Tonight I am sitting here with another woman's child asleep in the bedroom next to mine. I've been deemed worthy by the state to be entrusted with this child's wellbeing, with their care, with their life. I have been deemed worthy because I tick all the boxes – my home is big enough, clean enough. I say the right things. I look the part.
And so I get to tuck her baby in, and she does not.
I have been watching the Newsroom story in Hawke's Bay unfold for the past few weeks involving a young Māori mother who resisted the uplift of her newborn baby. After watching the reports I am grappling with my role as a foster parent. If you haven't seen the coverage of the story yet, you should.
It is at once startling and sad and infuriating. It shines a light on the epidemic of child removals from Māori and Pasifika families that is occurring in NZ right now. And, oh man is it uncomfortable.
It made me think about things I just would rather not.
Because, like so many people like me, I have been taught to trust the system. I have been taught that the police are there to help me, that jails are made to lock up bad people, and that the Government is there to support me. And it's true. I live in a country where the Government has been created by people like me to help and protect people like me.
I am guessing that my non-white friends did not grow up hearing those same messages. In fact, I have heard from many of them that they need to teach their children to be cautious of police. As I got older I have learned about the complexities of who is locked up in our prisons, and that the sentence does not always match the crime, with low-level offenders with dark skin being incarcerated at rates much higher than their white counterparts.
Watching this story has been another uncomfortable moment of learning for me.
Before I saw the amazingly calm and prepared family fighting for their child, I was content to think that the process of child uplifts was thorough. I was content to think that children were only removed from bad people. I was content to think that as a foster parent I was doing the right thing.
I'm not trying to bag on Oranga Tamariki at all because they are in an impossible position. Intervene too early and they are the baby-snatching arm of an oppressive and interfering government, but wait too long - and they are the ambulance at the bottom of a disastrous cliff, arriving too late to help. We have had nothing but positive experiences with Oranga Tamariki, and I tautoko the many social workers who work so hard for our children day after day.
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What I am thinking about is how the system has been set up in a way that allows individuals - judges, and police, and others in power - to make decisions that affect the lives of generations of families. I'm thinking about how those decisions are made by individuals like me, who grew up hearing that rules and systems are there to protect people. I'm thinking about how white people continue to destroy the lives of people of colour under the pretences of following rules that have always been created by and for the benefit of white people.
When we look at statistics that say that 70 per cent of babies who are uplifted at birth are from Māori and Pasifika families, I am going to suggest that it says more about the system than it does about these families. Who is judging these families, and by whose rules are they being judged?
I love the work I do as a foster parent. I am good at it, and I think it makes a difference in the lives of the children who come into our home. But as a caregiver, I need assurance that everything else has been tried before the child comes into my care. I need assurance that I am doing more good than harm.