Stacey Morrison has spoken of the "heartbreak" of seeing a mother whose newborn baby had just been uplifted desperately searching the hospital for her.

It was six years ago at Rotorua Hospital, and The Hits co-host had just given birth to her and husband Scotty's third child, a daughter.

Morrison's midwife, who had been with her for both previous births, told her to keep her pēpi close.

"She said to keep her with me, even if I go to the toilet, because there is a woman whose baby has just been taken from her, and she is searching for her."

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The controversy over the attempted uplift last month of a young Māori mother's baby from Hawke's Bay Hospital brought the troubling memory back for Morrison.

"It is heartbreaking. I don't think I slept at all that night. When you become a mother, your empathy goes through the roof.

"I had mixed emotions. I was fortunate to have my baby with me, and checked my privilege that I was not in that woman's situation, but I was also so worried for that mother, and knowing that it happened right near me."

Morrison said she did not know anything further about the woman's case, but the simple act of her returning to search for her baby showed she cared.

"Was that mother given a proper chance? Or was she just judged?

"Just the act of coming back means she cared. Even if things were not going great for her, does that not show that she wanted to be with her baby?"

Morrison was not sure if the woman was Māori, although she suspected she was, but said alternatives to removing newborn babies from their mothers need to be based on the Whānau Ora model of wrap-around care.

Morrison's grandparents had fostered a young boy, and she herself had been involved in supporting a whānau member.

"That's been around me, that kind of support. That is the Māori way, that community support, we'd look after one another if something happened to the mother."

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Through colonisation, Māori being forced from their land, dispersal of communities and urban drift, that whānau support had been eroded, but the fundamentals were still there.

"When there is a mother who wants to be with her child there is an opportunity to build support around her. I really feel for Māori working inside Oranga Tamariki, and social workers being targeted is not OK, but something has to change."


Uplifts disproportionately affecting Māori


Oranga Tamariki has come under fire over its uplifts and how they disproportionately affect Māori after an attempted uplift last month of a young Māori mother's baby from Hawke's Bay Hospital was revealed in a Newsroom documentary.

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.

The embattled ministry has also been forced to apologise after it was revealed 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.

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin has announced an inquiry into the attempted uplift of a baby from their mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital. Photo / Ian Cooper
Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin has announced an inquiry into the attempted uplift of a baby from their mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital. Photo / Ian Cooper

On Sunday, Oranga Tamariki/Minister for Children Tracey Martin announced an internal inquiry into its processes around the Hastings family's case at Hawke's Bay Hospital.

"I was particularly sorry to see the events that unfolded in the hospital that day.

"Everybody in that room has been impacted negatively and we need to come back together and work together constructively, not just for this whanau but also for the whanau of the future and the whanau that are actually in the process now."

But activist group Hands Off Our Tamariki says the issue goes far deeper than the single case, and has collected nearly 15,000 signatures on a petition asking the Government to "stop stealing Māori children".

The group says the number of Māori babies taken by the state has jumped from 110 in 2015 to 172 last year.

The group was established in 2016 surrounding the change of Child Youth and Family legislation, and has been working to raise awareness of the issue of the removal of tamariki by the state ever since.

Group member Paora Moyle said the Government inquiry announced needed to go much deeper than the Hawke's Bay case, as it was just one of "hundreds and hundreds".

Moyle had been a social worker for over 30 years, and herself was uplifted as a child from her mother.

"When you take a little baby from their mum it triggers their flight of fight response, that button is then always turned on, trauma starts from there."

Moyle said the uplift practice disproportionately affected those who were in poverty, living under stress, and Māori.

"Ask a roomful of social workers who wants to be treated the way Māori are treated and not one will stand up. Institutional racism is prevalent all through our systems."

Moyle said Oranga Tamariki needed to take Māori seriously and work with whānau.

"The Government needs to listen to and take Māori seriously. Work with us. There is no right to take a baby away without working with whānau."

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said on Monday it was a "big job" to eliminate unconscious bias against Māori in New Zealand.

Budget 2019 invested more money into early intervention, and Oranga Tamariki was working with iwi to prevent Māori children being taken into Oranga Tamariki care.

She said the new legislation for Oranga Tamariki, set to come into force on July 1, meant that every effort should be made for uplifted children to be kept in the wider family.