Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss says there is structural racism in the agency's systems which have led to poor outcomes for Māori tamariki taken from their whānau.
Moss made the stark admission this morning before the Waitangi Tribunal inquiry hearing into the controversial Crown agency.
Her appearance comes amid a Māori Television report that she is poised to depart from the troubled welfare agency - which Moss didn't address.
She told the inquiry that the Crown had failed to fully put in place the recommendations of the 1988 report Puao-te-Ata-tu about a Māori perspective for social support.
"This failure has impacted outcomes for tamariki Māori, whānau, hapū and iwi. It has undermined Māori trust and confidence in the Crown and undermined confidence in its willingness and ability to address disparities.
"Structural racism is a feature of the care and protection system which has had adverse effects for tamariki Māori, whānau, hapū and iwi."
She said this had led to laws, policies and systems that had "detrimentally impacted the relationship between Māori and the Crown".
"The structural racism that exists in the care and protection system reflects broader society and has also meant more tamariki Māori being reported to it.
"The Crown should have identified the need to tackle structural racism head on in the
establishment of Oranga Tamariki."
The tribunal also heard from Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft, who released his second report into Oranga Tamariki on Monday and called for transformational change, including solutions by Māori for Māori.
Over the past six years to June 2019, an average of 265 babies - of which 171 were Māori - were taken into state custody each year.
Minister for Children Kelvin Davis responded to Becroft's report by saying change was needed. But he didn't support separatism, saying the legacy of the Treaty of Waitangi was for partnership.
Moss didn't address Becroft's report, but said: "Historically, Māori perspectives and solutions have been ignored across the care and protection system. To address this, we need to partner and engage with Māori so together we can deliver better outcomes for tamariki Māori."
She said Oranga Tamariki was in the process of transforming, but "there is a long way to go".
Last year a clause in the Oranga Tamariki Act came into force to put the mana of the child, its whānau, and whakapapa at the heart of all decisions made about that child.
Becroft told the inquiry that the clause has gotten off to a "very slow start".
"There is much work still to be done."
He suggested that incorporating the Treaty of Waitangi into the act could be a trigger for positive change.
"Surely we'd be putting a line in the sand and saying, 'This is where we stand'."
The tribunal inquiry is looking into three key questions:
• Why has there been such a significant and consistent disparity between the number of tamariki Māori and non-Māori children being taken into state care under the auspices of Oranga Tamariki and its predecessors?
• To what extent will the legislative policy and practice changes introduced since 2017 and currently being implemented change this disparity for the better?
• What (if any) additional changes to Crown legislation, policy or practice might be required in order to secure outcomes consistent with Te Tiriti and its principles?