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OPINION: Oranga Tamariki needs to stop being so divisive

Opinion 24/09/2021

OPINION: There are many people who have written columns about what Oranga Tamariki should and shouldn’t do. I write this not just another person with an opinion or as an MP who thinks they know best. I write this a Māori woman who grew up in CYFS care.

There are many issues that face us as a country right now. As I sit at home during Level 3 trying to keep up with the issues going on in all communities, the words “united we stand, divided we fall” come to mind.  Team of five million seems to be chucked out almost every day at 1 o’clock, but are we as “united” as we would like to appear? There seems to be a divide happening in this country in every area of our lives; one area in particular is Oranga Tamariki. The recent court case of the removal of a Māori girl from a foster home after three years based on ethnicity is a sign of this divide.

This case may not seem important in the scheme of things, but to me it’s a sign of what’s to come. The good news is that the Judge for this case came to a conclusion based on common sense, and not the ideology that seems to have taken over many areas of our lives.

Let’s talk about this case: we have a young Māori girl who has, for whatever reason, been removed from the family home. A European family had put their hand up to love and care for her, and by all accounts this has been proven to be the case, so why then has Oranga Tamariki decided to bring it upon themselves to uplift this child?

When you read through the 145-page decision from Judge Peter Callinicos, you start to see a pattern of behaviour which has taken over this organisation, with the Judge finding that the Government agency was driven “more by ideology than workable child-centred outcomes”, and staff “were influenced by a view that regardless of all other facts and principles, Māori children must be with Māori caregivers”.

“Can Pākehā care givers provide adequate cultural support for Māori children in care?” This is a headline from Stuff on the 15th of September. In this article we have well-respected leaders in our communities making statements that, quite frankly, are alarming to many.

Since this article I have spoken to some very distressed parents who are concerned this attitude will not stop with foster parents, and that many may find themselves subject to this attitude of “only a Māori can raise a Māori right.”

Single mothers and fathers have spoken to me about their concern that this may open them up to having iwi and family taking their children from them on the basis that they are not Māori. Good parents of all races have told me they are now questioning their ability to raise their own children culturally appropriate; will they face losing their children to custody battles with iwi or whanau or even the state?

As a Māori who myself doesn’t speak te reo or have a direct connection with my own heritage, does this mean I have I let my own children down? I spent years trying to give them the love and attention they deserved, as this was something I craved growing up; is this now not enough? Is it true that I have set my kids up to fail in society and given them a higher chance of failing in life, and leaving them with a feeling of not knowing who they are?

The answer is NO of course not. There is more to raising a child than culture alone, the culture of a home should be looked at more than culture itself. Children need to be given a lot to grow up with a chance in life and feeling loved and cared for in my opinion is what matters the most.

We need good people to put their hands up to provide are most vulnerable who through no fault of their own are in need of loving homes, yes culture is something that could be taken into consideration, but it should never override what’s in the best interest of our children.

Let’s stand united together as a nation and create a New Zealand we can all be proud of, that puts our children’s welfare and best interests ahead of all else.

This oped was written by ACT MP Karen Chhour. Karen has been self-employed in the NZ made clothing industry. She is a mother of four and has lived on Auckland's North Shore for the past thirty years.

She strongly believes that, with the right tools, anyone in this country can make something of themselves. She believes that we have spent way too long trying to make a broken system work.

ACT MP Karen Chhour
ACT MP Karen Chhour