Speech at release of Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board report
Thank you all for being here today.
This is an important moment for Oranga Tamariki, but more importantly for our tamariki and rangatahi. But before I announce the Government’s response, I’d like the Chair of the advisory Board, Matthew Tukaki, to speak about the report and its findings.
Introduction (after Matt speaks)
Thank you Matt.
Before I begin I want to acknowledge the Oranga Tamariki frontline workers, those who are out in our communities’ everyday doing their best to support our most vulnerable children and their families.
There is no doubt the work has been difficult. Oranga Tamariki has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and it is the frontline staff that feel those difficulties, those pressures the most.
I want to start from the beginning.
When the previous Government established Oranga Tamariki it envisioned something new, a body that would care and protect for our most vulnerable children, an agency that would do better than its predecessors
But the various iterations of our care and protection agencies – be it CYPS or CYFS - were flawed, as was the idea that we could bundle together these various iterations, give them a new name and expect different outcomes.
We know Oranga Tamariki has not lived up to its name. Uplifts, social workers under pressure, a lack of training, and just recently Care and Protection residences displaying unacceptable behaviour.
I asked for this job, and I knew the challenges I would face. And those challenges are real. But I also knew that while difficult, this mahi was perhaps the most important I will ever do.
From the outset, I set out my expectations for Oranga Tamariki – I was committed to fixing the child care and protection system, and ensuring that Oranga Tamariki was “the organisation that people trust and go to for help”. I want it to have a "laser-like focus on the needs of our children”.
I expect Oranga Tamariki to be that enabler that allows the regions to decide what is right for their particular area. To empower communities and Māori to help children and their families in a way that suits them and not just Wellington.
This focus, this vision for Oranga Tamariki is not new. Not to frontline workers, communities, children in care or to Māori. Not even to politicians from political parties different to my own.
Paula Bennett, a previous National Minister responsible for the care and protection of children expressed the same desires for Oranga Tamariki in her Matangireia interview with Maiki Sherman earlier this year.
She knew we needed to devolve. She believed in the same vision. And she said she spent a frustrating 5 years trying to get us there.
While there has always been a change programme to try and turn Oranga Tamarki around, we have never gone far enough. Now it is our turn.
Advisory Board work
At the beginning of this year, I put in place my Independent Ministerial Advisory board.
- Matthew Tukaki
- Dame Naida Glavish
- Sir Mark Solomon
- Shannon Pakura
I tasked them with the job of looking into three main areas – relationships with families and Māori, professional practice of social workers, and organisational culture.
What I needed from them was to start building a pathway forward.
I knew they wouldn’t go easy on the system. After all, these were some of the voices who had been most vocal against Oranga Tamariki. But that was what we needed.
We needed them to gather information, ask the hard questions and outline a new direction for Oranga Tamariki – one that would keep our children safe.
During their work they took the time to listen to the concerns, the heart break,the total frustration from whānau, social workers from entire communities.
They had to hear the worst to build a vision of what better looked like and start to craft a pathway forward on how we would get there.
Their report and the notes from their meetings across the country are confronting.
The Board did not hold back, exactly how I asked them, and laid it on the line, the whole truth.
So much so, that I took their words with me to the Cabinet table.
The cabinet paper that was written to put in place the changes we are announcing today was littered with the words, thoughts and opinions of the Board and those they spoke to as well as being informed by the Waitangi Tribunal findings in its report He Pāharakeke.
As the Minister of Children, I and everyone single one of my Cabinet colleagues accept this report in its entirety. Like everyone here today, we all know we have to do something differently as the current approach is not working.
As Matt has already outlined - In total, the Ministerial Advisory Board has made 3 overarching recommendations.
- Collective Māori and community authority and responsibility must be strengthened and resourced to lead prevention of harm to tamariki and their whānau
- The purpose of Oranga Tamariki must be clarified. This includes who Oranga Tamariki primarily exists to serve.
- A process to establish a national Oranga Tamariki Governance Board should be designed over the coming year, with the Oranga Tamariki Governance Board to be in place by the end of 2022
You will see change.
As well as the recommendations in the report - as the Minister – I have already taken further steps to make improvements to Oranga Tamariki – alongside the Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive we have announced that we will close our current residential care and protection homes and replace our residential care and protection homes with smaller purpose build homes to enable care for high complex needs.
Another area of particular concern for me is the way Oranga Tamariki uses s78 orders to uplift children.
To uplift a child from their family should be the last resort in any situation. I think there needs to be more clarity provided in this area.
So I want to set a clear direction to only use s78 Without Notice orders for children when there is clear evidence after solid engagement or attempts at engagement with whānau, which leads to no workable safety plan being put in place. Our social workers can do this and I am focused on supporting them and the community to work together on this.
I am not naive to think that we may not ever have to uplift a child from a dangerous situation – but if we have to, if we must – then I want to make sure that we do so in a respectful manner, that we limit the trauma we cause families and babies– that we have done everything up to that point to keep the whanau and baby safe together. Because once we use that power, once we take that action, it can never be undone. So I want us to use it only when it is absolutely necessary, and not just because things get a bit tough.
The Way Forward
Like I mentioned in the beginning – yes mistakes have been made. Yes we need to change.
The system is broken. But many people that work inside the system are not. They care for the children they protect and I truly value the work they do.
Many go above and beyond what the system allows to support our children that need it the most.
They believe, as do I, that our care and protection agency are the parents of children who can’t be with their own parents. And we must be the best example of what good parents are.
We cannot do this alone. Families support one another and communities look out for each other. That is what this is about.
As a whānau we need to work together. Agencies, iwi, NGOs and the community - looking after children as our own whānau.
To care for children when no one else can is a privilege. A responsibility no one should take lightly. Not me as the Minister, not this Government, not the department. Everything we do, every action we take needs to be in the best interests of the child we have the privilege to care for.
The system needs to reflect that. The system needs to encourage it.
This isn’t a small change. This is a fundamental rethink. It will require Oranga Tamariki staff to step up, change the way they think and to do better, and they will be supported to do that.
But I do believe that together, we can change our system, we can better care for and protect our children and if we get it right, at the end of this all, we will finally live up to the name Dame Naida Galvish gifted us, Oranga Tamariki.
To the Board, Matthew, Dame Naida, Sir Mark, and Shannon – thank you. Thank you for all the work you have done, and all you will do. I want you all to know how important your advice to me has been, how I appreciate the commitment you have shown to our tamariki and I want to congratulate you on a brave and bold report that puts our children and their wellbeing at its very core.
Together we can make change. As a whānau we are all here for the same thing – to protect our children.