Issues of equity in the child protection system are currently writ large in light of the recent Office of the Children’s Commissioner reports into baby removal practices for Māori, the Whānau Ora Report, and the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into Oranga Tamariki. These reports draw attention to the persistent inequalities for Māori in the child protection system. In addition to this inequity are other intersecting social determinants, and other sources of variable outcomes for families and whānau in system contact.
Author: Emily Keddell
A guest post by Luke Fitzmaurice.
Tracey Martin would like us to think about natural justice. If only that had been the priority in the first place.
Last week’s damning investigation by Newsroom was the latest in a series of reports on Oranga Tamariki highlighting deep-rooted, fundamental problems within the agency. Among other things, the story described significant problems within the culture of the organisation, concerns about the lack of social work expertise within the leadership team, an insufficient commitment to te ao Māori and allegations that caseload numbers were being manipulated to reflect better on the organisation.
The tyranny of distance
Humans adapt. You don’t have to be a dedicated evolutionist to see that when social conditions change, humans change too. Our adaptations may not be uniform, but we are shaped by the social condiitons and rules we are embedded in. How have the social distancing rules affected our social lives? Are we affected equally? And will we want to go back when it’s over?
“It appears that FACS may regularly omit evidence such as evidence of a parent’s ‘strengths’, the effort a parent has made to address substance abuse issues, or the positive parenting approach of the parent. This has occurred despite there being numerous policy documents that indicate that this approach is not permitted,” (Davis, 2019, p.13).
This was a key finding, not of the Hawkes Bay case, but of the ‘Family is Culture’ review, released in New South Wales last week.
‘Don’t give them a reason’
It was just a passing comment that struck me, from a Māori woman, stating what her mother had told her when she became a mother. She was talking about what is now Oranga Tamariki (OT). “Don’t give them a reason – don’t given them any reason to start looking at your parenting. Make sure everything appears perfect and don’t, whatever you do, give them any cause to start in on your family”. What is the level of cultural penetration of a child protection agency in the lives of families when the generational advice, along with feeding and sleeping and nappy-changing, includes how to protect yourself from state intervention? But this level of penetration does not apply to all families, everywhere. Our research shows that if you live in the most deprived 10% of neighborhoods in this country, your chance of having a family group conference held about your family is 35 times greater than if you live in the least deprived, and you have ten times the chance of having your child placed in fostercare (Keddell, Davie & Barson, 2019).