed a 5-year-old child screaming and inconsolable as police officers take her.

Another showed a 14-year-old boy being pulled by the arms as he protested his removal.

In both cases, journalist Melanie Reid said in her Newsroom report, the children's physical well-being was not at risk - it was more a battle over custodial rights.

In many of the cases she reviewed, police removals took place in similar circumstances - often with no warning.

Henaghan told Newsroom he believed New Zealand has lost sight of what the Care of Children Act is supposed to be about.

"The primary consideration of the act is the welfare and best interests of the child. You can't tell me that it is in the welfare and best interest of children if they are screaming and yelling that they don't want to go. How can it be in their best interests?"

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern told Newsroom the footage was "horrific" and being forcibly removed from the home was clearly traumatic for the child. She was hearing anecdotal evidence that such cases were increasing in number.


"In any of these situations our absolute number one priority should be the child," she said, adding that a lawyer for the child should have been consulted over the best way to move forward.

"It will be obvious to anyone, regardless of whether an order had been breached, that was not the right thing to do."

Labour had been pushing for a long time for a reveiw of the Family Court. One of the issues that she wanted raised was whether judges were being given all the information they needed before granting warrants for removal of children.

Police Association president Chris Cahill told Newsroom the uplifts were also tough on police as officers became "pawns" in the "wider games by parents".

He said it was more appropriate for social workers to do the job.

"Social workers should always be there as they are more highly trained to do this. Often the police doing [uplifts] are the younger ones and they are only five or six years older than the children they are removing and that is tough on them."