E kore koe e ngaro, he kakano i ruia mai i Rangiātea
E te tamaiti, te whakaata o ō mātua, te moko o ō tīpuna, mōhau tonu rā ēnei kupu atawhai
Statistics show that over the past four years there has been a significant increase in the number of Māori Newborn babies taken by the State with figures, obtained from the Ministry showing an increase from 110 in 2015 to 172 in 2018. The most recent attempt to remove a newborn baby in Hawkes Bay and the demeaning, disrespectful and traumatic treatment of a new mother and her whānau has highlighted that the Ministry of Children is not fulfilling the requirement to ensure whānau are at the centre of the wellbeing of tamariki Māori.
It is time for the government to stop the punitive and bullying processes of the Ministry of Children in regards to the removal of tamariki Māori. We hear stories daily of the failure of the Ministry to listen to the needs of whānau and of the denial of fundamental rights of whānau to make decisions about the wellbeing of their tamariki and mokopuna.
For many generations whānau, hapū, iwi, Māori organisations and allies have highlighted the deficiencies within successive government policies and practices in relation to Māori whānau, tamariki and mokopuna wellbeing. The Ministry of Children and its predecessor Child, Youth and Family Services have failed generations of tamariki Māori and whānau.
Evidence highlights that such State violence has been perpetuated upon generations of tamariki and mokopuna who have been removed and placed into State institutions. This is not State ‘care’. Care assumes that the State acts in ways that are respectful and affirming of tamariki and their whānau. This is not the case.
Successive governments have been seriously remiss in fulfilling its obligations to our people. We must challenge the State abuse of tamariki and whānau, past, present and future. There has been too much inaction for too long.
The issue of institutional racism and systemic failure has been at the forefront of Māori critique of the Ministry since the release of Puao-Te-Atatū in 1988 (p.7). Within the report it is stated,
We comment on the institutional racism reflected in this Department and indeed in society itself. We have identified a number of problem areas- policy formation, service delivery, communication, racial imbalances in the staffing, appointment, promotion and training practices. We are in no doubt that changes are essential and must be made urgently.
We have also studied policies and practices in the social work field and have commented on desirable changes in the Children and Young Persons Act. Changes are equally important in this area as well as in the operations of our courts, of our policies and practices for fostering and care of Māori children and of family case work for Māori clients.
At the heart of the issue is a profound misunderstanding or ignorance of the place of the child in Māori society and its relationship with whānau, hapū, iwi structures.
What is clear is that the fundamental issues raised by John Rangihau and the Māori Perspective Advisory Panel within Puao-Te-Ata-Tū continue to be critical issues today. We support the consistent assertion by Dame Tariana Turia that the Ministry “smacks of racism” and call for the Minister to urgently deal with the underlying institutional racism that has been raised by Māori over the past 30 years.
It has been advocated by the CEO of the Ministry of Children Grainne Moss, and Minister Tracey Martin that legislation changes that come into effect on July 1, 2019 will be enabling of Iwi to be more actively engaged in the wellbeing of tamariki that come to the attention of the Ministry. However, to date only three formal agreements are in place.
What we have seen consistently is the Ministry position Iwi and Māori organisations as consultants who provide contract services or in roles of recruiting and training foster caregivers. That is not a relationship based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Central to meaningful and enduring Treaty relationships is tino rangatiratanga and this must be the basis of arrangements between hapū, iwi, Māori organisations and the Ministry of Children.
In 2016 the Co-chairs of the Iwi Leaders Forum expressed deep concern and called into question the unilateral processes undertaken by the then Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley in regards to the restructuring of the Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children. Where the term ‘vulnerable’ was removed the fundamental deficit view that is embodied in that term remain dominant within the system. Statements made at the time, by Minister Tolley denied (i) clear evidence that CYFS was, and continues to be, highly abusive of Māori children and (ii) rejected documented evidence that tamariki have experienced serious acts of physical and sexual abuse whilst in State ‘care’.
During 2016 a number of Māori worked collaboratively across Aotearoa to raise awareness of issue regarding the documents released by the Crown related to the restructuring of the current Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children. Efforts from Iwi and Māori organisations to address and support whānau, are continually stifled by government legislation; limited resourcing and denying whānau, hapū and iwi authority to care fully for our tamariki; and by the embedded institutional racism upon which the Ministry is grounded.
There is an ongoing failure of the State to ensure the active involvement of whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations in seeking pathways to enhance the wellbeing of our tamariki and mokopuna. We have not been alone in such a position, which has been advocated by a range of organisations including the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Whānau Ora collectives, the Māori Council, Te Wharepora Hou, a number of Iwi and Māori organisations, groups of Māori counsellors, social workers and healers, and both the previous and current Commissioner for Children amongst others. We have also indicated the failure of both National and Labour led governments to comply with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which asserts the rights of Indigenous Peoples to “retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child”.
The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:
“Indigenous peoples have 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”.
“States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities.”
“Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.
States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”
In regards to the removal of tamariki Māori from their whānau, hapū and iwi, and the documented experiences of abuse whilst in State institutions and homes, the New Zealand government has been in breach of UNDRIP since the day they signed the Declaration.
Over the past month there have been clear challenges by Māori to the actions of the Ministry of Children and calls have been made for the removal of the CEO Grainne Moss. Minister Tracey Martin, like her predecessor continues to fail to take seriously the issues raised by Māori in relation to the Ministry. It is not good enough for the Minister to continue to defend the Ministry in light of the increased number of Māori child removals and the recent statistics that also show the increase in Māori children experiencing abuse whilst with a Ministry that is charged to provide care and protection.
In line with an urgent need for transformative systemic change we the undersigned call for the following:
That the State stop stealing Māori children
That not one child more be removed by the State from their whakapapa context of whānau, hapū, iwi
The affirmation of tino rangatiratanga and the right of Māori to make decision and control the wellbeing of our tamariki and mokopuna
That the State take responsibility for increasing State abuse of tamariki Māori
That the current system overseen by the Ministry of Children be overhauled restructured in line with Kaupapa Māori and strengths based approaches that ensure tamariki remain connected to their whānau
That legislation and policies be co-designed with Iwi/Māori around an honourable Treaty relationship that serves the needs of whānau, hapū, iwi
That during the restructuring of the current Ministry of Children that a Māori transition panel be put in place to oversee all of the Ministry’s activities in regards to tamariki Māori
That Māori define whānau and whakapapa within our tikanga and mātauranga to ensure the wellbeing, connectedness and care of our tamariki
That decisions regarding the wellbeing of tamariki must be made by whānau, hapū, iwi supported by Iwi and Māori organisations
That the recommendations of Puao-Te-Ata-Tū be revisited and an in-depth Kaupapa Māori investigation of the Ministry of Children be undertaken by Māori external to the Ministry
That the State hand over resources to hapū, iwi and Kaupapa Māori organisations to ensure the wellbeing of tamariki Māori
That successful programmes such as Mātua Whāngai be affirmed and revisited as processes by which to support Māori approaches to the wellbeing of tamariki and mokopuna
That a long term commitment be made to support the return of te reo, tikanga and mātauranga Māori to whānau to support wellbeing for current and future generations
That Māori philosophies such as Te Aho Matua, Whare Tapa Wha, Te Wheke, and other tikanga based models be prioritised in the wellbeing of whānau
That Whānau Ora be funded to enable the full provision of services for the wellbeing of tamariki and whānau
That Iwi/Māori and the Crown work in collaboration to create a whole of Aotearoa approach to tamariki and whānau wellbeing
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