#Hands Off Our Tamariki : An Open Letter

An Open Letter to Whānau, Hapū, Iwi, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Members of Parliament, Māori National and Iwi Organisations

E ngā Pou Whirinaki o tēnā iwi, o tēnā iwi e whiri i ngā nuku, e whiri i ngā rangi tēnā koutou katoa. He whakaaraara tēnei mō te ture hou o te Kawanatanga e pā ana ki a tātou tamariki mokopuna. E kii ana te Kawana he ture tiaki mokopuna. Ehara! He ture huti rito, he ture pare awhi rito, he ture e kato rau tipu, rau rangatira i te pā harakeke a ka tuku ki ngā hau waho ki reira marara haere ai. Inā tipu pā harakeke kore a tātou tamariki mokopuna, ka tipu pēhea rātou otirā tātou. Ka mato, ka mate rānei?

Over the past months a number of Māori women have worked collaboratively across Aotearoa to raise issues 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. We have advocated strongly against the development of a Ministry that is based upon deficit approaches to tamariki in this country, and in particular to tamariki Māori and whānau. We have not been alone in such a position, which has been advocated by a range of organisations including both the previous and current Commissioner for Children.

The recent announcement that the government will remove the requirement to prioritise the placement of tamariki with whānau is alarming to us all. The associated statements of abuse in kin placements is largely reliant on an unpublished report which we believe raises critical issues in regards to how CYFS manages the placement of our tamariki and mokopuna. The statements by Minister Tolley also continues to deny the clear evidence that the current system is highly abusive of Māori children and the documented evidence that tamariki have experienced serious acts of physical and sexual abuse whilst in State ‘care’.

‘Hands Off Our Tamariki’ has been developed to raise awareness of the issues related to the State removal of Māori children and the placement of our tamariki in non-Māori (Primarily Pākēhā families). It is our view that this form of removal and abuse of our tamariki must end, and that only way to bring it to an end is for whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations across the motu to stand together against the further imposition of legislation that enables this government to take control of thousands of tamariki Māori across the country.

We applaud the recent press release by the Co-chairs of the Iwi Leaders Forum expressing concern and calling into question the unilateral processes undertaken by Minister Anne Tolley. We now believe it is essential that the Iwi Leaders Forum move further to take an urgent and immediate stand against the ongoing abuse of our tamariki.

We stand in solidarity with the statements by Dame Tariana Turia that these actions are a further act of Institutional Racism and that Iwi Leaders need to actively speak out against these reforms. Many of our whānau feel there has been too much inaction for too long. Key Māori leadership has been too silent for too long. What we know is that silence is one of the greatest factors in enabling the perpetuation of violence, in this case the perpetuator of the violence is the State. Evidence highlights that such State violence has been perpetuated upon generations of tamariki and mokopuna who have been removed and placed into State institutions. To be silent in the face of such abuse means that we are a part of the problem. As Māori mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, nannies, kuia, cousins, whānau – we will not be silent on this issue. We ask that the Iwi Leaders Forum and Māori in Parliament also commit to not being silent on this issue.

Both Māori experience and research in the field highlight that successive governments have been seriously remiss in fulfilling its obligations to our people. Research undertaken on the ‘Vulnerable Children’s’ papers by Rihi Te Nana indicates that the limited engagement by government, suggests that this has been a deliberate move on the government’s part to maintain power and control over Iwi/Māori. Ms Te Nana highlighted:

“The Government continues to see Iwi/Māori as consultants who provide advice or provide services to whānau, and fail to undertake a meaningful Treaty relationship that would see our people exercise our right to being self-determining in regards to the wellbeing of our children.”

Efforts from Iwi/Māori to address and support vulnerable whānau, are continually stifled by the government legislation, limited resourcing and denying whānau, hapū and iwi authority to care fully for our tamariki. Furthermore it has been well documented that Māori children are placed into contexts by the Government agencies where their needs remain largely unmet because the legislation, policies and interventions lack cultural context or appropriateness.

