I hail from Ngati Porou through my mother and Weira through my father. However I did not grow up with my parents, I was raised in state care. So after 14 years of it, and 25 years in social work I consider myself an expert, on what it is truly like for a child with whakapapa, to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them. I had to fight to protect myself and my bothers from the abuse we experienced by adults charged with our care. Which meant that I whistle-blew every opportunity but it fell on deaf ears. I still whistle-blow today because of the thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. Where as, all of us here do. We are their voice. (Unedited unreferenced notes).
As I look around the room I acknowledge the many gathered here, both seen and unseen. And that’s a really powerful concept to be aware of and what all social work needs to be based upon. The realisation that child is not born into this world without celestial connection direct to atua/tipuna. That is whakapapa and life and life is the point of everything. To sever that connection is to kill that’s child light potential. You have no right to do that, not EVER! Certainly not the NZ state.
I will speak to a selection of key issues about proposed changes to our child protection law, in particular the removal of priority tamariki placement protections. In the Bill we are told in an amended (Section 5) that when making a decision about a child or a young person who is Māori – The mana and wellbeing of the child will be protected whilst recognising the whakapapa and whanaungatanga responsibilities of their whānau, hapū and iwi; who can participate in those decisions…yeah ok maybe. A little later on in the Principles section, section 13, we are told that where a child is at risk of being removed from their whānau, that their whānau, hapū, iwi should be assisted to enable them to provide a safe, stable and loving home in accordance with whakapapa and whānaungatanga (unless it is unreasonable or impracticable in the circumstances). But who is going to know what these essential concepts mean, when it comes to frontline decision making, by mostly colonised/monocultural social workers?
What the qualifiers are saying is, that it’s ok for you to practice your ‘Māori stuff’ (tīkanga) as long as it’s within the law, a white-is-best law that defines the best interests of a Māori child. The “unreasonable and impracticable” are the ‘get out’ clauses. So if, a social worker deems it too hard basket, unsafe or doesn’t want to do the whakapapa search, they can decide not to return that child to whānau and place them with non-kin. “When did we decide that the future of our mokopuna should be determined with half hearted expression? (Tariana Turia, Iwi leaders Forum,2017). The moment we all pati pati round the garden, we diminish our collective mana and recovery.
One of the first red flags for me with the closing of CYF was the naming of Ministry of Vulnerable Children – Oranga Tamariki, tacking on a bit of Māori and with no mind of how ignorant it is to put, vulnerable and wellbeing together in the same title. One cancels out the other, like automatic uplift cancels out our tamariki. The ‘vulnerable’ however fits like a glove when we consider the extent of state violence upon tamariki, who continue to be removed in prolific numbers from their whānau and placed with non-kin. On selling our children to private owners, like we see happening to the last of our land and the law is changed so that there is no comeback for us. Māori are NOT vulnerable; it is the state that defines Māori as vulnerable, needing to be saved from themselves and fixed. It is this rhetoric that maintains the social work industry.
The new Ministry, with a re-furbished (Māorified) Scottish model of child protection, like every other imported, imperialist model has FAIL written all over it. And if you are in the process of being vetted to transfer from CYF to the new Ministry you will be aware of the clause in the VCA that states of you come from a “vulnerable” background you may not be approved as fit to work directly with children. The “unfit” is discretionary and whilst intended to protect children what it’s doing is vetting out Māori social workers in favour of white UK/Canadian imports. Another way of whitening the white-stream, and purifying the new model. Workers are being offered a primary, secondary (support role/non child contact) or offered exit packages, and concientised social workers threatened with dismissal if the comment publicly about the removal of tamariki placement protections.
Plus, law changes that will allow the CE to delegate the ability for non-social workers to remove children from their homes. For example, by doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, philanthropists who make the decision and Armourguard to do the lifting. Automatic up-lift and without the need to go through Court, in the same way 2 young Māori boys were uplifted from their whānau and placed by CYF senior staff with John Keys friends. All that is needed is a belief a child will at some point be in danger from their whānau, based on discretionary and predictive risk modeling information. We’ve already seen this occurred via the 90’s Risk Estimation System and the recent Tuituia Assessment Framework. It is legalised and profitable child trafficking! Nothing less.
