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Mums and pēpi desperate their cried are heard

Media releases

8 June 2020

Media release

Mums and pēpi desperate their cries are heard

“My whole pregnancy was pretty good, like no issues. Everything was up to date, never missed, did everything possible like parenting courses, the whole shebang. I did everything possible to make sure that I was proving to [CYF] that I’m doing right for my unborn…it wasn’t till I was halfway through labour I found out there was already an automatic uplift and then it went to sh** straight up.”

This quote is just part of one mother’s experience described in the latest report from the Children’s Commissioner released today, in relation to how pēpi Māori aged 0-3 months can remain in the care of their whānau.

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft says this report shares consistent and heart-breaking whānau experiences, supported by data and historical analysis, showing there are deep systemic issues facing the statutory care and protection system.

“A small group of mums and whānau let us into some of their most intimate and traumatic experiences as they described in-depth their involvement with Child, Youth and Family or Oranga Tamariki when a Report of Concern was made about a pēpi in their whānau. Most of these whānau have long-term experience with the care and protection system.

“Even though in two-thirds of the cases a baby wasn’t removed, in most cases we heard about poor statutory social work practices, racism, lack of the right support and inhumane treatment of mothers and babies, whether a baby was removed or not.

“One mum told us about her relationship with her pēpi, ‘After the pregnancy I think it’s really affected mine and her relationship to this day like I’m too scared to get attached to her. I have this bond and connection to her but there’s part of me that’s just scared y’know even now like it’s not over at any moment they could just take her and it’s hard for her cause it’s not her fault.’”

“Statistics also support the lived experience mums told us about of widespread systemic racism. In 2019, Māori babies aged 0-3 months were five times more likely to be placed into state custody than non-Māori.

“There are deliberately no recommendations for change in this report. These voices need space to be heard. We can sometimes be quick to rush to recommendations without really hearing what is important – the lived experiences of whānau.

“We have identified six areas for change. They are:

  1. the system needs to recognise the role of mums as te whare tangata and treat them and their pēpi with humanity
  2. unprofessional statutory social work practice is harming mums, whānau and pēpi
  3. whānau need the right support from the right people
  4. pēpi Māori and their whānau are experiencing racism and discrimination
  5. the organisational culture of the statutory care and protection system needs to support parents and whānau to nurture and care for their pēpi, and
  6. the system needs to work in partnership with whānau, hapū and iwi so they can exercise tino rangatiratanga.

“These areas will be explored in more detail in a second report with recommendations, to be released later this year.

“I wholeheartedly thank these mothers and whānau for their willingness and courage to entrust us with their experiences. Their accounts are among the most heart wrenching I have heard in my time in this role.

“We heard about their fear, anger and frustration. They shared their heartbreak, anguish and sadness. Experiences they suffered at the hands of the state.

“As one mum told us, ‘I’d been a mum from 16 to 24 and I didn’t know anything else. I’d worked really hard and I was just in a really bad relationship and had severe depression and instead of being given support they took those children…they’re keeping the kids forever and my whole heart broke in that moment and I just gave up.’”

“I hope all New Zealanders can read this report. The mothers we interviewed offered profound insights into a system few New Zealanders know much about. Their experiences reveal a deep loss of faith and trust in the state care and protection system.

“This report must be a wake-up call for us all. Mums and babies desperately need support they can trust,” says Commissioner Becroft.