By: Michael Neilson

The Māori Council is calling for an independent commissioner to hold the Government to account on “unconscionable” rates of Māori child abuse in state care.

The call has been backed by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, who said the country need to do more to address the “significant effects” of structural bias and colonisation.

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said the country was developing its own “stolen generation” of Māori children, referencing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children taken from their families in Australia.

Oranga Tamariki released data in March showing as of June last year, there were 6350 children and young people in state care in New Zealand, 59 per cent who were Māori.

In the last six months of 2018, 227 of those children were found to have been harmed, with about 70 per cent Māori.

“This is not new,” Tukaki said.

“From 1960 to 1999, data shows an estimated 70 per cent of children in state care being Māori.

“We need to address what is going on and why nothing has changed.”

Tukaki said some Māori parents tended to be treated differently by default.

“There is institutional racism. There tends to be this assumption their parenting is bad, and the children need to be first taken away and questions asked later.”

Tukaki said those “shocking statistics” needed to be set as the benchmark, and an independent Māori children’s commissioner established to hold the Government to account.

“We need someone who is independent, and advocating specifically for Māori.

“We will also be keeping a closer track of the statistics, and holding the Government to account.”

Tukaki, who has spent much time working in Australia, said he saw similarities to the “stolen generation” of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander children removed from their homes by the state.

“We are seeing the same sort of intergenerational trauma emerging.

“If you are taken from your family in those early years, and don’t have any connection with them, all of a sudden you are an adult, searching for who you are.

“We know many of those in some form of care end up in the youth justice system, and the adult system. Some of this goes back to the 1950s. We need to break those paths.”

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the statistics regarding Māori children in state care and the harm was “unconscionable” and “distressing”.

Becroft said it was much wider than Oranga Tamariki though, and symptomatic of “structural biases” against Māori and “enduring effects of colonisation” that also saw troubling statistics in areas of justice, health and education.

“We need to be realistic and courageous as a country and name and accept those things as having significant effects.”

He supported the Māori Council’s call for an independent Māori children’s commissioner, but said another way could be to restructure existing organisations, including the Children’s Commission.

“I am keen to talk with the Council about this. There need to be significant structural changes, and a genuine Treaty commitment.

“Not only partnership, but devolving power, resources and responsibility, more Māori leaders, embed the Māori worldview, and have care by Māori for Māori.”

Becroft said new legislation coming into force from July 1 would offer the chance to do all of that.

“We had the chance in 1989 with the original Act, but that withered on the vine. Now in 2019 we have a second chance for a revolution.”

Oranga Tamariki Minister Tracey Martin said the ministry was created for the very fact the system of care for children was not good enough.

“It has put a real focus on listening to what children need and improving services and on working better with Māori.

“There’s also a lot of change planned to build more and better services. But as Tukaki says, this isn’t just about what Government does, caring for our children should be everyone’s concern.

“As for the particular proposal for a Māori Children’s Commissioner, I’d be happy to talk to him.”

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Gráinne Moss said while those figures were concerning, they were not surprising given Māori were overrepresented in areas like poverty and domestic violence.

“Those factors can lead to less safety for the children. We as a society need to work more to address those wider issues.”

Oranga Tamariki had been working with iwi and Māori to ensure their skills and aspirations were utilised. Now about 80 per cent of Māori in state care were with Māori caregivers.

Oranga Tamariki had also reduced the number of children in state care by 10 per cent in the past 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months under the former Children, Youth and Family.

“We are hoping in continuing this work we can get that number down further, but it does need more work from all across society.”

Source: NZ Herald

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