Let’s get this off our chest right from the start – NZCCSS shares the intense dislike for the name for the new Ministry announced in August. Childrens’ Commissioner Andrew Becroft described the name as “stigmatising and crushing” and akin to naming the Ministry of Health the ‘Ministry for Sick People’. He has decided to refer to it only by the Māori name Oranga Tamariki, which is focused on the wellbeing of all children.
Tamariki Māori make up more than half of the children in state care and therefore make up the majority of children directly affected by the new Ministry. The Ministry is about implementing a change to the way government works with the children that puts children at the centre. This means that a system that works for tamariki Māori is needed. It is a system that listens to, involves and understands tamariki Māori. Despite large reports and reviews completed, there is still little sign of what a new approach might look like that meets those needs.
Māori leaders and social workers are calling for whānau to be at the table at all stages and to engage transformative practices that are rooted within tangata whenua. Dame Tariana Turia has called for iwi to be given statutory rights to care and protect their children where they can. Prue Kapua, President of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, has previously called for innovative, Māori-led solutions and she repeated this call at the CPAG Investing in Children summit in September, saying “we do not need the imposition of yet another political agenda aimed at future fiscal cost saving at the expense of our tamariki Māori”. She and others refer to the 1988 Puao te ata tu (Daybreak) report that led to a brief period of change within government child welfare practice but by the mid-1990s the structural changes had not endured. Te Kuritini o Waikato (Wintec) lecturer Bobby Bryan writes of the need to re-read the report as an important guide to the way forward. As Otago academic Dr Emily Keddell points out, referring to the Children Young Persons and Their Families Act, “it’s true that stability and attachment are important, yet the old sections of the Act were put in there for a reason: to stop the tide of Maori children into care arrangements that completely severed them from kinship connections, in recognition of the long arm of colonisation and its associated harms for people reaching adulthood with no anchor into a Māori identity”.
The message is clear – the impact of the stated increased focus on early removal of children from families/whānau and the down-grading of the priority for placing tamariki Māori with wider whānau, hapu or iwi is a recipe for deepening the harm for Māori and not for the better outcomes.