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Wellington mother fears Oranga Tamariki could take her children away at any time

Oranga Tamariki says there have been sweeping changes at its Porirua office as the community speaks out over a rise in the number of children being put into state care.

In the last financial year, 68 Porirua children entered state care - up 70 per cent on the year before.

Born and bred in Porirua, Maarametua Williams had her first child removed from her care 15 years ago when she was on meth and facing serious criminal charges.

She's now raising her three younger children but said she feared Oranga Tamariki could uplift them at the drop of a hat.

"It's quite distressing for me because I will never know whether or not my children will be uplifted. All it would take is for someone to make a phone call or a complaint about myself," she said.

"I've had three drug tests so far in order to prove to keep them. I'm a recovering meth addict and I feel like my past is always something that will come up."

Ms Williams spent eight years in prison for aggravated robbery, firearms and violence. She got out in 2011 and said she'd been off meth since 2016.

She said she passed every drug test the agency ordered and had done self-help programmes but couldn't escape the system.

"I am not the only mother that suffers from this, there are a few other mothers out there as well... I know that they are under scrutiny too," she said.

"When does it stop for someone like ourselves - who do makes changes in our lives, who do want the best for our children, who don't want our children to be uplifted - when does it actually stop?"

Ms Williams suggested the agency was more likely to find problems if it was targeting someone.

Porirua now ranks behind only Hastings and Napier for the number of children taken into care by Oranga Tamariki.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said the Oranga Tamariki office in Porirua had been an area of concern in the past.

"They were concerns to do with staff turn over, experience of staff involved, long term relationships being built or not built with the community," he said.

"The word is from within those working in Porirua that some pretty clear steps have been taken."

Oranga Tamariki said in July 2018, the office got a new manager, more staff had been hired, and they were working more with iwi and Māori providers.

Wellington regional manager Cassie Revel said the Porirua site is led by an experienced manager who is setting priorities amongst her team of quality practice and strong partnerships.

Judge Andrew Becroft said any uplift was a concern and should always be the last resort, however, there were wider social problems at play in Porirua.

"When we see child poverty numbers coming down and family poverty numbers coming down, so too, we ought to be seeing uplifts coming down," he said.

"There is [an] interconnection between all these things - it can't be seen in isolation. Oranga Tamariki's role takes place is in the wider context of some very significant environmental disadvantage."

Community workers have accused local Oranga Tamariki staff of not understanding Māori and Pacific families, and not helping parents early enough.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin said the staff must be culturally competent and Oranga Tamariki needed to offer help early on.

"There is definitely not enough early intervention services and intensive intervention services in this country and too many of our children are coming into care because we don't have them. That's one of the things that we are on a pathway to change," she said.

"Cultural competency is a must and we need more social workers who come from out of Māori and out of Pacifica, but we also need to be working in early intervention and intensive intervention with Māori providers and Pacific providers."

The minister said there were cases where children must be removed from their homes for safety but she would ask about Porirua with her senior leadership team.

Leigh-Marama McLachlan

rnz.co.nz 

Maarametua Williams says the uncertainty of her children being uplifted is disconcerting. Source: rnz.co.nz