Challenging State Imposed Abuse

Over the past few days the media has been inundated with interviews and shocked responses to the release of two reports related to State agencies and issues of abuse of children who have been placed in care by the State.  Today the PM John Key responds by indicating that a part of the solution may be the partial privatisation of Child Youth and Family and associated agencies.  It is incredulous to make such a statement in the wake of the appalling record of Serco and the privatisation of prisons.  It is also predictable given the governments prioriting of neo-liberal economic policies.   I am reminded of Naomi Klein’s publication ‘Shock Doctrine’  (Documentary link here:  which highlights that neo-liberalism becomes dominant in a context of ‘shock’ or when those in power can use the notion that a ‘crisis’ exists in order to  then advocate a need for  ‘market intervention’.  That is fundamentally what John Key is promoting and we should not be fooled into believing that a market driven privatisation agenda will provide the answers to this issue.  Why? because the ‘market’ is as colonising, is as racist, is as oppressive, is as sexist, is as homophobic,  is as classist and is the tool for the privileged to maintain and increase their wealth and power.  That is why.  Serco is just one example. The wealth being generated from a number of the new Charter schools is another.  We should all be appalled by the processes being utilised by the government to entrench neo-liberal ideologies at the detriment of our children and therefore at the detriment of both current and future generations.

In the wider context of what is happening to our children that are held by the State is that of the ongoing imposition of State policies by this government which deny a fundamental right for our tamariki, mokopuna and whanau to have a standard of living that enables their wellbeing and provides opportunities for them to experience a quality of life.  So why are we surprised that a government that has difficulty accepting the existence of child poverty, who lack any motivation to put clear and active policies in  place to deal with the growing issues of child poverty  and whanau living in extremely poor and disturbing conditions  is not able to provide for children in State ‘care’? ( Link for Unicef Video  However when it comes to asset sales this same government moves with great rapidity (, almost as quickly as keeping pubs open during the Rugby World club. The priorities of this government are fundamentally screwed. To put it almost politely.

The Unicef  ‘Kids Missing Out’ Report ( Kids-Missing-Out-A4-Document ) highlights the ongoing issue of Child Poverty in Aotearoa:

“Child poverty is a reality in Aotearoa New Zealand. As many as 28 per cent of New Zealand children – about 305,000 – currently live in poverty. When a child grows up in poverty they miss out on things most New Zealanders take for granted. They are living in cold, damp, over-crowded houses, they do not have warm or rain-proof clothing, their shoes are worn, and many days they go hungry. Poverty can also cause lasting damage. It can mean doing badly at school, not getting a good job, having poor health and falling into a life of crime.”

The reports of the Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC-State-of-Care-2015 ) and the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (final-report-of-the-confidential-listening-and-assistance-service-2015 )   highlight systemic issues in regards to the wellbeing of children that are in State ‘care’.  In the light of both reports it is difficult to even justify the use of the term ‘care’ in regards to State removal of children. In an interview on The Nation, Judge Henwood stated in discussion with the interviewer:

All right. Judge Henwood, I want to ask you what is the price of all of this? Because how many of them end up in front of you?
Henwood: Well, we know that at the moment, of those that are 20 and under in jail at the moment, about 83% have had care and protection issues. So it’s huge. We call them the crossover children, the children that have drifted from their care placements and have been churning around in the system; their needs not met, and they go into criminal justice for a lifetime. And it is something that I really think we need to be more clear about; a deeper understanding of what is going on, so we can— We only have four-plus million people in this country, and to me, I feel passionate, and I think it’s alarming, that we haven’t done this better.
Well, that statistic indicates that the majority of people are in prison because the state didn’t care for them properly.
Henwood: Well, no, it’s a mix of things, isn’t it, but we hope that when the children are taken by the state that the state articulates a duty of care and delivers on that so that their life is improved, not that it deteriorates to such an extent, you know what I mean? I’m not saying the state alone is a factor, because obviously the background and context of that child is impacting, but the state is certainly impacting.” (

Where finally there is some public outcry about this issue,  we need to be reminded that the raising of the State’s abuse of children is not new.  In 1988 Te Puao Te Atatu (1988-puaoteatatu) highlighted the colonial racism inherent within the States agencies and challenged the apparent lack of the then Department of Social Welfare to provide for the needs of Maori.  The report preface stated;

“Our impressions of the Department of Social Welfare are that although in general it is staffed by highly dedicated, committed people working under great pressure it is seen as being a highly centralised bureaucracy insensitive to the needs of many of its clients. The Department of Social Welfare, in our view, is not capable of meeting its goal without major changes in its policy, planning and service delivery. We expect, however, that its capability to make the necessary changes will be greatly enhanced by the initiatives advanced in the recommendations of this report.

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 Maori children and of family case work for Maori clients. At the heart of the issue is a profound misunderstanding or ignorance of the place of the child in Maori society and its relationship with whanau, hapu, iwi structures.”

Te Puao Te Atatu was viewed by Maori as an opportunity to engage the State in line with a Crown-Maori Treaty relationship whereby whanau, hapu, iwi and Maori organisations could provide processes through which to more appropriately provide care for our tamariki and mokopuna.  The report was ignored and  there was little acknowledgement of the recommendations made.

