by Lauren Bartley
Child Youth and Family has limped to its long awaited demise and was replaced on April 1st with the shimmering new Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki. Some are revelling in the changes, apparently including social workers, who “are very excited”, according to acting deputy chief executive for care, Greg Versalko. Others, however, are dubious. In fact, the chief executive of the urban Maori authority, Te Whānau o Waipareira, John Tamihere, likened the launch to that of the Titanic, and we all know how that one ends. At the helm is Minister Anne Tolley, and she has received ongoing criticism for the icebergs at which she is steering. The most perilous, and arguably the most visible, is her complete failure to demonstrate any understanding of Māori perspectives or issues. Given that around 60% of children in care are Māori, and the long list of casualties of state care are predominantly Māori, it would seem logical that there be at least some level of Māori involvement in the construction of this new ship. In defending the “Expert” Advisory Panel, Captain Tolley was adamant that she had chosen a “group of people who had expertise” , but in what that was relevant, no one is quite sure. Certainly, there were none who had expertise in tikānga, who knew what it meant to be Māori, or what it felt like to be colonised. It was only when she faced ongoing public pressure that Peter Douglas was hastily added to the Panel, possibly to mollify concerns about the absence of both Māori and social work representation. Perhaps having a team of experts who actually knew something about the building of a boat would have been beneficial.
After two years of consultation with various individuals and groups, of which Green MP Jan Logie insists only 7% were Māori, Captain Tolley announced the shift away from prioritising whānau placements as per Puao-Te-Ata-Tu, to a strong focus on early interventions and permanent placements, with the “increasing ability for non-kin placements”. Alarm bells are going off around the country at what signals the possible return of this ship to the assimilationist policies of pre- Puao-Te-Ata-Tu. President of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Prue Kapua has filed a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal stating that such changes are in breach of Te Tiriti, and ask that policy reforms be paused until Māori haven been properly consulted. Just weeks before the launch date, Captain Tolley responded to this backlash, admitting that the best place for children is undoubtedly with their families, but that “clearly we’ve nuanced it too much.” I imagine what she means by this is that it obvious and does not need to be spelled out in legislation that children are best off in their families. However, in a country that has past experience with one stolen generation, legislation that has the potential to create another cannot be nuanced or subtle. It should shout, “Don’t worry, we won’t take your children again!” While this acknowledgement of the need for rewording is hopeful, her indifferent response also serves to re-emphasise her utter lack of understanding of the impact such major changes would have to Māori – as they have in the past. Captain Tolley is bearing down on the iceberg, and the appropriate action is far from “nuanced”, because it won’t be just her going down with the ship: there are around 5000 children and their families on board too.
No one seems to quite know exactly how or when or where this ship will dock, but under the captaincy of one who cannot seem to grasp the fundamentals of this country’s indigenous people, one thing is certain: there are dark waters ahead.
Māori Women’s Welfare League. (2016). League files claim to halt law changes. Retrieved from http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1612/CCF04122016.pdf on 20/04/17.
Ministry for Social Development. (2016). Investing in children legislation reform: Underpinning the new operating model. Paper 3: Intensive intervention and care support. Retrieved from https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/investing-in-children/sept-announcements/r-investing-in-children-legislative-reform-paper-three-intensive-intervention-and-care-support.pdf on 20/04/17.
Native Affairs. (2015, May 18). CYFS review. Retrieved from http://www.maoritelevision.com/news/national/native-affairs-cyfs-review?utm_source=brightcove&utm_medium=button&utm_campaign=share%20this%20video on 16/04/17.
New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse. (2016). Proposal to deprioritise placing Māori children in care with whānau, hapū, iwi criticised. Retrieved from https://nzfvc.org.nz/news/proposal-deprioritise-placing-m%C4%81ori-children-care-wh%C4%81nau-hap%C5%AB-iwi-criticised on 15/04/17.
Radio New Zealand. (2017, March 15). Government bows to Māori pressure, will reword child protection legislation. Retrieved from http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201836757/government-bows-to-maori-pressure-will-reword-child-protection-legislation) on 17/04/17.