Ombudsman report – significant breaches by Oranga Tamariki ‘uplifting’ babies

Following revelations by Newsroom in June 2019 the Ombudsman investigated the Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), and in a report to Parliament “the ministry used its most extreme powers as a routine way to remove babies” from mothers.

Newsroom: An orchestrated litany of uplifts

The inquiry, by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the fourth following Newsroom’s revelations in June last year of an attempted ‘uplift’ by Oranga Tamariki of a newborn boy at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It looked back two years before that June 2019 case and in 74 of the 74 cases of baby removals it inspected, the ministry had applied to the Family Court for the draconian ‘without notice’ orders to take babies from parents. 

All 74 cases.

The ‘without notice’ provision is supposed to be the final option in cases of urgency where a baby is at serious risk and all other options have been tried.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report presents a litany of failure by Oranga Tamariki, saying in three quarters of the cases the ministry had more than 60 days to prepare for the baby’s arrival, hold meetings with whānau and iwi, seek ministry legal officer input, consult with hospitals and hold Family Group Conferences but did not do so.

He accepts applications were made because ministry staff had serious concerns for pēpi (babies), but it was essential staff understood and followed the law. Instead, OT failed its obligations under New Zealand and international law.

Boshier flatly declares the Oranga Tamariki decision making practices in the two years covered by his inquiry to be “unreasonable”.

“The evidence I have considered did not demonstrate that the ministry consistently met the objects and principles of the Act and the obligations under international law.”

From the report Foreword:

In May 2019, approximately halfway through the Ministry’s five-year transformation programme, Newsroom published a story about an attempt by the Ministry to remove a newborn pēpi from their young mother. The video documentary that later accompanied the original written article gave rise to public dismay and a questioning of the Ministry’s policies and practices.

The Government expressed confidence in the actions of the Ministry, yet media reports of further examples continued.

That confidence appears to have been misplaced.

My investigation found that the Ministry was usually aware of the pregnancy and reported concerns for a significant period before the birth of pēpi. In 77 percent of the cases I examined, the Ministry had 60 working days or more to assess and explore options, and to develop plans to ensure the safety of pēpi. However, the Ministry did not consistently utilise the available tools and mechanisms, such as hui ā-whānau and FGCs, to engage early with parents and whānau.

The Ministry also did not use that window of opportunity to plan early with professionals and external parties. In most of the cases, the Ministry did not meet the formal timeframe for completing its assessments. I also found variable use of the key checks and balances, such as referrals to Care and Protection Resource Panels, use of the Child and Family Consult, professionals meetings, completion of the Ministry’s assessment tool (Tuituia) and professional supervision.

The outcome is that in many cases decisions were being made late and without expert advice or independent scrutiny, and, most concerningly, without whānau involvement.

Key findings:

  • I found that urgency was created through the Ministry’s inaction and lack of capacity to follow processes in a timely and effective way. As a consequence, parents were disadvantaged—first, by not having an opportunity to respond to the allegations or challenge the information relied upon by the Ministry before their pēpi were removed, and second, by having to challenge orders after they were made, and when the parents were vulnerable because they were either heavily pregnant or had just given birth.
  • I found that the rights of disabled parents were not visible in either policy or practice. All the cases I reviewed required a disability rights-based response from the Ministry but this did not occur. That is a significant breach of the Disability Convention.
  • In terms of the Ministry’s practices relating to the physical removal of newborn pēpi, my investigation also found there was late or limited planning and engagement with parents and whānau and other external professionals.
  • I also found limited support was offered to mothers who wished to breastfeed.
  • Finally, I am not satisfied that, when the removal was executed by the Ministry, it provided parents and whānau with the opportunity for ngākau maharatanga me te ngākau aroha; a period of ‘quality time’ that reflects consideration, empathy, sympathy and love.
  • In addition, the Ministry did not ensure that the parents and whānau had their support people present. Nor did it provide them with clear information on next steps. There was also no support offered to parents and whānau to deal with the trauma and grief of child removal, or to help their healing.

This is strong criticism of Oranga Tamariki – Newsroom says the report is ‘scathing’ and is a ‘damning inquiry’.

In a Beehive media release Minister for Children – Subsequent children legislation to change – Tracey Martin downplayed the problems.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

Martin didn’t specifically mention the Ombudsman report, which I think is a remarkable avoidance, but did refer to “a review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau.”

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said.

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

This from Stuff seems to have pre-empted the report, in part making excuses and downplaying the problems – Tracey Martin on uplift controversy: Oranga Tamariki ‘believed the child was in danger’:

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin is to scrap Children’s Teams, small task forces set up to stop at-risk children from falling into state care.

The move comes as the Government tries to wrestle back control of the narrative in an explosive debate over the number of Māori children taken into care.

Hundreds of protesters rallied at Parliament on Tuesday, calling for a halt to Government uplifts of Māori babies. Protests were also held in other cities.

Martin said the “emotive” language used by organisers Hands off our Tamariki wasn’t helpful.

I hope she finds the report from the Ombudsman a lot more helpful.

The full report from the Ombudsman:

A Matter of Urgency:

Investigation Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

Ministry no longer for ‘vulnerable children’

1 News: Ministry for Vulnerable Children today drops ‘vulnerable’ from its name

The name change for Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children, dropping the word “vulnerable”, officially takes effect today.

Good riddance to a stupid name.

Changing names of ministries can be costly and of dubious benefit, but “Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki” was awful and unpopular. I don’t know if anyone but the last Government supported or liked it.

Children’s Minister Tracey Martin says what the ministry does is far more important than its name.

“However, we want the Ministry’s name to reflect that we have aspirations for all children and young people.”

Ms Martin says Oranga Tamariki is only nine months old and it has to focus on its core work – improving the quality and range of care available to children most in need, lifting social work standards and improving youth justice outcomes.

But she says over the Government’s term, Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children will widen its view.

“We want a plan and measures in place so that as a country we make sure that we are doing the right thing for all of our kids.”

All children are vulnerable – that’s why they have parents caring for them. Some are more vulnerable than others. But labelling some of them ‘vulnerable’ was a silly idea.

It may have been more accurate describing them as ‘Children in Unfortunate Circumstances’, or Children With Crap Parents’.

We have a Ministry of Health rather than a Ministry for Sick and Dying People.

But Ministry names are best kept simple.

The name change to Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children is sensible.

Welcome change to Ministry for Children

I don’t know whose idea it was to rename the Ministry of Child Youth and Family to something stupid earlier this year, but in a small but welcome change the Ministry for Children is being renamed again.

NZH: Ministry for Vulnerable Children to be renamed

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children will be renamed with the word “vulnerable” being dropped, while legislation to help lift children out of poverty will be introduced on Thursday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcements at her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, with Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Finance Minister Grant Robertson alongside her.

Ardern said the ministry, over time, would look to extend its reach beyond just the 5600-odd children in state care.

“A child who lives in poverty won’t necessarily come into contact with those social workers that work in Oranga Tamariki [the Ministry For Children], but we want the ministry to have regard to their well-being as well.”

Martin said dropping the word “vulnerable” from signs would take 12 months. The word had had a negative impact on children and the ministry’s workers.

The name was like having a Ministry of Sick and Dying People, Or a Ministry of Bleeding Taxpayers.

“What the children have told us, and social workers in the last six weeks have told us, is that that word actually stigmatised those children,” she said.

One small step for the Government, and a few more thousand dollars down the gurgler, but a welcome change.