The Minister continues to use the rhetoric that, Māori children returned to their whānau are at high risk of being re-abused. This is based on a weak, unpublished 2010 report, that when looking at the figures, has no credible intelligent analysis supporting it. It excludes factors such as biased, dump and run, patch and dispatch practice by social workers that are pressured to get their caseloads under control. So tamariki and rangatahi, particularly those deemed high needs, and/or difficult to place, are returned home before it’s safe to be. Of course they come round through the CYF door again. That’s what jacks the stats up. This report is used to justify the need for the removal of our children from their whānau. All the while the Minister denies clear evidence that the current system is highly abusive of Māori children, and that tamariki continue to experience serious acts of physical and sexual abuse whilst in state care. We know this from the burying of a 2011 HRC report and the shelving of the 2015 Confidential Listening and Assistance Service report, which mostly confirms what I talk about in terms of racist and incompetent statutory social work practice. Take a look at them.
And where do we put all these uplifted children? There are not enough placements for them at the moment. Possible whānau placements are thwarted, by social workers that choose not to undertake whakapapa searches. Or where willing whānau who turn up at an FGC can’t not be used immediately, or at all, because all members having contact with a household, have to be investigated and police checked before they can be used. And this is why children are placed with unapproved and unsafe caregivers, or in Motels with Armourguard minders and in Police cells for days on end, or returned to unsafe homes. The Minister appears to have ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead consulting/engaging with and privileging organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation. It’s the same old mistakes again, policies of propping up foster care organisations, but failing to support parents and whānau as the first and fundamental carers.
And the notion that we could be returning to group homes like Epuni and Kingslea, Kohitere and Allendale. We are hearing about YP in residences who are forcibly restrained and illegally held in solitary as punishment. We have a ‘them and us – got to win’ mentality running these places. And whoops “sorry we didn’t know it was illegal” response. “From the 1950s to the 1980s, the New Zealand government took more than 100,000 children and placed them under state care in residential facilities. These children faced abysmal conditions, limited education and social isolation. For Māori these places were the equivalent of the Canadian and Australian residential schools, stolen generations. Children endured physical, sexual and psychological violence, as well as secure cells, knock-out sedatives and electro-shock therapy” (Stanley, 2016). I know because my bother was one of them at 9 years old and I couldn’t protect him from it. A slight little boy with blonde hair and big blue eyes, an angelic laughing child when he went in and a shell when he came out. It’s haunting and not something you ever get over.
The New Zealand government has never apologised for its historical child abuse and continues to fail in their duty of care to children, in their obligations to te Tiriti o Waitangi, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There are two relevant statements in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which New Zealand is a signatory. Firstly, the declaration recognises “the right of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child.” Secondly, the declaration recognises “the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.” NZ has been doing that since forced urbanisation.
Other critical issues we don’t talk about in social work, is the pipeline relationship between child protection, police and the judiciary. Corrupt ‘us and them’ power dynamics occurring in the Family Court, that general public does not hear about. Institutional racism is rife across all the ministries and some of the worst biased practice is aimed at women, and Māori and if you are both, you get a double dose. Half to two-thirds of the notifications CYF receive are through Police resulting from family violence incidents. Māori women talked to me about being “microscopically scrutinised” in every aspect of her life because 1. she is Māori and 2. in a violent relationship. This is separate from whether she is actually a fit parent or not. We are seeing mothers having their babies uplifted from the birthing table and whilst still on the breast. A 100 babies from the whakapapa per year is pure genocide when you are only 15% of the population (Moyle, 2015: see Academia Edu). And we’ve heard about the practice of changing the ethnicity and the name of the child to suit whom ever the state decides that child should go to. This according to my research with whānau is still happening. Have you ever wondered why, truly why CYF are continually sited for their poor recording of ethnicity and other stats on Māori children? If you want the true stats you have to apply for them under the Official Information Act.