Research by Paora Moyle has indicated an alarming rate at which Māori babies are being uplifted and placed into non‐Māori environments. She states:

“In New Zealand, the statistics of newborns uplifted by the state are not made public; these had to be requested through the Official Information Act process. In the 2012 ‐ 2013 year, 13 new‐born Māori, from a total of 26 were removed from the birthing table, and 80 Māori babies from a total of 157 were removed from their mother within 30 days of their birth. (Bernadette McKenzie, Deputy Chief Executive, Child Youth & Family, personal communication, June, 6, 2014)
In the first instance, these infants are most often placed with state approved non‐Māori caregivers until the concerns held can be addressed via an FGC. Māori make up 15% of the total New Zealand populations and the uplift of nearly 100 infants a year from their mothers, many of who are not returned, essentially wipes out future generations of Māori.” In 2015, the trafficking of these infants significantly increased, more than 60+% of those uplifted were Māori and these are the ones that were clearly Māori. The actual number is likely to be much higher as the primary ethnicity is recorded by the social worker and often this is discretionary…depending who that social worker decides the child may go to.”
(https://www.academia.edu/10578356/M%C4%81ori-Lived-Experiences_of_the_Family_Group_Conference_A_selection_of_findings )

The previous Children’s Commissioner provided clear evidence that CYFs does not provide for the needs of the children that they remove and that there is little evidence that supports the current, and proposed model is actually working as an intervention process. In providing a summary of the ‘State of Care’ report he writes:

We don’t know if children are better off as a result of state intervention
There is little reliable or easily accessible data available about the outcomes of children in the care system. In our view, Child, Youth and Family and MSD’s systems are not routinely measuring and recording the information that matters, and the integration of data between MSD and other government agencies is poor. Better collection and analysis of data is essential for Child, Youth and Family to improve its services and for the Government and the public to have confidence that Child, Youth and Family and other state agencies are improving outcomes for vulnerable children. We don’t have enough information to say conclusively whether children are better off as a result of state intervention, but the limited data we do have about health, education, and justice outcomes is concerning.
(http://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz/2015/08/the-state-of-care-report/)

We draw attention to the Interim Cabinet Paper to the Chair
 of the Cabinet Social Policy Committee titled “Modernising Child, Youth And Family Expert Panel: Interim Report” within which Minister Tolley highlights the following findings:

There is more work to do on supporting the connection of children to their cultures and communities
67 Young people talked of the value of cultural connections, especially in relation to building sense of identity and well-being, and that this was not well recognised or supported. We must acknowledge the connection of children – including Māori children – with their wider systems of support, such as whānau, and begin engaging early and productively.
68 CYF has made commitments and improvements to address cultural connection, including through its strategic vision, Ma Mātou, Ma Tātou, the development of a bi-cultural practice framework and establishing memorandums of understanding with Iwi.
69 However, the Panel is mindful of reviews, as recent as the 2014 Casework review and as far back as Puao-Te-Atata-Tu in 1988, which point to a lack of consistent capability to work successfully with Māori and achieve better results. They highlight the need for better responsiveness to Māori and more consistency of practice. CYF should build staff and manager capability and confidence in this area and partner more effectively and extensively with Iwi and Māori organisations.
https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/cyf-modernisation/

These points clearly highlight that although the Rebstock report is limited in its approach to issues of the removal of Māori children there remained a clear view that cultural approaches and meaningful engagement with whānau, hapū and iwi is essential.

Many Māori who have been placed into State institutions and ‘care’ have experienced physical, psychological, spiritual and cultural abuse. Governments have continually prioritised imported white-stream programmes and activities despite the fact that international indigenous research and Kaupapa Māori research clearly provide evidence to show that these interventions do not achieve significant positive life outcomes for Māori. There are clear solutions being advocated both nationally and internationally, that are grounded within Māori and Indigenous approaches. The longer Māori remain in state care, the more likely their life outcomes will continue to diminished.

The failure of the government to provide the fundamental rights of children in this country is highlighted in the recent release of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report ‘Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of New Zealand’ (CRC/C/NZL/CO/5). Included here are sections directly related to the removal of tamariki into state control and institutions and issues related to rights to identity and rights to culture and whānau support.

