Iwi Leaders meeting

  • Paula Bennett
Social Development and Employment Youth Affairs

It is an honour and a privilege to speak to leaders of such influence.

I stand here knowing I'm surrounded by the combined wisdom of many years.

It is that wisdom I am appealing to in the message I bring today.

I feel this is the place to have an honest discussion, I trust you will meet me in that.

This job of mine is challenging to say the least.

It comes with daily challenges, tragedies and trauma.

Just overseeing a portfolio of over twenty billion dollars, being in charge of benefits, superannuation, community funding, employment and young people, would be enough for most.

The challenges with long term intergenerational welfare dependence, disengaged young people and whanau in crisis is going to take a cool head, a determined personality and buckets of aroha and I'm up for it.

But to be honest with you, more than anything else, I am haunted by our neglected and abused children.

I'm talking about the many thousands who through no fault of their own live lives of desperation and neglect.

You know the names of some.

Their innocent and gorgeous faces are on the news as the ones most hideously abused by those that should care for them.

But behind those faces are thousands more.

And unless we intervene and do things differently, thousands more will come through next year, in five years and in ten years.

I don't even want to start adding up those numbers.

Because behind those numbers are children.

And let's be honest, they're our children, our kids.

Each of them has a name.

Each of them has a whakapapa.

Each of them have whanau and families.

The plight of these children is our nation's shame.

In my role as Minister, I receive report after report of abuse and as I read how many are Maori children, it compels me to come and speak with you.

I am asking you to walk with me on what will be at times an uncomfortable, uneasy path as we look to address what is really happening to these children.

Professor Mason Dury as you know, has developed the Whare Tapawha model of Maori wellness.

Central to the model is taha wairua or spirtual wellness.

There is a hole in our wairua.

A great hole.

Let's be clear here for a moment, in New Zealand we know that Pakeha hurt and neglect Pakeha kids.

Pacific hurt Pacific.

And there are Maori who are beating, abusing, neglecting and in extreme cases even killing their children, at a rate higher than we all want.

For me it's not about comparing ethnicities, it's about addressing this most serious of issues at all levels and for all ethnicities.

So leaders, I appeal to you all today, because our babies are being hurt.

Last year 56 Maori children were hospitalised because of abuse.

Of the nearly 21,000 of substantiated cases of neglect and abuse 11,003 were Maori and four died.

Those four dead Maori children account for half of all the child deaths by abuse last year.

Only a quarter of New Zealand's children are Maori, but yet half of the children who are killed through family violence, are Maori.

When I talk about the 21,000 substantiated cases of abuse, I'm talking here about sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Every five days a child under two is hospitalised because of abuse.

Every year, eight children are killed by those who are supposed to love and care for them, often their own family members.

Those deaths and that serious abuse, is unimaginable.

I know I can't imagine their lives.

I doubt you can.

But there are thousands who need us.

And I think together we could make a difference.

I want to call out to you today on behalf of Wiremu.

He's ten years old.

He doesn't turn up bruised every day, he's not sexually abused but at ten his behaviour is getting more disruptive by the day.

He's disengaged, doesn't care about school and other people.

As a baby, he was left to cry in his cot for hours.

At two he knew what it was like to be hungry.

At three and four the "smacks" were hard and were generally administered by Mum's latest boyfriend.

At five he could barely run a sentence together, in any language because no one had ever really spoken to him.

Mostly, they just yelled at him for reasons he did not even understand.

And so at ten he turns up to school if and when he wants to and no one really notices.

You know his mother.

She's not a bad person.

She's just got no sense of self.

Her own mother was abused and neglected.

She has no sense of her own value.

She's kind of angry and desperately searching for some warped sort of ‘love'.

She chooses mongrel men to partner with and is neither surprised or disappointed when they treat her like crap.

And she doesn't blink an eye when they treat her son like crap too.

That's what she expects.

You know her.

Quite frankly you know her like the Government can't.

So, I'm here today to ask all of you as leaders, our kaumatua of Maoridom, to work with me to change the outcomes for Wiremu and his mother.

I need you to help me because I can't do this alone.

I am one voice in Cabinet and I need the many voices you can lend within your communities.

We have begun - there are already some changes going on with the work we are doing with communities.

Our ‘Fresh Start' initiatives for dealing with young offenders are about to be introduced and we are doing things differently at Child, Youth and Family.

Today I am going to release a document called "Child, Youth and Family - Our Story".

I'd like you to read it, so I have copies here for you to take with you.

It paints a picture of the things Child, Youth and Family has done in the past two years to improve outcomes for whanau, children and caregivers.

It shows we are on top of our core business.

That means we're responding quickly to notifications, so that unlike the bad old days, critical cases are seen straight away, not days later.

We're working closer with agencies like Police and District Health Boards, sharing information and keeping the focus on protecting children.

We've put social workers in hospitals, so there is someone else to help spot the early signs of abuse and step in to offer help to keep those children safe.

We're putting our resources into teenage parents.

We are stepping in at that critical moment to give them a fighting chance at being good parents.

We've put nearly fifteen million dollars into initiatives like the creation of seven supported homes for teen parents in high priority communities.

We're looking out for those teen dads too - prioritising support for them, helping them learn to be parents so they get it right the first time.

We're putting resources into supervised group homes, to work intensively with young people who are at risk so they can be a part of the community again.

We're putting more Child, Youth and Family workers on the frontline - to deal with the critical needs of our people.

