The head of under-fire Oranga Tamariki has today announced the Christchurch care and protection residence at the centre of violent child abuse allegations will close as soon as possible.
Children's Minister Kelvin Davis has backed the move, and signalled there could be more abuse allegations to come, stating "as we scratch away more comes up".
The agency had been planning to shut down all 10 care and protection residences across the country but after footage emerged of staff reacting violently to young people in the Christchurch facility Sir Wira Gardiner has ordered the process to be expedited.
Gardiner, Acting OT chief executive, fronted in Christchurch at 11.30am following confirmation yesterday that a "number" of staff had been stood down after footage of a child in the agency's custody being violently restrained by staff was leaked to the media.
The agency has launched an investigation to determine if the practices were widespread after Children's Minister Kelvin Davis labelled the incident and non-reporting "totally unacceptable".
The incidents in question were revealed by a staff-member-turned-whistleblower who provided footage to media outlet Newsroom and spoke out about what they felt were illegal constraints constituting assault.
It has since been revealed these restraints are used about 200 times a year, and over the past four years there have been 12 injuries, including one serious.
Gardiner confirmed today that the Christchurch facility would close as soon as possible.
"We'll take one at a time, we're dealing with Te Oranga now… that doesn't preclude me from looking at the others, which I have already started," he said.
"Given that we are in a crisis situation I intend to accelerate the process."
He said 10 children were residents at Te Oranga and about 60 staff worked there.
He could not give a timeframe for the closure but assured the welfare of the children was at the heart of all action.
"As the spokesperson of the children, I expect a higher duty of care to look after them," he said.
"If we don't look after them I will be holding people to account."
Gardiner said the video footage "appeared to be excessive force".
"My first knowledge of it was the video.
"I have asked investigators 'how is it that we didn't know'?
"Is it that our reporting system is broken? How is it that we have to rely on someone leaking CCTV footage to the public?"
He said future care and protection facilities would cater to smaller groups with a deeper focus on the young people staying there.
Meanwhile he was focused on finding out why the alleged violence happened.
"I want to know what happened, why it happened… which is why I initiated the investigation," he said.
He was awaiting results of both the OT and police investigations before speculating on other cases of abuse.
He urged anyone with concerns to come forward - saying he was not angry at the whistleblower that started the ball rolling
"I'm not chasing anyone for speaking up," he said.
"I would like people to speak up…. It allowed me to focus on something i wasn't aware of... aware of the extent of.
"We are reacting and I would prefer these things going through the processes we have but… I don't care where they come from, as long as these kids are safe.
"People can ring me in the middle of the night… these children are the most vulnerable and therefore they need a higher duty of care."
Davis, who took over responsibility for Oranga Tamariki after the 2020 election, backed the decision to close the residence, saying it was "a child-focused decision".
A thorough investigation was under way to establish if any other abuse had occurred.
"I am not aware of any at the moment. But I would not be surprised. The more we scratch away the more that comes up."
The investigation would also look into why the alleged abuse had not been reported internally, taking Newsroom's reporting to expose it.
"That is one of the questions we will be asking, what has gone wrong with the process that these sorts of events didn't come to the fore. I expect all organisations to have processes where if complaints are to be made they are heard or there are protected disclosures.
He said he did not think the behaviour was "systemic", nothing there were "good people affected by this staff member's behaviour".
Yesterday Gardiner said he was "deeply concerned that excessive force looks to have been used against children and young people in our care".
He told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB "a number of staff" were stood down [on Tuesday].
He said given there appeared to be "more than necessary force to restrain a child" they launched their own investigation.
"We have a protocol with police, the child protection protocol, where we bring in police to investigate the level of force and whether an assault has occurred.
"We stood down a number of staff yesterday.
"We've appointed a social worker to make sure the child, or young person involved, was okay."
Asked by Hosking whether he was confident he could get Oranga Tamariki out of its "mess", Gardiner said it would be possible, but with a bit of work.
"If I might use an analogy, it's like turning a large container ship."