The Committee includes the following observations:
7 (b) Consider a different name for the proposed Ministry for Vulnerable Children, and avoid the categorization of children, in law and policy, which may lead to stigmatization (p.2)

D. Civil rights and freedoms (arts. 7, 8, and 13-17) Right to identity
19. While appreciating the State party’s efforts to preserve Māori identity, including through language and television programmes, the Committee is concerned that these efforts remain insufficient and recommends that the State party:
(a) Intensify efforts to promote and foster Māori language, culture and history in education and increase enrolment in Māori language classes;
(b) Ensure that Māori children adopted by non-Māori parents have access to information about their cultural identity;
(c) Ensure that all government agencies developing legislation and policies affecting children take into account the collective dimension of Māori cultural identity and the importance of their extended family (whānau) for Māori children’s identity.

E. Violence against children (arts. 19, 24 (3), 28 (2), 34, 37 (a) and 39) Violence, abuse and neglect
(c) Continuing prevalence of physical and psychological abuse and neglect, especially among Māori and Pasifika children and children with disabilities, and the lack of a comprehensive strategy against abuse and neglect to encompass all children in all settings;

23. (c) Develop a comprehensive strategy to combat abuse and neglect encompassing all children in all settings, with particular attention to Māori and Pasifika children and children with disabilities;
(g) Further strengthen awareness-raising and education programmes, including campaigns, to prevent and combat child abuse, with the involvement of children, with particular attention to Māori and Pasifika children and children with disabilities.

F. Family environment and alternative care (arts. 5, 9-11, 18 (1) and (2), 20-21, 25 and 27 (4))
Family environment
26. The Committee recalls its previous recommendation (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4, para. 32) and recommends that the State party intensify its efforts to render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities with timely responses at the local level, including services to parents who need counselling in child-rearing, services for the treatment of alcohol or drug-related problems, and, in the case of Māori and Pasifika populations, culturally appropriate services to enable them to fulfil their parental role.

27. The Committee welcomes the reports of the Children’s Commissioner on the State of Care 2015 and 2016 and of the Modernising Child, Youth and Family Expert Panel, and the State Party’s commitment to respond to their recommendations. The Committee is however seriously concerned about:

(a) Deficiencies in the State party’s care system, including lack of consideration for the best interests of the child and for the views of the child regarding decisions directly affecting her or him; and lack of clarity regarding a child-centred approach leading to inconsistent practices towards children, in particular Māori children and children with disabilities;
(b) Enduring inadequate cultural capability of the State care system, despite recent efforts, which disproportionally impacts Māori families and children, who make up over half of the children in State care;
(c) Inadequate resources allocated to care placements, including insufficient case oversight and training for care personnel, and to caregivers, which hinders their recruitment, and hurdles faced by permanent caregivers to obtain special guardianship, which may negatively affect the child’s well-being and be contrary to his or her best interests;
(d) Insufficient data on children’s outcomes, including regarding education, health and well-being, while in care and after they leave;
(e) The State party’s intent to outsource some care services to private providers in the absence of appropriate accountability frameworks.

28. Drawing the State party’s attention to the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (General Assembly resolution 64/142, annex), the Committee urges the State party to:

(a) When reforming the care system, ensure that the best interests of the child are taken into account as a primary consideration in every case and that the child is heard in all matters affecting her or him; ensure a common understanding of a child-centred approach across the care system; and regularly monitor the implementation of the reform and its impact on children’s outcomes, with particular attention to Māori children and children with disabilities;
(b) Strengthen its efforts to improve the cultural capability of care and protection system and its engagement with Māori communities, the whānau (extended family), hapū (sub-tribal groupings) and iwi (tribal groups), including by implementing the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner’s 2015 ‘State of Care’ report, with a view to addressing the overrepresentation of Māori children in State care;
(c) Allocate adequate human, technical and financial resources to care services, in particular care placement, case oversight and care givers and ensure that the child’s best interests are taken into account as a primary consideration in guardianship decisions;
(d) Improve the data collection on children’s outcomes, including regarding education, health and well-being, while they are in care and after they leave care, to adopt evidence-based approaches to improving the care and protection system;
(e) Ensure that any outsourcing to private care service providers is closely monitored for compliance with the provisions of the Convention;

These observations highlight the 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. The full report from the UN committee raises critical issues with the current developments in the area of CYFs and the lack of meaningful relationships with our people that enable that all elements of wellbeing for our tamariki are achieved.

