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’.

Author: Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.

One thought on “Challenging State Imposed Abuse”

  1. Kia ora, just thought I’d add my keynote at the CYF Review Symposium (challenging the CYF Review) a few weeks back.

    I hail from Ngati Porou. I am an independent social work supervisor at Moaintheroom. I have been practicing social work for over 20 years and at least 10 of those years in direct family group conference (FGC) practice. I in my final year of a PhD in social work at Massey University. I am also an Iwi Kaiwhakaruruhau through Te Korowai Aroha o Aotearoa.

    I want to take you back to a time when some of you may remember, bellbottoms, psychedelic clothes, platform shoes and disco dancing the night away. Whilst you were doing this, I remember a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed Māori girl being ripped from her whānau and incarcerated into a hostile environment. A kid that had to fight almost daily to protect herself from the varying abuses that approved adult caregivers subjected her to. A little girl who was pitted (like dogs are) against other state kids for adult entertainment – where she learned to king hit and maim and win to protect her younger brothers from also being pitted. If she stayed in, then her younger brothers weren’t pitted and she didn’t have to come up against them. Ae, I’m a survivor of abuse in state care and whilst we are gathered here talking about the state of social work, there are kids in care who have been taken from their whānau and many of them will experience psychological, sexual, physical and cultural abuse.

    My decision to be a social worker was shaped by my own experience of being raised in institutional care as a ward of the New Zealand state. Some have said this makes me too close to the topic, emotional and unable to be objective. Well my response to that is, social work IS emotional, being Māori heart and soul, working with whānau who have had intergenerational state abuses impacting them, is emotional. My ability to see from the inside as well as outside makes me perfect to do this mahi. The point I am making is that the act of alienating a child from their cultural roots is in itself a fundamental abuse on that child – and one that this current system does not recognise. Now I’m not talking about where there is a clear and established need to uplift a child from harm.

    I am talking about practice with whānau has become so risk adverse our babies are uplifted in the first instance regardless of the concerns and then its sorted out later. Once kids are in the system it is really hard to get them back – decisions and actions have to be defended by those in power. It is very seldom roses and happy families for these kids. May I be clear at this point I don’t speak on behalf of all tangata whenua. My views are my own. Although they have been well informed by the research participants I have been working with.

    I was going to talk today about the research, instead I am going to talk about how we are constitutionally bicultural (in principle at least), ethnically multicultural, but institutionally monocultural. So monocultural that appropriate Māori representation on the CYF review panel was ignored. This demonstrated an intolerance of Māori and just how much casual racism is taking hold. Take for example, if numbers of our children in care were a justification for appropriate representation then the CYF review panel then members would almost all be Māori. Hei aha we are here to talk about the future of social work – a position we seem to be perpetually in. Convincing ourselves that we are making change occur even if it is incrementally.

    We have been doing this since Puao-te-ata-tu, which we keep promising to return back “to the spirit of” but never quite get there either. In my supervision work with social workers I am always reminded of how many have no idea what this document is about. So given its significance, allow me briefly refer to it: Puao-te-ata-tu described the effect of institutional racism within the Department of Social Welfare (now Ministry of Social Development) as individualistic and state centered dispensing of social services. This nurtured attitudes and practices that discriminated against Māori. Puao-te-ata-tu produced a number of significant recommendations, the first two were about tackling institutional racism and eliminating deprivation. Without addressing these two in the first instance, the other recommendations about making the social welfare system more culturally responsive, would be ineffectual (Ministerial Advisory Committee, 1986).

    Puao-te-ata-tu (breaking of the dawn) never got to see the light of day because the very thing the document sought to irradiate – institutional racism – blocked it. Those in positions of power to effect and implement those changes did not want to share that power. In the same vein as we see “partnership” and “biculturalism” being flouted under te Tiriti auspices. The point I am making is that in the 30 years since, nothing has changed for Māori, they remain unacceptably over represented in all systems – systems that are fundamentally eurocentric and monocultural, not bicultural.

    Let’s talk about the myth of biculturalism (not the true kind but the ‘culturally responsive’ kind) – it was huge in the early 90s. Biculturalism was intended as a way of working across the whole of youth justice and care and protection. Ae, there were pockets of really good practice as there are today, but it didn’t fly. Essentially, there is no such thing as biculturalism in CYF practice. If the system is monocultural, that’s what it is. If you are monocultural, that’s what you are. All the culturally responsive guidelines and “Māorified” frameworks and risk assessments in the world will never make you capable of seeing through a te ao Māori lens.

    Māori and our Pasifika cousins are bicultural, they exist on a day-to-day basis in two often opposing world views, their own and the colonisers. No and I’m not taking away from the mahi that our chief Māori advisors or any of our tangata whenua leaders are currently working on, but for me “regurgitating” bicultural frameworks and “reinvigorating” cultural responsiveness is just keeping ourselves in work – always getting there without knowing where, “THERE” is. Our child protection system as is the adult prison system is a self-generating machine of supply and demand transacting profitable brown units and providing the jobs we all love and love to hang on to. We maintain the status quo.

    Let’s talk about the myth of ‘cultural responsiveness.’ Another popular term bandied around the ministries. How do we know what it is and how it works when there is no actual evidence of cultural responsiveness working for our people? How do you quantify or qualify something without knowing exactly what it is? Is it karakia at the beginning of a family group conference? Tikanga is infinitely more than a Rimu veneer grafted onto monocultural one-size-fits-all process. That’s not responsiveness that’s glorified tokenism. The same way a harakeke weave design, or graphic of a ponoumu pendant adorn the CYF website and ministerial reports. Or “dial a powhiri” at the start of a social work conference – all of that equates to cultural appropriation, not responsiveness. It’s taking not giving. Yes. I’m talking about the purposeful (not not ‘unconscious bias’) targeting and commodification of Māori children.

    To illustrate this statement, in October 2010 major youth justice reforms titled, Fresh Start came into effect, including significant changes to the youth justice provisions of the Children Young Persons and their Families Act 1989. These changes were intended to transform youth justice, particularly the family group conference and not least, re-address the “Māori problem” of Māori over representation. Some of the key changes included new and extended formal Youth Court orders, more programmes and interventions and the ability to put children (12 and 13 years) before the youth court.

    However, since the reforms, Māori have gone from half to more than two-thirds of the total children and young people in both youth justice and care and protection residences, whilst the Pakeha numbers have dropped (CYF Practice Centre, 2014). The success of the reforms were hailed in operational reports by way of fewer, Police apprehensions, family group conferences and formal court orders (MSD, 2012). However the operational reports stopped hailing the success in 2012 when the stats on Māori did not show that the reforms had addressed over-representation (MSD, 2012). Reinvigorating doesn’t work either – our people continue to be targeted and our children removed from their cultural roots.

    Institutional racism of 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. Two-thirds of the notifications CYF receive are through referral from Police resulting from family violence incidents. Wahine Māori talk to me about being “microscopically scrutinised” in every aspect of her life because she is Māori and in a violent relationship. This is separate from whether she is actually a fit parent or not. She still has to endure the process of not only protecting herself and her children, but also from the scrutiny and stigma she experiences from agencies and frontline workers.

    Māori women I interviewed in my research described frontline practitioners as generally ignorant, arrogant, controlling, bureaucratic, and prejudiced. Yet those same practitioners and their agencies lack basic key knowledge about child abuse and family violence. For example, not knowing the impact upon the mental health of a whānau or not understanding that it takes resources for women to leave a violent relationship. These women/mothers are expected to be solely responsible for protecting their children. Thus, the responsibility of the perpetrator of the abuse is often not a factor in securing safety for children.

    Children can be removed from their mother because she has failed to protect them from being exposed to family violence when in fact it is the perpetrator who is compromising the safety of the children. It seems that mothers must bear the burden of protecting their children even though they are often unable to protect themselves. Whilst we are all busy telling her to leave and judging her for not. Leaving is not a simple choice because these women live in fear of what happens next, especially when previous attempts to leave failed. Leaving often only happens when the violence had worsened to the point of fearing for their lives, and often without the necessary supports to leave successfully.

    Now let’s talk about the myth of cultural competence – the Social Workers Registration Board approves social workers as culturally competent to work with our people, but the truth is most practitioners working in the helping professions have no idea how to work with whānau at a grassroots, kaupapa Māori level. Here’s another example, a wahine who has been fighting the system for six years to have her son returned to her talked about how in Family Court judge often asked her what Māori things meant, such as, what does whanaungatanga and manaakitanga mean? What does whānau and whakapapa mean? What is wairua? If our CYF leaders, social workers and Family Court judges do not ‘get’ Te Ao Māori then what chance do our people have? This monocultural system is oppressive and contributes to the cultural genocide of Māori. Taking our kids from their cultural roots and not returning them is “state violence on whānau” (whānau violence) and is a violation of that child’s Indigenous human rights. Why on earth would you want to work for a system that is diametrically opposed to Māori well-being? Wake up, stand up, speak up and freaking NAME it!

    We all have a choice about where we position ourselves. We can remain contractually gagged through our organisations or choose find creative ways of speaking out on social justice issues or supporting others to do so. But the point is all of us has a choice about how we use our voice, how we work with whānau to truly uplift them. Life is short, be the person you want to be, who your ancestors intended you to be. Some of you may be aware that we exist in a really unique time in the her-story of the world. Whether we realise it or not we are all part of a current global conscientisation, an uprising of Indigenous nations who are reclaiming their land, their intellectual property of old, and their relationship with mother Earth.

    Be a part of this movement, the time is right now, for it will never come again.

    Mauri ora koutou katoa.

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