An Oranga Tamariki social worker joked to a mother about getting bonuses for taking children into care. Three weeks later that mother's child was uplifted.
The worker, also a supervisor, apologised in a letter to the mother after a complaint was laid.
"I am writing to you to sincerely apologise for the comment that I made during a meeting held at the ... Oranga Tamariki Site," the social worker wrote.
"It is not a comment that I normally make and it was amiss of me to continue with the flow of conversation that led to me repeating the comment made that, 'we get bonuses for children taken into care'.
"I hope that you can accept my sincerest apology and I want to reassure you that it is definitely not the case at all."
The mother told the Herald the comments came during a meeting between herself and Oranga Tamariki staff about the care of her daughter. About three weeks later their daughter was uplifted.
She and her husband disputed claims from Oranga Tamariki about drug use, saying they had lived in a commercial property they suspected had been contaminated by meth.
They left that property and moved offshore from Auckland to an island in the Hauraki Gulf. There were a few days where they were out of contact with Oranga Tamariki, which then claimed they sought to evade supervision and uplifted their daughter, the mother said.
They were challenging the uplift in court and had acquired a lawyer.
"They can't give us a good reason. We have been with her since she was born, they even said we are good parents."
The mother said the social worker's comments were "disgusting", and the apology, which took more than a month after her complaint, was "pathetic".
A manager also apologised in a letter, writing: "I have been very clear that this sort of conversation, even with the intention of being a joke, is inappropriate and unacceptable. I would also like to offer you my apologies for this incident."
The mother said they had expected the worker to be fired.
"It is such a pathetic apology. We are heartbroken, our daughter is our world, and then to make a joke about uplifting to us, it is just disgusting."
Oranga Tamariki acting regional manager Alison Cronin said social workers did not receive bonuses, or any form of payment, for bringing children into care.
"And they never have done. We bring children into care because they may not be safe."
While never intended to be taken seriously, the remark was not appropriate, Cronin said.
"We accept that. The social worker had responded to comments made to her in the context of a difficult discussion about care and protection concerns for a child.
"The social worker wrote a letter to the family concerned in which she offered her sincere apologies, because it was the right thing to do."
The incident follows controversy over the attempted uplift last month of a young Māori mother's baby from Hawke's Bay Hospital.
On Sunday, Oranga Tamariki/Minister for Children Tracey Martin announced an internal inquiry into its processes around the Hastings family's case.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft launched a separate review into Oranga Tamariki's child uplift policies, relating to care and protection issues for Māori babies.
The "thematic review" would look specifically at policies around Māori kids aged zero to three months.
Oranga Tamariki said Māori babies taken into state care within three months of birth increased from 129 in the year to June 2016 to 160 in each of the two years to last June.
Babies of all other ethnicities taken into state care increased only slightly in the same period, from 118 to 121.