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Hawke's Bay uplift midwife says there’s ‘institutional racism’ in Oranga Tamariki

The midwife at the centre of the Hawke’s Bay baby uplift controversy last year says there’s systemic bias and racism against Māori mothers in Oranga Tamariki, and there’s ambiguity about where uplifted children end up. 

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Jean Te Huia also says the lack of data from Oranga Tamariki means it’s unclear whether uplifted children are still in New Zealand. Source: Breakfast

Jean Te Huia, CEO of Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa, has this week given evidence at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the disproportionate number of Māori children in state care. 

The midwife of nearly 30 years, who also is completing a PhD into the subject, told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning there were more than 200 instances in the past five years that Oranga Tamariki uplifted babies without warning their mothers. 

Te Huia said it usually happens quickly after a mother gives birth, sometimes while the mother is still under anaesthetic. They are then not told of the uplift until later. 

“It is an inhumane practice that has been going on behind closed doors and people don’t know about it. But now they do,” she said.

There was also an instance where a pākehā woman in her mid-20s had given birth in the Hawke's Bay district. Te Huia said the woman had a history of drug and alcohol use, and was living in a garage - common reasons to justify a child’s uplift. The mother got to keep her baby. 

If the same case were a Māori mother, she would “absolutely not” have taken her child home, Te Huia said. 

“There is institutional racism, there is bias, there is personal racism,” she said.

“When Māori women get singled out because they are single, uneducated, homeless, in family violence situations, and a European pākehā woman can take her baby home, it’s huge. 

“The racism is evident and it’s huge.”

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The agency’s powers should be handed over to Māori, they said during the first week of the hearing. Source: 1 NEWS

Te Huia said it was cases like that which “appalled [her] so much” that led to her PhD studies. But, with most information not publicly available, most data had to be collected through the Official Information Act. 

But when she asked for data, officials said they “can’t find” it, she said. 

She pointed to a 2015 report by former Children’s Commissioner Russel Wills. The report pointed to the “little reliable data” held by the state care agency, then Child Youth and Family, about children in care and where they go after they exit care. 

“[Wills] identified a lack of transparency, and a lack of data available to show where the children all were,” Te Huia said. 

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Tommy Wilson says families also need to take responsibility for children being taken into care. Source: 1 NEWS

She said when she asked for data about how many children were adopted out by parents who had not given consent, “the figures are blurred and ambiguous”.

“We are talking about something that cannot be denied. Until we have the proof that every child in this country that was taken off its mother is still in this country, then we have this ambiguous notion that the children that are forced into adoption … may have left this country.”

There were at least two large international adoption agencies operating in New Zealand, Te Huia said. 

One of the adoption agencies told 1 NEWS it did not adopt children taken by Oranga Tamariki. 

She added: “I raised at the Tribunal yesterday the number of missing children. The data from Oranga Tamariki is not transparent.”

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She spoke to TVNZ1's Breakfast as the Waitangi Tribunal's urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki begins in Wellington today. Source: Breakfast

Te Huia said the situation had deteriorated in her nearly 30 years as a midwife. 

She said it was driven by the lack of state housing and the lack of jobs, with poverty being the “biggest driver” in child welfare issues. 

Funding also needs to be diverted to those in need, Te Huia said. 

“That money cannot continue to fund a child welfare system that abuses our children. It has to stop.”

Oranga Tamariki responds

"Regarding comments made in the media this morning, I want to be clear that Oranga Tamariki does not place children in care in non-whanau arrangements overseas. That does not happen," Aphra Green, Oranga Tamariki Deputy Chief Executive Governance & Engagement told 1 NEWS.

"In rare circumstances, where it is in the best interests of the child concerned, they may be placed with whanau overseas. This almost exclusively involves placements in Australia and is carried out with the agreement of the child’s family and often the Family Court.

"In all cases, a family placement overseas will only happen if thorough checks have been completed to make sure the family carers are suitable.

"I also want to be clear, children in care are not placed overseas through the intercounty adoption process. New Zealand is not a sending country for the purposes of intercountry adoption. We always look to find solutions for children in care within New Zealand.

"If we have discharged our orders and a child is no longer in our care, then future decisions will be up to the legal guardians. However, if the natural guardians still have a role in the child’s life then their views around any move overseas should be sought.

"Oranga Tamariki will further address these issues during its response to the Waitangi Tribunal in November."

The agency also released a report this year which said that since its name change from CYFs, fewer Māori had entered state care - the lowest since 2004. 

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CEO Grainne Moss joined Breakfast to discuss an independent review into the department’s practices. Source: Breakfast

Oranga Tamariki has publicly apologised for the Hawke’s Bay case.