Oranga Tamariki response to Ombudsman’s He Take Kōhukihuki: A Matter of Urgency

Published: August 7, 2020

To be attributed to Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Gráinne Moss.

Oranga Tamariki welcomes the Chief Ombudsman’s final opinion, He Take Kōhukihuki: A Matter of Urgency and the recommendations that will help guide our further work in this area to improve our practices when newborn babies need to be brought into care.

The Ombudsman’s Report looked at case files between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2019 for 74 unborn and newborn (up to 30 days) babies where the Ministry had applied for custody under section 78 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (which allows for an application to the Family Court for interim custody to be granted, pending further proceedings).

“While we accept there has been historical issues with our section 78 practice, we are pleased to be able to provide evidence of real progress since the Ombudsman’s investigation concluded,” says Ms Moss.

Oranga Tamariki introduced system and practice changes in November 2019 following its own Hawke’s Bay Practice Review which addressed a number of the issues identified in the Ombudsman’s Report, says Ms Moss.

Those changes included:

  • Unless there is a clear need for action to protect a child from immediate and imminent danger, all interim custody order applications are made ‘on notice’ to ensure the family is given the opportunity to have their say before a judge makes a final decision.
  • When staff need to act faster to keep a child safe, every section 78 ‘without notice’ application goes through additional checks with three people, including a lawyer.

“Since our own changes in November last year I can confidently say we are working earlier with whānau and seeing fewer children coming into care. For those who do need to enter care it is more likely to be in a planned way and less likely to be under a section 78.”

For example:

  • The number of babies (under 1) coming into our care has halved over the last 3 years (from 445 in 2017, to 440 in 2018 to 356 in 2019 to 220 in 2020).
  • Section 78 application rates over a four-month period in 19/20 for all children were less than half of what they were for the same period in each of the previous three years.
  • Since 2017, we’ve seen a more than 60 per cent reduction in the babies (under 1) we bring into our care under section 78 orders (from 288 in 2017 to 120 in 2020).

It’s important to note the vast majority of babies brought to the Ministry’s attention don’t enter care. For example, in the two-year time period identified by the Ombudsman, Oranga Tamariki received Reports of Concern about more than 4000 babies under 30 days. Only 9 percent (360 babies) were subject to section 78 orders and about 7 per cent (280 babies) entered care under s78.

“These statistics reflect a significant amount of work undertaken by Oranga Tamariki to support parents to safely care for their babies,” says Ms Moss

Oranga Tamariki has accepted all of the recommendations in the report.

“While the Ministry had already seen positive change in the way babies came into care, the Ombudsman’s opinion is constructive because it gives a guidance and timeline for further work.

“Change is hard, and it takes time,” says Ms Moss. “We are committed to continuing to improve the way we work with whānau, hapū and iwi so we can better support the babies, children and young people who need it.

“In relation to disabilities, we agree this is an area where we need to do some significant work,” says Ms Moss. “It is important that work is done alongside our iwi and Māori partners and those in the disability sector, including the Ministry of Health, the Health and Disability Commissioner, the Office for Disability Issues, the Disability Rights Commissioner and the Ombudsman’s disability rights team.

“I welcome the Ombudsman’s comment that there is good social work happening, but the challenge is to ensure that is happening in every interaction, every day across the country.” says Ms Moss.

“We are committed to change. We have more social workers than ever before, and caseloads are down from 31 in 2017 to 21 children per care and protection social worker.”

Section 7AA came into force on 1 July 2019, part of a raft of amendments to the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989. At the core are new partnerships with iwi and Māori providers that are both driving and supporting the organisation to work differently. The Māori specialist role of Kairaranga-a-whānau – described as ‘transformative’ in the report – has been extended across the country. There are 38 Kairaranga-a-whānau and Māori Specialist Roles employed directly by Oranga Tamariki and five employed by our iwi partners. The purpose of the Kairaranga-a-whānau role is to support whānau through the process with Oranga Tamariki, prevent entry into the care system and provide them with a pathway to make decisions around the wellbeing of their children. Oranga Tamariki is committed to a further 20 Kairaranga-a-whānau roles, either directly employed or in partnership. “We have been open, and will continue to be open, about the lessons learnt. We have made changes in social work practice and will continue to do so,” says Ms Moss. “We have made good progress and this report reinforces that our work needs to continue to be done collectively with our partners and other agencies.”

For more information please contact 04 918 9199 or email media@orangatamariki.govt.nz.

Read our official response to the Ombudsman’s Report