Racism, systemic issues, and keeping Māoridom at the centre of decision making were key themes discussed at a public meeting centred on changes to Oranga Tamariki.

The news of Oranga Tamariki's big changes which would see Māori and iwi more involved in the care of children was listened to by about 120 locals.

Welcomed on to Te Papaiouru Marae, Ōhinemutu, Minister for Children Tracey Martin was greeted by the Rotorua community, including Ngāti Whakaue leaders and mayor Steve Chadwick.

On July 1, there were major changes to the legislation within Oranga Tamariki, one of the most significant was that the ministry must provide a practical commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.

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The ministry is also obligated to partner with iwi and other Māori organisations and delegate its resources and responsibilities to them.

It's the first time in New Zealand's history that the Treaty of Waitangi has been mentioned in legislation relating to children.

Public meeting with Minister for Children Tracey Martin at Te Papaiouru Marae, Ōhinemutu. Photo / Stephen Parker
Public meeting with Minister for Children Tracey Martin at Te Papaiouru Marae, Ōhinemutu. Photo / Stephen Parker

Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey said he invited Martin to speak in Rotorua after he heard her talk of the changes being made within the ministry.

Martin said the system had failed the children but she was optimistic.

"It is hard when the history is so bleak to stand and try to say to people I believe we have an opportunity for a future."

She said the previous model where Oranga Tamariki would uplift a child in an emergency showed there were not enough preventative measures in place.

Oranga Tamariki has released its third Safety of Children in Care report which showed from January to March 2019, 103 children were harmed.

There were 6400 children and young people in care and protection custody. Another 170 young people are in youth justice custody of the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki.

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Minister for Children Tracey Martin is optimistic about the changes made to Oranga Tamariki. Photo / Stephen Parker
Minister for Children Tracey Martin is optimistic about the changes made to Oranga Tamariki. Photo / Stephen Parker

Martin said she did not come to Rotorua with solutions as that would continue the cycle of systemic racism.

Instead, she said now was the time for Māori to come forward and say what would help in their iwi, hapū and their whānau.

This would help prevent uplifts which Martin said were highly traumatic for a child, on top of the trauma they had already experienced.

Martin said the upgraded operating model had a new intensive intervention. This would be used when it's too late for early intervention but could ultimately stop a child being put into care.

This would be a trusted member of the community who could offer guidance to a family whom Oranga Tamariki may have been alerted to from a place of cultural understanding.

She said it was important Maori realised it was not a truth that their lives would end up in hardship.

"Most Māori children are at home, are loved, are cared for," she said.


Care and protection - Oranga Tamariki changes
• Must provide a practical commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.
• The inclusion means all policies and practices affecting child wellbeing must have the objective of reducing disparities for tamariki and rangatahi, by having regard for their whakapapa and whānaungatanga.
• An obligation to partner with iwi and other Māori organisations and devolve its resources and responsibilities to them.
• Provide early intervention support and assistance, so whānau can create stable and loving homes, reducing the need for child removal.
• A public report, at least once a year, on the ministry's attempts to improve outcomes for Māori and outline any steps to be taken in the immediate future.
• National Care Standards which explicitly state what children in care are entitled to.
• Transitional support service providing young adults leaving state care with support to stay with caregivers until the age of 21.