Critics of Oranga Tamariki's practices say the resignation of its embattled chief executive offers a chance for a "reset" rooted in Māori leadership.
Grainne Moss announced this morning she was resigning after four years at the helm of the Government agency, which has come under intense scrutiny since a video was published of the uplift of a week-old Māori baby in Hastings in 2019.
That event has led to no less than five reviews of Oranga Tamariki and its child uplift practices: an internal review, and inquiries by Whānau Ora, the Chief Ombudsman, the Children's Commissioner, and the Waitangi Tribunal.
The number of children in state care and the number of uplifts has fallen under Moss' watch, and partnerships are being created with iwi to prevent their tamariki from going into care or keeping them within extended family.
But many prominent Māori leaders remained deeply distrustful of Oranga Tamariki and feel that transformational change has yet to occur.
In a statement, wahine Māori leaders Dame Naida Glavish, Dame Tariana Turia, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi, Dame Areta Kopua, Lady Tureiti Moxon and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said they were "over the moon", calling Moss' resignation a "principled and responsible decision".
The wahine filed an urgent claim last year against Oranga Tamariki in the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of the National Urban Māori Authority.
Given that 60 to 70 per cent of children in State care are Māori, the claim advocated that 60 to 70 per cent of the resources go to Māori under a new Mokopuna Māori Authority.
"I hope this is a signal from the Crown that this is the start of devolution of tamariki Māori from Oranga Tamariki to Māori," said Moxon, chair of the National Urban Māori Authority.
"Rangatiratanga and mana motuhake can only be realised if this happens so we can look after ourselves in our own way."
The group had long been calling for Moss to step down to make way for Māori leadership, stepping up the call in December after deputy head of Oranga Tamariki Hoani Lambert, the most senior Māori leader, resigned instead.
At the time, Moss said she was not going anywhere, despite the refusal of new Minister for Children Kelvin Davis to express confidence in her.
Speaking to the Herald, Moxon said it was a not a "personal thing" against Moss, but rather that it was time for a whole new approach and for Māori to be looking after their own children.
"This is the beginning of the end of Oranga Tamariki as we know it.
"The Minister now needs to be brave and look at devolution, create and fund a separate Māori Mokopuna Authority proportionately."
Such an agency would not solely be for Māori children, rather it would led by Māori, with Māori interests at its core, Moxon said.
Sir Wira Gardiner - of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Te Whakatōhea - has been appointed acting chief executive.
Gardiner, husband of former National MP Hekia Parata, has been involved in significant interactions between the Crown and iwi on Treaty settlements and negotiating between parties on complex issues.
He was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, head of the Iwi Transition Agency, and founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development.
Moxon said they were hopeful Gardiner would be part of the devolution process.
"We are not so concerned with who will be leading Oranga Tamariki, but the person to head a new Māori Mokopuna Authority will be someone who is Māori and understands what it means to be whānau, hapū and iwi, and work closely with the regions."
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said Moss had given her "utter commitment and dedication" to the role, but the issues were "much bigger than the individual".
"For a long time we have been saying the issues are structural, and around decision-making for Māori, and this resignation provides the opportunity for that reset."
A Children's Commission review into Oranga Tamariki last year found "deep systemic issues" in the state care and protection system, and recommended transferring power to Māori as the best option for real change recognised Māori as best placed to care for their own.
The report found there was a lack of evidence and trust that incremental change could deliver for Māori, as it had not done so over the past 30 years.
"The current model cannot continue," Becroft said.
"This is a real chance for iwi and local organisations to make their own decisions, have their own rights over their own whānau."
Rather than rush into a new chief executive, Becroft said the whole leadership model needed to be looked at.
"It would be wrong to say we simply need a Māori chief executive. Since about 2000 I have dealt with about nine different chief executives. The current model is fundamentally flawed, and the reset includes the leadership model. I look forward to the opportunity this provides."
Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said Moss had "inherited a difficult portfolio", with state care issues - particularly for Māori - going back well over half a century.
He agreed her resignation offered a chance for a reset.
"We need to think broader. New iterations of the same agency will not solve the underlying issues that see children taken into state care in the first place."
Children's Minister Kelvin Davis said he did not push Moss to resign, despite last year refusing to say he had faith in her.
"She has made the decision to step down, and I respect that decision."
He said he welcomed Gardiner into the acting chief executive role.
"My focus is on working with the leadership of Oranga Tamariki, fixing the system and implementing the Government's work programme.