So, we're making sure we're across the important stuff.

But to be frank, nothing can be more important than dealing with child abuse.

To make changes we need to be bold, we need a clear purpose and we need to work together.

Because together we can roll back the tide of violence that is carving that hole in our Wairua.

And actually, as you know Tariana Turia is doing some powerful work in this space - this is a woman on a mission, much like me.

I take my hat off to her for the hard work she's doing to address family violence.

So...there are two things I want to specifically ask you about today.

I have heard the cry from Maori to have all children placed within iwi and shortly I am going to suggest a way that we can address those concerns and look at new ways.

We can repair the whanau in our communities who are spiralling into crisis.

But firstly I want to work with Maori on how we identify those at risk families and their children before they are abused and neglected.

We will spend the time finding extended whanau to support children who we have removed because they have been abused.

But couldn't we spend some of that effort at the other end?

You know who they are.

You know who the teenagers are who're hapu and lonely and don't have strong family to support them.

We know the ones that are choosing the wrong men who don't care about them or any children they may sire.

And you know this is the time we could make the biggest difference in the lives of those children.

It won't always be easy.

It won't be simple but we must wrap support around those most vulnerable at the beginning.

Quite frankly I would like Child, Youth and Family to have nothing to do with these families, I would like them not to be needed.

But when they are needed they will step up and put the protection and safety of the child first, every time.

How about we put the emphasis on supporting the whanau?

Why not support the mother in the beginning so Child, Youth and Family are never needed?

But as we have already ascertained...Child, Youth and Family are needed - and needed too often.

And now I come to the second part.

I have here a list of the iwi affiliations for about 71 percent of the 2,227 Maori children in Child, Youth and Family care right now.

For 29 percent of these children, we don't know their iwi - I'll come back to that.

Child, Youth and Family has 66 Tuwharetoa kids, 111 Ngati Porou, 80 Ngai Tahu. We have 393 from Ngapuhi, 21 Ngati Kahununu, 10 Te Atiawa and 59 come from right here.

I could go on.

All of these children are the responsibility of Child, Youth and Family.

I want these children in families, not in care.

You want them in whanau within their iwi or hapu.

Here's the situation at the moment.

56 percent of Maori children under five are in whanau care - with another 16 percent of Maori children in the care of Maori, but not with whanau.

I know you would like to see more Maori kids placed with whanau and iwi.

So how about this?

What if we identified whanau now, who wanted children and are able to take them?

What if we asked iwi to look within themselves and ask what can we do?

What if we developed a way to have them checked and ready to go?

So the children in care now and those who'll come in the future, don't have to be placed by CYF, but can be placed by iwi with iwi who're ready to take them.

Can it work? Are we ready to take that step?

I don't come to you with the solutions, just suggestions that I would like to keep working with you on.

And I want to step up.

Actually, I've been stepping up and doing the work but I'm prepared to do much more.

So today there are a couple of things I'm bringing to the table.

These are ideas that together we could make happen.

I want to know if you think they will work.

And I have to tell you I don't have funding for these ideas, but I'm prepared to have a go at getting it if you're prepared to go in with me too.

So I want to know if you'll back me in this and by that I mean - will you put your hands in your own pockets and commit some resources to a joint effort?

Because the Government doesn't have all the money for it right now quite frankly.

But also I would like you to consider being a part of the solution.

So today I'm putting the ideas on the table here, among this circle of leaders.

The first one is to fund a ‘whanau finder' in Child, Youth and Family regions.

Their role will be to track down external whanau who can play a role in decisions around care for the children.

Many whanau are disconnected and sometimes isolated as you know, and this is a way to reach those whanau members.

It has the potential to be a powerful tool and I believe it will have real results both in increasing the number of Maori children placed within whanau or Iwi placements.

Another idea is for Child, Youth and Family to work on new marae-based Family Group Conferences for younger children.

This is for children under nine.

As you know, some FGCs are already being held on marae now.

But I'm talking about both increasing these numbers and offering it as an option to all whanau with young children.

It's really important we hold FGCs on marae.

Because it means Maori children are hosted in an environment that's culturally appropriate and means something to them.

The chances are greater they'll be supported by their whanau in this environment too - that's crucial because whanau must be part of the solution.


We have to move early and get the right services and supports into whanau before things reach crisis point.

This is what whanau ora is all about of course.

I don't need to sell that concept to anyone here, you understand it better than most and many of you have actually been doing it for years.

It's taken Government a while to catch on, but this Government gets it.

We're there...and believe me we will back this all the way.

Putting whanau at the centre of the solution and helping them work towards independence is absolutely the way to strengthen our whanau.

From my perspective it's about doing everything we can to protect children.

So I am here today to ask you to back me on this one.

I need you as respected leaders to go back to hapu, iwi and your whanau... and say it's time to face up to this.

It's time to face up to the fact that Maori children and Maori babies are being beaten, abused and killed and it's time it stopped.

It's time to look within iwi and hapu and have a back up whanau for children in care.

It's time to introduce "whanau finders".

It's time to recognise the young women who are heading for a life of desperation and poor parents - and turn it around.

Let's call it like it is.

Yes we have a mountain to climb, but if we walk together I believe we will reach our goal.

I'd like to leave you with my version of a famous proverb.

He aha te mea nui o tea o? He tamariki! He tamariki! He tamariki!

Kia ora. Thank you.