Oranga Tamariki's uplift decisions must be constantly questioned - Jacinda Ardern

The AM Show 18/06/2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says decisions by Oranga Tamariki to uplift children from their families need to be constantly questioned to make sure the process is the right one.

Calls for a large, sweeping inquiry into Oranga Tamariki's uplift processes have gained momentum over the last week after the release of a Newsroom video investigation showing officials attempting to take a baby away from his family.

The process used by the officials in that case has received criticism, with the Māori mother being isolated from her midwife and whanāu late at night so Oranga Tamariki could try and take her baby.

Since then, the Children's Commissioner Andrew Bercroft has announced his office will look into the agency's care and protection of Māori children under three months old.

He said over the last decade the number of Māori infants being taken from their families has increased by about 50 percent - from two a week to three - while rates for pākehā have been going in the other direction.

Matthew Tukaki, the head of the Māori Council and chair of the National Māori Authority, said on Monday a moratorium on uplifts should happen in the meantime.

Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday the goal was always to reduce the number of uplifts, but there needed to be a balance with also ensuring children weren't left in unsafe environments.

"There will be circumstances where, keeping in mind these are court ordered, where the court orders uplifts on behalf of children, and I have to say that I think no matter what, uplifts are traumatic things," she said.

No one wants kids in state care, but at the same time, no one wants children in unsafe environments.

She said Oranga Tamariki was already changing some of its practices.

"We need to be constantly willing to question ourselves and whether or not the decisions have been the right one.

"Was everything that led to that situation, did that happen appropriately, let's look at it".

Ardern said that is exactly what is happening in the Hastings case publicised by the Newsroom investigation, with Children's Minister Tracey Martin ordering an internal review into the case.

It will involve a senior social worker as well as a representative from iwi Ngāti Kahungunu.

Ardern said an outcome of a hui in the weekend involving Martin, the Māori Council and Ngāti Kahungunu was that Oranga Tamariki would work more closely with the iwi to prevent a baby going into state care.

Similar agreements are already in place in other parts of the country, like with Waikato Tainui, and Ardern says there have been positive results.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor