We advocate for the interests, rights and wellbeing of children and young people

July 2021 newsletter: closing outdated institutional residences

Newsletters

8 July 2021

Ian Hassell

From the Commissioners

Manawatia a Matariki! Happy New Year as we pause and reflect, come together and share kai in honour of Matariki rising in the early morning sky.

Matariki is also a time to remember those who have passed and so we acknowledge the first-ever Commissioner for Children, Dr Sir Ian Hassall, who died on the 14th of June. Sir Ian was a tireless champion for children and young people and, when he was knighted in 2018, he described establishing the Office in 1989 as one of his proudest achievements.

Since then our Office has helped achieve some major milestones for children and young people. We supported an end to the defence of reasonable force when disciplining children and helped lay the foundations for action on child poverty - establishing the Child Poverty Monitor which continues to this day. Recently, our advocacy helped result in the Department of Corrections banning the use of handcuffs on women in late pregnancy and close to, during and just after birth. Our monitoring has held Oranga Tamariki to account for the treatment of mokopuna1 in care and protection and youth justice residences, as we repeatedly called for the closure of these large institutions. This month, finally, the acting Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki announced they would all eventually close.

This is a time of significant change for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft himself will move on before the end of the year. He has agreed to stay four months longer than the customary 5-year term, until October 31 2021.

Meanwhile, the legislation underpinning the Office is being re-written, with the Commissioner sole model to be replaced by that of a Commission. In addition, some of our monitoring functions are being transferred to the new Independent Children’s Monitor (more on this below) while we focus on strengthening our advocacy and continuing to monitor places where mokopuna can be detained.

Our commitment to embodying Te Tiriti o Waitangi through practice and partnership remains constant through this time of change. We are working as Co-Commissioners across all our work, empowering and building the capability of our staff by ensuring that the Te Tiriti partnership model is implemented in all that we do, and ensuring that Māori staff are supported to bring both their technical and cultural expertise to bear on how and what we do as an office. Our new strategic priorities (see below) include the elimination of racism in the public service, and as an Office we believe that advocating for power sharing has to start with us.

As a leadership team, we look forward to the time we have together over the next three months, and giving it all we’ve got for all of Aotearoa New Zealand’s children and young people. They deserve nothing less.

Nā maua tahi,

Judge Andrew Becroft and Glenis Philip-Barbara
Te Kaikomihana mō ngā Tamariki, rāua ko Kaikōmihana Māori mō ngā Tamariki
Children's Commissioner, and Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children


 

OT residences

Oranga Tamariki care and protection residences will be closed

Since 2017 we have been advocating for the Government to close large institutional care and protection residences. So we strongly welcome Sir Wira Gardiner’s announcement that all Oranga Tamariki secure care and protection residences will soon be closed. This followed a Newsroom video of what looks like violent attacks on children in care by staff, including headlocks on a child and slamming them to the ground.

The treatment in the video is unacceptable, but the concerns aren’t new. Our regular monitoring of Oranga Tamariki institutions has raised concerns about staff manhandling children and young people, including in reports we have recently released on the Epuni residence in Lower Hutt.

These institutions grew out of the 19th century notion of orphanages and poor houses where children who need care, and have nowhere else to go, are grouped together in institutional settings. Today, there are aspects of these that are prison-like. Unsurprisingly, the evidence shows children do much better in a more friendly, loving environment. We want to see mokopuna cared for by whānau and in family-style small community homes, where they trust those who are caring from them, feel heard and cared for, and are close to their own home. This requires skilled, trauma informed care.

It is time for a new vision for care and protection with by Māori for Māori approaches at its heart.


 

Artboard 2Update on the monitoring functions of the OCC

The shape and functions of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner are changing. A recent Cabinet decision means that the newly-established Independent Children’s Monitor will not be moved inside our Office, as originally intended. It will instead be set up as a new departmental agency within Government. While some of our responsibilities for monitoring Oranga Tamariki will eventually move to the Independent Children’s Monitor (ICM) we will retain responsibility for monitoring places where children and young people are detained. This monitoring occurs under the United Nation’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Meanwhile, the Government’s intention is to strengthen our work advocating for the rights interests and wellbeing of Aotearoa New Zealand’s 1.2 million children and young people.

Commissioner Becroft has spoken about his concerns that the departmental home of the ICM makes it harder for the monitor to be truly independent. As the legislation underpinning the ICM progresses we will be pushing hard for that independence to be strengthened, for the ICM to have the power and responsibility to make recommendations to the Government, and for proper governance level partnership with Māori to be built in.


 

Artboard 11What Makes a Good Life? Tamariki and Rangatahi Māori summary report

In our 2018 What Makes a Good Life? report, we found that, while most children and young people were experiencing good wellbeing, some were facing significant challenges. As part of this engagement we did 175 face-to-face engagements with tamariki and rangatahi Māori. Last month we released a summary report showing how they envision of what a good life is for themselves and their whānau. We hope this report will encourage further thinking about important questions to ask tamariki and rangatahi Māori about issues that affect them. Read the full report in both Te Reo Māori and English.


 

Artboard 3Welcoming an end to the handcuffing of mums in prison

In May, Kaikōmihana Māori Philip-Barbara welcomed the decision by the Department of Corrections to stop the handcuffing of women in late pregnancy and close to, during and just after birth. This has been a strong recommendation of the Office for some time, in repeated reports written as a result of our monitoring of Mothers with Babies Units in women's prisons. We monitor these facilities, under our OPCAT2 designation, as places where children are detained. Our monitoring has shown that this degrading practice was not isolated but was normalised. We welcome this policy change as a good first step to putting the wellbeing of mothers and babies first. Read our full media release.


 

Even more news

  • Our response to Budget 2021: We were pleased to see benefit increases announced in the Budget, but more is needed to significantly improve children’s lives now. We are calling for the rest of the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group to be implemented – particularly the significant increases to the Family Tax Credit -  so all mokopuna in Aotearoa can live their best lives.
  • We welcome Waitangi Tribunal’s recent report: The Tribunal’s urgent inquiry on Oranga Tamariki echoed the findings of our own major investigation into the uplifts of pēpi Māori. It is the latest evidence that the care and protection system is not working for Māori and must be transformed with by Māori, for Māori approaches at its core.
  • Strategic priorities for our advocacy announced: The Office has prioritised (i) eliminating racism in the public sector and advocating for by Māori, for Māori approaches, (ii) prioritising children’s views and (iii) advocating for improved mental wellbeing. These three priorities will be backed by work programmes we are currently developing and inform all our work to advocate on behalf of our mokopuna.
  • Some schools do really well at creating inclusive, safe environments where bullying is rare. Together with the Ministry of Education we have embarked on a unique engagement with primary and intermediate schools and kura designed to identify examples of good practice which other schools can learn from to create equally welcoming bully-free environments.  The first report of the ‘Our Kind of School,’ joint project is expected in the next couple of months. If you want to stay in touch with our outreach research with mokopuna, sign up to stay connected with the work of Mai World.

 

[1] Drawing from the wisdom of Te Ao Māori, we have adopted the term mokopuna to describe all children and young people we advocate for, aged under 18 years of age in Aotearoa New Zealand. This acknowledges the special status held by mokopuna in their families, whānau, hapū and iwi and reflects that in all we do. Referring to the people we advocate for as mokopuna draws them closer to us and reminds us that who they are, and where they come from matters for their identity, belonging and wellbeing, at every stage of their lives.

[2] The United Nation's Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.