Sunday 16 June 2019

Ripped Away From Their Parents

Just Following Orders: None of the awfulness associated with Family Court "Uplift" orders exposed by Melanie Reid and Newsroom would be possible without the active assistance and institutional protection afforded to Oranga Tamariki by the nation’s DHBs. These latter, through their security and communications staff, are, in almost every case, able to ensure that the tragedies unfolding within their walls are never reported beyond them.

IT IS DIFFICULT to know where to begin with Melanie Reid’s and Newsroom’s latest investigation into Oranga Tamariki. In the same way that David Lynch’s movie “Blue Velvet” begins with a single shocking discovery, which leads the hero deeper and deeper into a corrupt and violent world; Reid’s 45-minute video, “New Zealand’s Own ‘Taken Generation’”, exposes the viewer to aspects of life in this country that, until this week, have been quite deliberately, and ruthlessly, kept hidden from the public. That this collaborative act of concealment (involving, as it does, not only the child welfare services, but also the Family Court, the DHBs and the Police) has been so successful for so long is due, almost entirely, to the fact that its victims are members of the Maori underclass.

Reid estimates that the “uplift” of Maori children from their biological parents by child welfare social workers – often assisted by the Police – is occurring at least three times a week. The removal of these children, who range in age from just a few days to 14 years, is authorised by Family Court orders which, astonishingly, permit the use of “reasonable force” to separate parents from their children. That this regularly involves burly police officers carrying distraught and screaming children from their family home is a fact which Oranga Tamariki is very keen to keep from the public.

“Oranga Tamariki”: the name itself is proof of our deeply cynical state’s capacity for misrepresentation. In English, the words “child welfare” carry overtones that are far from positive. By giving this oft-criticised and disgraced government department a Maori name, the bureaucrat’s responsible clearly hoped to bury those negative connotations while, at the same time, conveying a “Maori friendly” message to impoverished Maori communities which had every reason to expect the opposite.

The cynicism doesn’t stop there, however. At the sharp end of Oranga Tamariki’s enforcement operations; especially, it would seem, child uplifts; it has become a case of Maori versus Maori. Acutely aware of how bad it would look to have middle-class Pakeha social workers ripping babies from the arms of their Maori birth mothers, the department has recruited Maori social workers to do the job for them.

Played out in Reid’s story is the bleak spectacle of Maori women in the employ of Oranga Tamariki confronting the angry and (in most circumstances) powerless whanau of the child about to be uplifted from its terrified mother. Throughout Reid’s harrowing video, the viewer is acutely aware that, if the recorded interactions had not been unfolding in the presence of an award-winning Pakeha journalist and a courageous pair of Maori midwives – linked by cell-phone to a seasoned lawyer – then the 19 year-old mum at the centre of the drama would have lost her second child to the same British couple who, with Oranga Tamariki’s help, had been entrusted with her first.

None of this awfulness would be possible, of course, without the active assistance and institutional protection afforded to Oranga Tamariki by the nation’s DHBs. These latter, through their security and communications staff, are, in almost every case, able to ensure that the tragedies unfolding within their walls are never reported beyond them. The clear priority of the DHBs is to ensure that the media “protocols” protecting the blissful ignorance of “Middle New Zealand” are strictly enforced. The sheer ruthlessness with which they go about facilitating these uplift operations is one of the most frightening of Reid’s revelations.

The men and women I feel most sorry for (apart, obviously, from the mother and child and their whanau) are the police officers brought in to enforce the Family Court’s uplift orders. I do not imagine that many of them signed-up to rip babies from their mother’s arms. Nor can it be easy to tell anguished whanau members that they will be arrested if they do not accept Oranga Tamariki’s faits accomplis. Moreover, these uplifts are, potentially, extremely dangerous situations. The police officers involved have every right to fear assault, or worse, when emotions are running so high. That they are being deliberately inserted into such highly-charged confrontations, at least three times a week across the country, is unconscionable.

This is the enormous virtue of Reid’s and Newsroom’s investigative journalism. It digs below the superficial stereotypes that allow so many of us to dismiss the anguish of “these people” as the inevitable outcome of their irresponsible lifestyles. That they are brown and say “yous”, instead of “you”, only makes it easier for middle-class Pakeha to ignore their pain. Oranga Tamariki, the Family Court, the DHBs and the Police have made it possible for those Kiwis who have made their peace with race-based social injustice to go about their lives without the slightest awareness of the tragedies unfolding, every night, in suburbs they will never visit.

Reid and Newsroom are, of course, already feeling the lash of official displeasure. Oranga Tamariki are attempting to force edits in Reid’s video. The Hawkes Bay DHB has chastised one of its board members for daring to speak out against the incident recorded by Reid and her camera-operator. The Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, is unapologetic: the uplifts, she says, will continue. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is conflicted. Reid’s footage depicts a world a long, long way from the “politics of kindness”.

But, you know, Jacinda, this is what poverty looks like. This is what it does. This is what it requires. Our ignorance may have been blissful, but now we know, and that knowledge demands action – from all of us.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 12 June 2019.


Anonymous said...