Also we hear about corrupt use of ‘place or safety warrants’ to uplift children, dodgy paperwork not approved by the Court, and Lawyers who won’t take on a women’s fight, because they don’t want to take on the state. This is prolific. Women are forced to have protections orders granted or their kids will be uplifted, or into ‘top tariff’ interventions where they have no choice but to take on the state through ex-parte hearings to fight for the custody of their babies. And the lack of legal aid funding causes women to drop legal action, or they represent themselves in family violence cases. Where they a put an unborn register because they are hapu again and they’re told that their unborn will also, be uplifted. It forces women and children to not seek the help they might need. The number one fear whānau have of the state since the 50s is, that their children will be stolen from them. This is state abuse and terrorism.
There are cases where social workers are known to perjure themselves to cover their racial targeting of Māori. Practitioners who might never say it to your face, that they believe our babies are better off with non-Māori. Where risk assessments, plans and reports are weighted against whānau, in favour of the state. Take for example the Tuituia assessment framework, more often used to justify a social workers decision to remove a child, rather than assess the strengths of a whānau. Where the practice of, predetermining the FGC in favour of removal, has become normalised. Some of our own Iwi organisations are now part of the web and the ngakau is sacrificed to maintain incomes. Where rūnanga are centred on capitalist profit-focused ideals and this overrides our kids in care. Twice iwi fought the Crown in Court but not once over our mokopuna. What is a fish without mokopuna? The whole care and protection industry rides on the backs of these babies.
Another serious issue is, how and what, we are teaching social workers. Many white-steam social work training programmes, are not equipping students with ‘actual’ competence to work with Māori. The core focus of social work training in Aotearoa is Western derived monocultural social work knowledge, so that practitioners are able to meet international requirements. What about NZ requirements? When we don’t require social workers to think outside their cultural context. If we do not require social workers to consider whakapapa and cultural connection, most will not. If we make our law colour-blind, in practice it will be white, assimilationist, colonising. And it will hurt children. Institutional racism, genocide and white supremacy, are not terms, students are encouraged to use, let alone have conversations about. Nor are we covering Māori principles and practices of healing and collective wellbeing, much less anti-oppressive knowledge that aligns with decolonising social work. Māori need their own body and process to approve social workers as competent to work with Māori. It is for Māori to determine, who are competent to work with our people.
Competent practice has moved into child centered practice which for Māori equates to a child alone and vulnerable. The Children’s Commissioner (2016) said we don’t even know what ‘child centred’ practice is. The Children’s Commissioner in 2015 also said that there was no evidence that children in state care were any safer than they were in the families they were removed from. The KEY issue here is where’s New Zealand’s accountability for the continued state violence on children? Where do our people go to be heard when the uplift of children has been unwarranted and those children not returned? Most often a family’s or a mother’s cries fall on deaf ears and their complaints buried in a mountain of corrupt bureaucracy and denial. Where is the Independent Complaints Authority that whānau and community groups have been demanding for decades? Where is the Royal Commission? New Zealand is shamefully one of the only commonwealth countries that have never had an independent investigation into historical institutional child abuse. Most of the NZ public remains blissfully unaware of the extent of horrendous child abuse that has occurred since the 1950s. Yes and like colonisation, it is still happening.
To protect children and undo the damage that the NZ state has inflicted on whānau, the enduring solution is to take that power from the state, and give decision making, resources and responsibility to appropriate roopu, communities, hapū, iwi. The state’s task then becomes supporting roopu to prepare for that responsibility. Our task is to work out how to make it happen.
So what can you begin to do? Removing tamariki placement protections from the Act is a direct attack on whakapapa, which was done by stealth and why we are only catching up with it now. Go to the Offical site or the Greens site and lodge your protest. Submission dates have been extended till 3 March. And if any of you are unsure how whakapapa connection plays an integral place in the wellbeing of children please be here when Annie and I present later on the “Essentialness of Whakapapa in Social Work” and knowing whom you are before you work with our people.
Finally, to be silent in the face of such abuse means that we are a part of the problem. War is when your Govt tells you who the enemy is (who to blame), a revolution is when you figure it out for yourself.
Be a Spanner for Whānau Not a Cog for the State.