There is no excusing some of the practices by Oranga Tamariki, but the issues impacting children in New Zealand state care are going hand in hand with rising poverty affecting more families.
The ‘chickens are coming home to roost’ for Oranga Tamariki in 2019 as a long-running blight in New Zealand’s state care reaches its tipping point. Reports released by the Ministry of Children show that over 300 instances of neglect, emotional harm, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional turmoil were inflicted on children under state care over a period of just six months.
One aspect of this report showed that Oranga Tamariki staff members were found to be some of the abusers in question.
Surprising and shocking perhaps? Not really, in fact, this has been a long-running concern.
The conduct of Oranga Tamariki social workers and decision makers should be called into question; the evidence found in this report points to many things, firstly, a clear lack of care when it comes to where some children are being placed.
One has to assume that the proper process is taken when it comes to background checking and assessing the conditions prior to placing a child with a particular caregiver and their family. Yet, the report shows that both family and non-family caregivers are the abusers more often than not.
But what of the Oranga Tamariki workers who’ve been perpetrators of abuse? That’s where conduct comes into the equation.
There are many examples of children being uplifted from families without the proper processes being completed beforehand. Are these isolated incidents? Perhaps, but poor conduct in a situation like uplifting from families is bound to cause further psychological harm to children, especially those more cognitively developed.
Children in State Care Living with more than just Abuse
Whatever the case of poor process, and it appears there are many when it comes to children in state care, calls of an organizational-wide shakeup have been coming for many years.
Part of the problem is the skill of the social workers that Oranga Tamariki brings into its organisation and the lack of accountability for the lack thereof. Every week, there are dozens of social worker jobs advertised and this points to two things; a greater supply of workers in order to keep up with demand, but also a growing risk of quality versus quantity.
Like many sectors, you can have as many workers as you like, but if the general quality of the work being done is sub-par, that sector will continue to achieve average results.
Children in New Zealand’s state care sector deserve better than average. Almost all of them didn’t choose to be in the positions they find themselves in, and the scary thing about this report is the suggestion that they may be in equally as bad or even worse situations of harm than before.
A new set of National Standards will only go so far in addressing the chronic issues that have proven life-long effects on children in care.
That’s really the bigger point. We want New Zealand’s next generation, with all the technologies available to them, to be able to thrive and live their lives with the best footing possible.
Hence why New Zealand needs to address its growing poverty issues, like the overpriced market rentals for instance. Families struggling to get by, many of whom are working and not making ends meet, end up with their children in state care. The pressures of not even being able to make it from week to week are a big factor in emotional trauma that can lead to drug abuse and the likes.
Oranga Tamariki is doing nothing to either address or advocate for certain issues. It may not be their role, but if they want to re-innovate themselves, they need to look at these factors and take a closer consideration into how they may be impacting on the families where they are placing the most vulnerable children into.
Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist and content producer based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Since starting writing professionally in 2014, Michael has covered professional sports and has had articles on social issues published in mainstream media outlets in New Zealand and Internationally.