Chris, I have not watched the video. I am sure it is really disturbing. But I have a lproblem with Melanie Reid’s article. OT are not in the position to give their side of the story as to why the baby was uplifted. If it was, we may be thanking the social workers who had this deeply unenviable role. Most people become social workers because they want to do good and have a sense of social justice. This doesn’t fit with the idea that they go round uplifting babies without a very good reason, ie the safety of the infant. Btw I read said social workers were being bullied and harassed now because Reid didn’t give the decency of disguising their faces as she did to the Whanau.

You are right though. I have not been confronted before with the reality of child uplifts and what that looked like. What we have all been confronted with is the tragic and distressing continuance of baby and children’s pictures on the tv, who have been murdered. The majority of them by parents, step parents and extended family.
I Completely doubt children get taken from their parents because the parents are poor and say “Yous”. The Whanau are entitled to legal representation so if was the case, there would be justifiable outrage, sackings etc. but it won’t be.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with some of your logic Chris. The big issue that very few want to address is why OT got a court order - what the mother's situation was. I also did not see the documentary, but from what I have read, that has been glossed over. Remember the Nia Glassie case and how the woman involved has had several children taken away from her straight after birth. There was no criticism of that at the time. OT is in the very bad situation of being criticised for taking children away, and criticized for not taking children away.
How many children have died in the last twenty years - about half of whom are Maori? And what is society supposed to do about it?

In the cases where the mother is living in circumstances where there is a real risk of violence towards the child, what is supposed to happen? The country cannot afford to have 24h/day social workers watching over that child. Especially not if there are the numbers that are said to be happening.
Chris Morris

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I can't pretend to judge one way or the other on this. I've been associated with numerous kids who were abused by their parents, and I'm damn sure that some of them would have been glad to have been uplifted. I've seen them fall asleep in class because their parents took them to church services at 3 o'clock in the morning and beat them if they fell asleep in church, I've seen them turn up with bruises caused by being hit by a shifting spanner, and everything in between. I've seen girls go off to work as prostitutes because basically their self-esteem is so low and it's all they know – having been abused by relatives of one sort or another.
What these "upliftings" are for of course we can't hope to know and maybe quite rightly. And I'd like to think that all other alternatives are explored before something as egregious as this happens. But of course were never going to be told one way or the other.

GJE said...

The sheer incompetence of the current administration is mind boggling...the emperor has no clothes..probably never did actually and so we are now seeing examples like this that cut to the heart of what we believed was promised when we voted Jacinda in..

Anonymous said...

So we're supposed to do something about New Zealand's appalling child abuse statistics, where children are neglected and beaten to death, yet at the same time we are supposed to condemn people who remove children from unsafe situations (and that's the reason they do it). I give up: this country has reached peak idiocy.

Anonymous said...

You had better watch the video then. It’s very informative.

Anna said...

CYFS have had their side of the story presented via the Family Court—usually done ex parte where the families aren't represented. Melanie Reid and Newsroom have given this whanau a voice that has been denied them from a State agency that play fast and loose with the law. As far as I'm concerned, CYFS have all the power and as such, Newsroom don't owe them a thing.

Geaham said...

Anonymous just watch the video instead of basing your comment on what you heard. Youll see the truth of how the process works you need the reality check, its far from what you commented.

Debz Blog said...

I have watched the video and both sides did get to share their version. The story wasn’t about why it was about how uplifting processes take place. Cyfs version came through in every action they took to uplift. I am appalled that Cyfs staff comfortably lied to a judge they’d uplifted the baby when they clearly hadn’t, ignored their lawyer who agreed with the mothers lawyer to enact a care plan the following morning, manipulated state owned agencies like dhb & police to isolate the mother and lock out midwives, hospital Kaumatua & Whānau. Fumbled over each other trying to agree on the correct process. Not forgetting even though she’s done nothing wrong at no stage was the mother allowed to have a right of response to the uplifting process, her day in court to fight it...yet last week I watched a murderer who enjoyed publicly sharing his killing of 50 plus Muslim kiwis getting his fair chance at justice! We have far too many babies killed since 1993 83 non-Maori babies have been sadly killed 17 Maori - yet its Maori babies being uplifted more than any other race and non-Maori babies uplifting has declined. This agency is broken it needs fixing and well done to the courage of the journo for exposing it to main stream NZ. I agree Chris urgent action is needed starting with the CEO resigning.

Unknown said...

Kia Ora Chris, I also have not watched this video, its a very traumatic thing. I totally disagree with anonymous. Our family, during an unofficial interview with my daughter, is said "the family hovers around him like blue arse flies' unquote.. so this statement comes from a child lawyer who I would love to name, but cant, and SW in the room, this conversation was taperecorded about 2 years ago. (secretly), for obvious reasons and I have advocated to other whanau to secretly record their FGC sessions because simply they are not a legal forum, they are a perception that they enforce the law, only to exclude the Law and enforce a production line.. there it triggers an institutional "tag team" we need to do a Audit on CYFS, as part of the Inquiry, for me the processes an procedures are not the issue, it is the institutions who enforce improper, and unreachable outcomes, set-up to fail..

Patricia said...

