I spent last week reading yet another report on Oranga Tamariki.
I believe it's a dysfunctional government agency. I'm not alone in that opinion. Fourteen reports on the organisation in its various guises have said as much in the past 20 years.
Last week's one was just as blunt; not fit for purpose, not visionary, lacking in strategic direction.
The Kahu Aroha report, produced by a Ministerial Advisory Board appointed earlier this year by the Minister for Children Kelvin Davis, is calling for radical change to Oranga Tamariki.
Other significant problems include; traumatic uplifts, poor relationships with Māori, social workers under pressure and failing systems. That, in my view, is one basket case.
After so many reports, all saying virtually the same thing, I believe it is better to put the organisation out of its misery. It doesn't deserve a reprieve. This is not a game to be played.
Thousands of children's lives are severely impacted by this government agency. So too their families.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Abuse of Care, currently under way, is looking into what happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care.
I defy anyone listening to the survivors telling of their experiences not to want to shut the organisation down too.
Oranga Tamariki is responsible for ensuring that children and young people are safe and nurtured in their families and homes. In various guises, it has had more than 70 years in the job.
I would have thought that by now it would put the wellbeing of the child at the centre of everything it does - its services and practices. And especially "do no harm". Not to the children it has taken but also not to their families.
The report tells us that changes can happen from within and sets out how they propose to do that, by:
· Significantly improving the responsiveness to Māori;
· Addressing the systemic, institutional and professional issues within Oranga Tamariki; and
· Encouraging strong leadership, regional accountability and safe working practices within Oranga Tamariki.
This will not satisfy those of us who have campaigned long and hard to get this dysfunctional agency out of the lives of families.
In my view, New Zealanders have been hoodwinked into believing we are a nation of hopeless, cruel and uncaring parents. We are not. Undoubtedly we have some parents who are struggling, many of them barely out of their own childhood years. Rather than investing in these families, often already known to various government agencies, we default to just taking their children. It's the easy solution. We've been doing this for decades.
Over the last few years I have listened to hundreds of submissions from families, social workers, church ministers, teachers, doctors, caregivers and former state wards, all detailing their experiences with Oranga Tamariki.
They are adamant that resources should go to support and strengthen families, to start dealing with the root causes. Not more tinkering with an organisation of 6000 staff so that it can get smarter at taking children.
This agency, in my view, keeps failing in the job year after year. I am sick of seeing it continually propped up because it continues to believe it is relevant. I believe it is not. Too much damage has occurred. Too much trauma is caused to children and their families.
There is too much interference in the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Each year more than 50 per cent of reports of concern are found to be unsubstantiated.
These are reports where well-meaning folk believe there is an issue about the safety of a child or children.
Oranga Tamariki does advise people to first speak with a family before making a formal complaint. Rarely are these well-meaning folk family members.
We are encouraged to believe that by dobbing our neighbours in we are helping the children we deem at risk.
At present, 3854 Maori children have been taken from their families and are currently in state care. It's not more well-meaning folk that are needed, just a government with the courage to move aside and let Māori accept responsibility for their children.
What the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, Children's Commissioner, Ombudsman and Waitangi Tribunal reports recommended was for Māori to step up and the Government to step back.
A government agency disempowers rather than empowers. It is arrogant in assuming that it has right on its side. It is the responsibility of whānau, hapu and iwi to look after and care for their own children. They never abdicated this role.
I predict Kahu Aroha will not achieve what these reports recommended, let alone its own recommendations. What's the bet in five years' time that we are right back where we started? Commissioning yet more reports. With still thousands of children taken each year from their families.
Entering the pipeline, which will invariably lead to a lifelong association with government agencies. Where's the excitement and potential in that?
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is chairwoman of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, a Lakes District Health Board member and Rotorua District councillor.