Oranga Tamariki has responded to a growing storm around the uplifting of a 7-day-old baby from Hawke's Bay Hospital saying its team were "relentless" about the best cultural approach to take.

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive for services for children and families, Alison McDonald, said the organisation's sole priority and focus was, and still is, to keep the child safe.

The 19-year-old mother will stay with her newborn baby for now after her family, midwives and iwi furiously responded to the children's ministry's attempts to uplift the child this week.

Three Māori babies are being taken into state custody every week around the country and Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana had a message for the Government on Thursday:


"Not one more child will be uplifted and iwi will intervene at all costs."

Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana says iwi will look to intervene at all costs to stop another baby being uplifted. Photo / Warren Buckland
Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana says iwi will look to intervene at all costs to stop another baby being uplifted. Photo / Warren Buckland

Oranga Tamariki said its approach had been flexible and responsive to the situation.

"We're giving Mum space," McDonald said.

The mother, who had her first baby taken in the same way last year, delivered her son by Caesarean section on May 1.

Oranga Tamariki applied for, and was granted, a without-notice custody order the next day.

On May 6, three Oranga Tamariki workers arrived with a car seat and forms and told the mother they had come to take the baby.

Negotiations with family, Oranga Tamariki and police went on until 2am on Wednesday, when it was finally decided that the baby would not be uplifted.

McDonald said that social workers had been working with the mother "intensively" for several months before the birth and even had her living in a teen parent home a month before.


Also the social worker assigned to the case had "significant connections" to the family having been dealing with them for several years.

McDonald said all the social workers involved in the case were all well experienced.

"Most of the social workers were Māori, and all experienced social workers, some who had been working in the profession for 30 years.

"It only takes a moment to harm a baby. As a community we must keep children safe."

Others felt Oranga Tamariki was disconnecting Māori families by uplifting children.

Māori health agency Hāpai te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart said the situation demonstrated the overriding power within institutions disconnecting Māori whānau.

"Whānau Māori are disproportionately uplifted by the state and these have traumatic and intergenerational impacts.

"We need to ensure that these patterns do not continue within our communities and look to solutions which support and strengthen whakapapa."

Hart said the dispute sat within the context of broader Treaty of Waitangi health claims and illustrated how Māori communities have historic and contemporary grievances which need to be urgently addressed.