Mereana Taki in her critical analysis of the State’s response to Te Puao Te Atatu stated: “After a hundred and fifty five years of Colonial arrogance the Ministerial report Puao-Te-Ata-Tu helped to confirm that, the Colonial welfare State had been established from the theft of Iwi territories and resources. In explicit cases Pakeha legal Imperialism had been instituted to ensure Iwi remained politically and economically excluded from participating in a growing Pakeha domination of their ancestral economic base.  The reports listed seamless Colonial policies and legal fictions; which formed a political context that drown Iwi into cycles of deprivation…  A Maori Advisory Unit within the Department of Social Welfare was established in 1984 and it its 1985 report stated the Department was institutionally racist.  This was qualified by the further claims that the bureaucratic practices reflected a privileging of Pakeha values, attitudes, beliefs and practice ‘norms’.  it argued that Maori input into policy production and decisions was  non-existant.  Maori were positioned as the ‘receivers’ of Pakeha policy decisions for them.  The report also argued that the insistence of Pakeha exclusive definitions of ‘Professional qualifications’ also reflected a monocultural assumption of superiority.  The same qualifications were proposed as a credit for ‘competence’ based in the earlier assumptions that ‘professional’ meant European Pakeha.” (p.115) (For full discussion refer M. Taki ).

This issue of Maori having real and meaningful engagement in terms of the care of tamariki and mokopuna is also raised in the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service report and highlighted by Judge Henwood:

“Well, I think that it is something around this lack of clarity of what they’re actually doing and how it could be done well, and you have to realise that Maori are caught up and entangled in the care system. A lot of Maori children have floated into care, and I don’t think the engagement with iwi is as strong as it could be to try and get less damaging solutions. Because every time a child goes into care, they get alienated, lose identity, swirl around in many, many placements and don’t go to school and then sort of drift on into crime. And so I think— That’s an area I’ve been focusing on for a number of years, and we need to do better.” (The Nation Interview)

Nearly 30 years after Puao-Te-Ata-Tu we have a raft of reports, primarily by Pakeha organisations, highlighting again not only the inability of the State to commit to providing care and services to children within this country, but that also highlight that there are broader systemic issues at play which not only deny the needs of children in State ‘care’ but also set those children up for longer term issues as a result of the trauma imposed upon them by the State.  Report after report highlight State imposed abuse upon children and whanau in Aotearoa and  again affirm the view that the State is itself recidivist in its role as the ultimate perpetuator of Family violence upon many families and whanau in this country.

There have been some views expressed that the current review of CYFS will provide remedies, however for Maori that is highly unlikely given there is no Maori representation on the panel.  Paora Moyle has highlighted more recently the denial of Maori voices on the current CYFS review panel.  This is essential viewing if we are to seek meaningful outcomes of the review (Link here

Denying Maori involvement in seeking pathways for the wellbeing of our tamariki is not the answer.  After 200 years of colonial occupation and denial of our fundamental rights to be Maori we know that to continue to maintain monocultural institutions is not the answer. More privatisation is not the answer, it has never been shown to be the answer.  Having people’s wellbeing at the centre is the answer, and having a government that will action that is critical.  It is time for change.  When Aotearoa are we as a collective society going to make the decision to put values of wellbeing, of care, of healing, of manaaki tangata, as the priority over and above the market driven approach that this government continues to entrench?  How many children abused and dying of poverty related diseases is enough for us to stand up and say that the most important thing to us as a society is ‘he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – people, people, people’.

No Profit In Prisons – Sina Brown-Davis speaks against the prison industry

*Te Wharepora Hou member Sina Brown-Davis speaks at the NO TO SERCO rally at Mt Eden Prison on Saturday 01 August 2015*

Photo courtesy of Jos Wheeler.
Photo courtesy of Jos Wheeler.

Tēnā koutou ki ngā iwi kua huihui mai nei. Kei konei ahau ki te taha o te rōpu Te Wharepora Hou. Kei konei ahau me te hunga e whakahē ana ki ngā whareherehere. Ko Sina Brown-Davis ahau nō Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara.

I am like many gathered here today, the family of a loved one inside. I refused to be ashamed of having a father as a prisoner, even though my dad is incarcerated, I will stand by him and love him unconditionally always. Prisoners are human beings, with human rights, I am sick of the sadistic and vengeful attitude that this country has towards prisoners. I am sick of a racist and punitive system that has resulted in the mass incarceration of Māori, of Pacific Islanders and of working class Pākehā.

I am sick of a government that chose to do a deal with Serco, despite their serial human rights abuses, and fraudulent mis-management. Serco have a disgraceful record world wide of neglecting their duty of care, to make money off the backs of the oppression of prisoners, refugees and those seeking asylum. We warned you that serco were nasty pricks only interested in making money. We warned you that Serco’s management of this prison would be a shambles We warned you that privatisation would be a complete and utter failure.

Last week prisoner Arthur Taylor and others had their case for the voting rights of prisoners upheld by the high court. This was a watershed moment in the fight for the human rights of prisoners. Prisoners and their families are fighting for the right to be treated like human beings with human rights and are winning!

For those who say that Iwi should be running prisons, I strongly disagree. Iwi-run prisons just transfer the punitive functions of the state to Māori. Running prisons is leveraging off the oppression of our people. Iwi have no ethical or cultural standing in investing in the ongoing oppression of our people. The investment needs to be in changing the lock-down mentality of the existing system. Dress it up any way you like the mass incarceration and locking up of our people in cages is not a solution for anything, Māori run or otherwise. I would like to end with a quote from prison abolitionist Angela Davis:

“Imprisonment has become the response of first resort of far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business. It ought to be possible to build movements in defense of prisoners’ human rights and movements that persuasively argue that what we need is not new prisons, but new health care, housing, education, drug programs, and jobs. To safeguard a democratic future, it is possible and necessary to weave together the many and increasing strands of resistance to the prison industrial complex into a powerful movement for social transformation.”

Nō reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa!