About 30 people gathered to rally outside Tauranga's Oranga Tamariki office to protest "illegal uplifts" of abused children into state care.
The protesters set up directly across the road from the Oranga Tamariki office on Grey St this afternoon, carrying black signs with "illegal uplifts" and "hands off our tamariki" painted on in blood-red paint.
The smell of a sausage sizzle wafting through the air was cut through by the sound of people in passing cars beeping their horns and motorcyclists revving their engines in support.
Those gathered used a loudspeaker to call for Oranga Tamariki staff to come out of the office and address the protesters.
The protest was one of many taking place around New Zealand organised by associates of Hands off Our Tamariki, a group protesting Oranga Tamariki's uplift policy and process.
The 1pm rally occurred at the same time as a larger-scale protest on the steps outside Parliament.
According to Oranga Tamariki statistics, in the Bay of Plenty region, 237 children and 37 unborn children or babies had been taken into state care during the year ended June 30, 2018.
The region had the second-highest amount of uplifts in the country, coming in behind the East Coast which had 289 children and 48 unborn children or babies uplifted in the same period.
Tauranga resident and protester Frances Woods said the nation-wide protest was overdue.
"This should have happened a long time ago. We're hoping it will bring more light to the issue."
While there were instances where a child needed to be taken into state care, Woods said Oranga Tamariki needed to support families and aim to solve any issues rather than removing children in the first instance.
She called for stringent background checks into carers to be carried out.
"There is a shocking number of children who have been hurt or killed while in state care who didn't need to be removed in the first place."
She was also critical of the way uplifts took place, especially when police were involved.
"You're teaching children to grow up and be scared of the police."
Protest co-organiser Angela Bowerman said the Government was turning a blind eye to the issues that were raised and complaints around Oranga Tamariki's process were met with a "brick wall" response from the agency.
She said she knew of children who had been uplifted without sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect and said Oranga Tamariki workers were desensitised to how traumatic an uplift could be for the child and their family.
Bowerman said Oranga Tamariki was not held accountable for when a child in care was hurt and this must change.
"You think if a child is taken into care they will be taken care of."
Ngāi Te Rangi iwi chief executive Paora Stanley called for collaboration and free information sharing between iwi and the Government.
This was with the aim that iwi were made aware of troubled households and children, and would be able to intervene and prevent child neglect and subsequent uplifts.
"Our children are being abused by us and we need to have information on that."
He said there were more uplifts that involved conflict than those that took place amicably and Oranga Tamariki did not try hard enough to locate extended family members who could care for the child to prevent uplifting.
A response to the protesters and Paora Stanley's comments were sought from Oranga Tamariki but the agency was not able to provide a comprehensive response before publication.
Oranga Tamariki chief executive Gráinne Moss said in a written statement the agency acknowledged the rallies and people had every right to protest.
"We all want the same thing in the end, and that's for children and young people to be safe and loved," she said.
In a document on its website regarding babies and children entering Oranga Tamariki care, the agency said: "We know that bringing a child into our care can be traumatic for the child and their whānau.
"It is not a decision we take lightly, and there are, quite rightly, a strong set of checks and balances in the process to ensure that the right decision is made."
The document said Oranga Tamariki worked hard to assess and verify concerns for a child's safety and sought to involve the child's safety in the decision.
In some instances, fast action needed to be taken to ensure the safety of a child and in this situation, conflict may arise during an uplift.