Children's Minister Kelvin Davis says changes at Oranga Tamariki will see greater resources given to Māori and the regions following the resignation of embattled CEO Gráinne Moss last week.
Moss left the role after a tumultuous four years amid increasing pressure to step down last year over Oranga Tamariki's treatment of Māori tamariki.
Davis told Breakfast today Organa Tamariki will have a "laser-like focus on the needs of our children" under new leadership.
Moss appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal in November last year. She said at the time the Crown "should have identified the need to tackle structural racism head-on in the establishment of Oranga Tamariki" and the agency had failed to implement the recommendations of the racism report Puao-te-Ata-tu from 1988.
There were 6429 children in state custody in 2019, of which 4500 of which were Māori.
The Government agency says it’s now looking to address ongoing issues within the agency through the announcement this morning of the installment of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board. The board will be chaired by Matthew Tukaki, the national executive of the New Zealand Māori Council and executive chairman of the National Māori Authority.
Davis told Breakfast the advisory board will help Oranga Tamariki become “an enabler and an organisation that people trust and that people want to go to if they need help”.
Davis says the board will provide “independent advice and assurance on a couple of areas on Oranga Tamariki,” including “relationships with family and Māori professional social work practice and organisational culture" and "how we can start to entrust funding and decision-making to Māori and people on the ground in the regions".
“Oranga Tamariki has to be that enabler that allows the regions to decide what is right for their particular area.”
The move will see the decentralisation of Oranga Tamariki and the handing over of trust and power to Māori.
Davis says the agency needs to “look at what can be done differently,” which he's begun by having conversations with “key stakeholders, Māori and also with some of Oranga Tamariki’s harshest critics because we need to work out priorities and aspirations, or the Government’s priorities and aspirations, for our children.”
Davis says he met with Oranga Tamariki leadership before Christmas, where he “spelled out what the priorities and the areas of focus were to be,” with the key focus being supplying the regions and Māori with the resources “for what’s best for them and their areas”.
“What’s right for us in Kaitaia, where I live, will be different to what’s needed in Auckland and different to what’s needed in Invercargill or the East Coast,” he says.
He says he believes Oranga Tamariki can change and “the changes have started”.
“This is a new way of working that Oranga Tamariki is being asked to do, to entrust the funding and the decision-making to Māori and people on the ground in the regions,” he said.
“Oranga Tamariki’s role will be to become an enabler of those things to happen.”
Davis says there are no concrete plans at this stage on the changes being made to the agency following Moss’ resignation and the installment of the advisory board. He will be presented with a report by the advisory board by the end of June, however.
“I’m expected be challenged and Oranga Tamariki to be challenged. The way that things are being done now will most likely change based on the advice and assurances from this board, and also from the feedback we receive from the regions.”
Davis says there “has to be substantial change, because what we’ve been doing for a number of years hasn’t worked.”
“We have to ensure we have a laser-like focus on the needs of our tamariki, on our children, and the adults involved have to make sure that it is our entire focus on what is best for the needs of children.
“We cannot continue to protect a system that has been failing.”
Davis would not be drawn on whether Moss should have left her post sooner, however.
“She made the decision that now was the right time to move on and she’s made that decision and moved on to another role in the public service and I wish her all the best," he said.
"Now I’m focused on moving forward … and making sure that we have this laser-like focus on the needs of our children and making sure that they have the opportunity - like you and I had - to grow up in strong, loving families."