"Oranga Tamariki needs to be an enabler, a place whānau go to for help."
Crucial to this was partnership with Māori.
"Now we have a real opportunity to make that happen."
Māori Party Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer welcomed Moss' decision.
"Our Māori Party policy, released during the election, is very clear – we must shut down Oranga Tamariki and start again with an independent mokopuna Māori agency.
"The Government must now implement that policy, and follow the advice of the Children's Commissioner – begin the process to disband Oranga Tamariki and shift the powers and responsibility to an independent by Māori, for Māori agency.
"As a first step to achieving that, Kelvin Davis must appoint a senior Māori leader as acting CEO whose one job is to dismantle Oranga Tamariki and ensure there is a smooth transition to the new regime."
Green Party spokesperson for Children Jan Logie also welcomed the decision, saying Moss had "lost the confidence of the community, particularly Māori".
"Her resignation now paves the way for this Māori leadership."
In a statement, Moss said she was proud of what the agency had achieved over the past four years: fewer children entering care, the reduction of social worker caseloads, the doubling of investment in iwi/Māori services, and new whānau care partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations.
"However, I believe it is the right time for the agency for me to step down and make way for new leadership.
"I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the wellbeing of children."
Grainne Moss, Oranga Tamariki and the events leading up to her resignation
• On April 1, 2017, Grainne Moss becomes the first chief executive of the newly-formed Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki in a five-year role. The agency was established to address long-standing issues at predecessor Child, Youth and Family Services, while reducing the disparities experienced by tamariki Māori. Originally from Ireland, Moss had worked for more than 25 years in the public and private sectors across the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand. Her most recent job was as managing director at aged-care provider Bupa Care Services NZ.
• Growing concern around the uplift practices of babies, which heavily disproportionately affects Māori, boils over in May 2019 after a video was published of the uplift of a week-old Māori baby in Hastings.
• The event and ensuing public outrage lead to no less than five reviews of Oranga Tamariki and its child uplift practices: an internal review, and inquiries by Whānau Ora, the Chief Ombudsman, the Children's Commissioner, and the Waitangi Tribunal.
• In July 2019 Māori-led protests, under the banner "Hands off our Tamariki", take place across the country, calling for not one more Māori baby to be taken by the Government.
• In November 2019, Oranga Tamariki's internal review into the Hawke's Bay uplift finds the agency didn't do enough to build relationships with the family in question, nor did it properly explore placing the baby in the wider family. "I know we have hurt this whānau - and I am truly sorry. Our work wasn't of a high standard and our usual checks and balances failed," Moss said at the time.
• In February 2020, Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency's Māori-led review, based on more than 1000 interviews with whānau across the country, finds "systemic failure, discrimination and inexplicable breaches of human rights towards Māori". It includes one incident in which 14 armed police were involved in the "traumatising" uplift of a 5-month-old Māori baby from a single mother.
• In August 2020, the Chief Ombudsman's report He Take Kōhukihuki: A Matter of Urgency slammed the agency after finding the practice of removing newborn babies from their parents without notice had become more "routine" than "exception".
• In September 2020, mid growing political pressure against Oranga Tamariki and Grainne Moss' leadership, the Māori Party unveils its Mokopuna Māori Policy, to establish an independent, agency which would be responsible for the care of all mokopuna Māori in Aotearoa. It would divert 70 per cent of Oranga Tamariki's funding - proportionate to the amount of Māori children in state care.
• In June and November 2020 the Children's Commission respectively releases the two parts of its review, finding "deep systemic issues" at the agency and calling for a transfer of power to Māori.
• Over several months in the second half of 2020, the Waitangi Tribunal hears an urgent claim against Oranga Tamariki, during which Moss says there is structural racism in the agency's systems which have led to poor outcomes for Māori tamariki taken from their whānau.
• In November 2020, new Children's Minister Kelvin Davis refuses to express confidence in Moss. He also reveals he is setting up a meeting with the head of the Public Services Commission (PSC) about the future leadership of Oranga Tamariki – New Zealand's children's ministry.
• In December 2020, deputy head of Oranga Tamariki Hoani Lambert, their most senior Māori leader, resigns. Moss comes under increased scrutiny to resign, but refuses.
• On January 22, 2021, Moss announces her resignation. Her last day as chief executive of Oranga Tamariki will be February 28, when Sir Wira Gardiner will take over as acting chief executive.