This report can be read alongside the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that emphasises the rights of Indigenous families and communities to raise our tamariki and mokopuna. The Declarations states:

Recognizing in particular the right of indigenous families and com- munities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child.

Article 7
1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person.
2. 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.

Article 14
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and pro- vided in their own language.

Article 21
1. Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
2. 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.
Article 22
1. 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.
2. 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.

Final Comments
#handsoffourtamariki includes a network of Māori women around Aotearoa who work with tamariki and their whānau. Some of the wāhine Māori involved were forced into State institutions or foster care as children and have experienced the abusive nature of the State and it’s agencies. Some of the wāhine Māori involved have chosen to whāngai or legally adopt tamariki to ensure they remain within their whānau. All are advocates for our tamariki, mokopuna, whānau, hapū and iwi.

What we can do now:
• Assert the rights of whānau, hapū and iwi to retain the control over the wellbeing of our tamariki and mokopuna as a fundamental right guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and that in line with a Treaty relationship that the government enter into true and meaningful strategic partnerships with our people in developing systems of care that will ensure the cultural, spiritual, economic, material, political wellbeing of our tamariki.
• Continue to voice opposition to the change in legislation that removes the ability for whānau, hapū and iwi to ensure our tamariki remain in our care
• Place pressure on Minister Tolley and associated Ministers to ensure whānau and whakapapa links are prioritised in the care of our tamariki
• That Māori members of Parliament push for this legislation change to be brought before the Māori Select committee
• Negotiate pathways for our whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations take control of the wellbeing of our tamariki as advocated through Puao Te Atatū and Mātua Whāngai
• Work collaboratively for the re-establishment of advocacy and support systems of Mātua Whāngai with resourcing that will enable each community, hapū and iwi to work for solutions to issues facing our tamariki and whānau.
• Establish mechanisms to monitor and pressure the government to commit to enduring and meaningful strategic partnerships are put in place with whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations to ensure the wellbeing of our tamariki
• Require the implementation of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to ensure the rights of our tamariki and whānau
• Compel the government to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as noted in the ‘Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of New Zealand’ (CRC/C/NZL/CO/5)

We write this letter to all whānau, hapu, iwi and Māori communities and include the Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori members of Parliament and Māori and Iwi Organisations who act as representatives for Iwi to which we all whakapapa and to communities within which we live. This issue is a fundamental breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi at its most essential level. It is the removal of our tamariki and the denial identity, of belonging, of whānau, of the affirmation, acknowledgement and practices of being Māori.

We call on these groups to make a loud and committed stand against these reforms. We call on the Iwi Leaders Forum to instigate a series of regional and national hui alongside National Māori organisations such as the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Whānau Ora collectives, Te Kōhanga Reo Trust, Te rūnanga o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori, Māori & Iwi Providers and others that connect directly to whānau, hapū and communities, to speak out against this legislation and to provide pathways forward.

We also call on this collaborative group of Iwi & Māori organisations to support the embedding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and key principles of Puao Te Ata Tū and Mātua Whāngai in all dealings to ensure our tamariki and mokopuna remain within whānau.

E ngā Pouwhirinaki o tēnā iwi, o tēnā iwi nei mātou ka tono – tohea tēnei ture tūkino tamariki Māori. Ko te pā harakeke te pā whakaoranga mō a tātou moko puna. Tohea tēnei ture kei tipu pā kore, kei tipu pā keha a tātou tamariki mokopuna.

Hands of Our Tamariki Network, Aotearoa
Te Wharepora Hou: Māori Womens’ Network

About 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.
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