Sometimes babies do need to be uplifted but surely it is the system that is at fault. Shouldn’t the system first of all make sure that NOBODY lives in poverty which in itself begets violence. Secondly shouldn’t OT use the existing cultural system to help a family in trouble. The Family Group conference can and is used for that BUT again the structure itself needs to promote the use of cultural alternatives. No child wants to leave its family: the child just wants the violence to stop. Every child is entitled to loving parents and a warm friendly environment and if the parents can’t provide that then it is up to the community/state to help the parents until they can. No child should be taken from its family.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The sheer incompetence of the current administration is mind boggling..."
Funny isn't it, whatever its national party cock-up, it's never the minister's fault it's an administrative matter and they can't interfere. Or some such. But all of a sudden it's Jacinda Ardern and for some reason it's her fault. AFAIK she's not even the relevant bloody minister.

Anonymous said...

You would help your case a lot more if you actually got your statistics right. This appears to be the most recent data.
It makes for depressing reading. Table 21 and Figure 10 are the relevant ones with more detail in C4. The appropriate acronym is CAN. Half of the child deaths were Maori with half the offenders Maori. Now what is the actual data source for your figures?
And in answer to RRK, evidently the father was there at the birth but the family admitted he has "issues" that they are working through with him.
Chris Morris

John Hurley said...

This is in confidence Chris.

This Landmarks documentary is interesting as cultural history. Kenneth Cumberland talks about the Maori as we (I) used to know them through the lens of the museum. Much as Simon Schama treats the earliest Britons Kenneth Cumberland moves from Moa Hunter to north Island pa and kumara growing culture with "and they were cannibals". Since then we have a move to partnership and cultural relativism. Kenneth Cumberland features Pacific Islanders' saying "in the future we will become much more Polynesian".

RNZ has a long "Treaty Debate" where Paul Spoonley tells of the post modernist -post colonialist influences on Maori activists and (mainly) Ranginui Walker and then you have Paul Spoonley as his biographer and "friend" but polar opposites on immigration.

These are very slow and I intend to find a faster service (and copy the whole set). Meanwhile someone is going to put the 10 episodes on Youtube

Anonymous said...

OT, like other govt agencies are constrained by the privacy act and so we will never know know the history of this family and why the children have been uplifted.

It will not have been a decision that was taken lightly.

greywarbler said...

Talking about decisions being taken lightly - I think Anonymous is off on the wrong path. If there are three babies being taken in a week, that sure is heavy and the weight of such decisions should be reviewed, and Oranga Tamariki should lighten up that weight, and also illuminate their minds.

Now I have got us all on the right path here is a vid of Chris Knox singing and reviewing and enjoying his song - It's love Not given lightly. This should become the theme song for OT, so they approach their job seriously and in the right spirit.

Together, the agency and the family, Maori or Pakeha, should work together in love of the child and give respect to the family, not just PC words conveying care and consideration. These are not reflected in their despicable actions which ignore the trauma of separation and fright and the feeling of abandonment which will arise from taking the baby from the mother.


Kia ora Chris. This from Mar 2019.

AnnaLogue said...

Chris, congratulations on your poignant pro-birth mother essay. What memories it brings back.
It seems usual for commentators on the issue of State agencies snatching children from their parents to assume Nanny State knows best and the parents must be brown trash. Or trash of some sort anyway. Thank you for having the humanity to disagree. Nanny State doesn't always know best - and certainly doesn't always have children's best interests at heart. Malice, envy and psychological hangups drive rogue bureaucrats more often than anyone usually admits.
Though have yet to view the Melanie Reid video, feel impelled to make the following comments. They are based on first-hand experiences of having my children snatched by the State on five occasions. (Why? Because Oranga Tamariki's previous incarnations were sore losers):
1). The State should not be able to remove ANY child from its parents without a legally binding guarantee to rehome it in a better environment. Obviously that excludes the State placing a child with molesters, alcoholics, drug dealers etc. (Blindingly obvious to anyone, you'd think - but no, not to State social workers.)
2). If the child is so damaged by being rehomed it is left unemployable as an adult, this legal guarantee means the State funds whatever treatment and vocational training is needed to fix the damage enough for adult survivors to get satisfying jobs. Should 'satisfying' make this more costly to the State than training them to move lines of supermarket trolleys around carparks, so be it.
Because taking away/denying someone the ability to adequately support themselves and their dependents is arguably the most life-wrecking thing you can do.
3) Childless women, especially childfree-by-choicers, should not have legal power over mothers and children. For childless women to have legal power to bully and terrorise mothers is equivalent to unmarried priests having legal power over married couples. Abuse will happen. Inevitably.
4) Being State employees, judges are more likely to take the word of fellow State employees like Oranga Tamariki over the word of low/fixed income parents. Even when what parents say is backed by the evidence.
It used to be that child welfare agencies lost only 2% of cases they brought against parents. Prosecuting social workers can be plausible users of innuendo and outright lies in Court. They've had years of experience persuading willing judges to listen. After all. judges are far more likely to move in the same social circles as State-employed senior welfare officials than those of parent defendants.
I don't know what can be done about that skewing problem. Being aware it exists might help.