Oranga Tamariki a scapegoat for serious societal problems – our problems

As a number of people have said, Oranga Tamariki is damned if they do  take babies from mothers, but they are also damned if babies are left in the care of at risk families and are seriously harmed or killed.

It may be found that Oranga Tamariki can improve procedures around the ‘uplifting’ of babies – taking a baby from a mother should only be done if there are no other safe options for the baby, a last resort.

The ‘uplifting baby’ issue is an unfortunate symptom of serious societal problems.

A family lawyer writes:  The other side of the Oranga Tamariki baby uplift story

It’s hard watching, but it didn’t leave me wondering how Oranga Tamariki could be so cruel, or how the social worker could have made such an error of judgment, or why the family wasn’t given a chance to try, or how our legal system could allow such an injustice to happen.

I didn’t wonder, because I’m a family lawyer. Everyday I spend my 8.30 till 5  – but usually longer – dealing with the effects that drugs and alcohol, child abuse, domestic violence, neglect and poor choices have on our tamariki. I knew there’d be another side to that story, one the public won’t hear because everyone who could tell it is bound by court confidentiality.

New Zealand has the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the OECD, and Hawke’s Bay has the highest rates in New Zealand. Our rates of child abuse also leave us as an outlier among our OECD friends.

Domestic violence impacts either directly or indirectly on babies and children, and is a far bigger problem than uplifting babies (which is done to try to prevent harm).

Protection orders and domestic violence are the family lawyer’s bread and butter. There are few cases in which methamphetamine or violence isn’t an issue. We attempt to get parents to engage, and address the issues placing their children at risk. We fight every day for the children who do not get a say in their own welfare. Oranga Tamariki does this too.

The decision to uplift is never made by one person acting alone, or without professional consultation. It’s never made without genuine care and protection concerns.

Social workers and Oranga Tamariki almost certainly almost always have genuine care and protection concerns when mking decisions on the safety of babies.

Children must first come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki via a report of concern – schools, doctors, or people within the community are making these reports, which social workers are tasked with investigating. Attempts are made to engage with families. But if families refuse to engage, and concerns are substantiated, little choice is left for Oranga Tamariki.

In serious cases, a “without notice” application is made to the Family Court, for a decision on an uplift before the parents have a chance to be heard by the judge. An order without notice has to reach a very high threshold, so many things have to happen before that point.

I’d rather open the newspaper and read an article slamming Oranga Tamariki for getting it wrong than read yet again about a child being killed at the hands of the person tasked with keeping them safe. They’re the decisions Oranga Tamariki has to make on a daily basis – and they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

The current focus is on the procedures used by Oranga Tamariki in uplifting some babies, but…

The blame sits on all of our shoulders.

Oranga Tamariki has the job no-one else wants.

We should be asking ourselves what we can do to help address domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, and child abuse – regardless of a child’s bloodlines. If you are lucky enough to not be faced with these issues, you are privileged and you have a duty to use that privilege to help those without.

Drug reform? More supportive live-in facilities for new parents? More stopping violence education? Further Māori education? I don’t know the magic answer, but I urge you: instead of jumping on the  “Oranga Tamariki is wrong” bandwagon, have a think about how you can become an ally to improve our culture for the sake of our children.

A culture is created on the actions and intentions of a society. A society creates a culture, and a society can therefore recreate it.

It’s easy to sit back and criticise others, and too think that domestic violence, all violence in society, isn’t our problem, it’s something we can blame on others.

But uplifting babies, and babies being hurt and killed, is just one of the worst aspects of a sick society that we are all a part of.

Domestic violence can be physical, and it can also be verbal (thee two are usually associated).

Online violence is ‘just’ verbal – but there is a lot of verbal abuse on online forums, there are frequent personal attacks. There is a lot of vile and violent behaviour online. This can normalise abuse and violence, that can affect the use of violence in the physical world.

Confronting online abuse and violence must play a part in confronting societal abuse and violence – but it can be bloody difficult. Online abusers tend to react badly to having their behaviour challenged and criticised. They tend to attack anyone who questions their behaviour – I know this from ten years of experience confronting online abuse.

And when other people see this happening I’m sure it deters them from doing likewise and challenging abusive behaviour.

This also happens in the offline world.

It’s easier to lash out and blame social workers and Oranga Tamariki.

Uplifting babies and interfering in families can be a very emotional issue – but so is domestic abuse and violence, for many more babies and children.

Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, violence – these are the core problems that lead to many other societal problems.

Societal problems need society solutions. Blaming others is not a solution. We all have to take some responsibility. Society is made up of many attitudes and actions, which we all contribute to.

I’m not a violent person, but I feel a responsibility to do something about violent and abusive behaviour.  I think we should all be thinking about how we can make our society safer for babies, for children, for all of us.

The famaiy lawyer says:

I don’t know the magic answer, but I urge you: instead of jumping on the  “Oranga Tamariki is wrong” bandwagon, have a think about how you can become an ally to improve our culture for the sake of our children.