He Whakaaro
Oranga Tamariki – Not one more baby?

Nā Ward Kamo

Not a week after Māoridom erupted over the harrowing images of a baby being uplifted from its mother in Napier earlier this year, another baby was killed in his home. This murdered baby was one of six children – the other five had previously been uplifted by Oranga Tamariki.

Some rangatira have been quick to criticise the Oranga Tamariki uplifts with cries of “Not one more baby”. I agree with the call of “Not one more baby”. Let’s all rally around the call that not one more baby should in their homes be:

  • physically abused
  • sexually abused
  • mentally abused
  • murdered
  • uplifted by the state.

It seems obvious that if we can get the first four right, then the last becomes obsolete. Of course, I’m being naïve if the criticism of Oranga Tamariki is anything to go by; suggesting that the first four on the list are not nearly as damaging to our tamariki as being uplifted by the state is.

I’m sure our many pēpi and tamariki who have been brutally harmed and lost their lives at the hands of whānau would have been relieved to know that despite the abuse and trauma they were suffering at least they would not be uplifted by Oranga Tamariki as their final “indignity”.

Over 60 per cent of babies killed up to 2014 were Māori and killed by Māori, according to For The Sake of Our Children Trust. And it hasn’t improved since then. I’m sure that the names of some of these pēpi are springing to your mind as you read this, given the widespread media attention that the very worst of these cases received. Further, most tamariki subjected to abuse don’t actually die. They just suffer lifelong mental and physical scars from their abuse, and end up in gangs, or jail, or on welfare, or as suicide statistics.

When I hear about treaty and deprivation and poverty and colonisation and every other social ill as an excuse for the bashing and killing of our tamariki, I question where our Māori priorities lie. When I hear rangatira talking about “uplifts” as being the worst thing that’s happening to our whānau, I raise one very incredulous eyebrow. And I’m not alone.

Dr Lance O’Sullivan (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Maru) recently spoke of being traumatised trying to save a two-year-old murdered by a whānau member. Dr O’Sullivan would agree with the Oranga Tamariki detractors that it is not delivering for Māori. His view is that it’s a vastly underfunded, under-resourced service. He argues1 for beefed-up powers akin to the police that would enable them to remove a child in an at-risk environment “as soon as possible”. I think I know which Māori leader I’m going to listen to – the one who had his hands on a dying child trying to save her from the injuries sustained at the hands of her whānau.

So am I out on a limb in being sceptical of those wanting to criticise Oranga Tamariki? Am I in the minority of Māori that think maybe it’s our families that need to have a long hard look at themselves and not perhaps Oranga Tamariki? Not even close. I don’t need a survey to know that if our whānau are asked what is better for our tamariki – abuse or uplift – the answer will be in an unequivocal “uplift”.

I’m not going to get side-tracked into kōrero around the abuse uplifted children can face in state care. Of course it happens and it’s shocking, but that’s not a case against uplifts. We can’t sit back and say that “wrap-around services for at risk whānau are what’s needed” when children’s lives are at risk. Get them out of immediate harm’s way – and let’s endeavour to ensure that they are not being taken out of the frying pan and into the fire.

So at the moment, we have a number of reviews and inquiries of Oranga Tamariki underway. The Government is reviewing the uplift that was featured earlier this year in the media. A review by “powerful iwi leaders” is underway, with the catchcry: “Māori kids are six times more likely to be uplifted than a non-Māori child”. Let’s ignore the fact they are also being killed at double the rate of non-Māori kids, BY MĀORI.

And we know what the outcome of the Māori-led inquiry will be. It’ll be any combination of: colonisation, deprivation, treaty failures, failing system, and the classic “the government”. All pointing at external factors – with little to no thought about who is killing their children and why.

But the vast majority of Māori families – families who have the same whakapapa and history as those who abuse and kill, who come from the same grandparents as those who abuse and kill, and who live in the same socio-economic circumstances as those who abuse and kill – do not abuse and kill their children.

The question isn’t, “Why is the system failing Māori?”. Rather, it’s, “Why do the vast majority of those victimised by the system not abuse and kill their children – and how can we replicate that for all families?” Too simple? I think not.

For those angry or disagreeing with my thoughts – kei te pai. I’ll leave you with this reminder:

The recent death of a little boy who died on a resuscitation table. The nurse could not open his eyes as they were too swollen shut. He had bite marks to his face. His body was covered from head to toe in bruises and abrasions. He had lacerations and haemorrhaging deep within his abdomen. His bowel had ruptured, leaking faecal matter into his abdomen, causing septic shock. His brain was swollen, and there were historic blood clots under his scalp. He was just three years old, and in the care of whānau.

What are our priorities again? Oh that’s right – not one more baby uplifted.

1 Source https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2019/07/dr-lance-o-sullivan-traumatised-by-death-of-abused-baby-under-his-care.html

Ward Kamo (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga Chatham Island, and Scottish decent) grew up in Poranui (Birdlings Flat) and South Brighton, Christchurch. Ward is on the board of Pillars, a charity focused on supporting children of prisoners.