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Report back from Hands Off Our Tamariki hui

This week I attended a hui in Otaki organised by Hands Off Our Tamariki about the proposed reforms to the Child Young Persons and their Families Act. Moana Jackson and Paora Moyle spoke.  They expressed deep, profound concern about the proposed changes to Child Youth and Family.

Paora Moyle said that when she heard Anne Tolley planned to remove or water down the CYPF Act principle that “that wherever possible, the relationship between a child and young person and their family, whānau, hapū or iwi should be maintained and strengthened”, she couldn’t believe it was true because it seemed like such a backwards step to assimilation. She said that of all the things she expected out of the reforms it was not this.

Moana Jackson raised concern about this change being part of global changes to privatise core social services; just like legislation to claim state ownership was followed in a matter of months by applications for offshore oil drilling. He fears we will soon see Serco and G4S running large parts of our child protection services like they are planning in the UK. He rightly pointed out that we know Serco have been visiting CYF residences and we know Anne Tolley has met with them. I have been asking parliamentary questions trying to find out what overseas businesses and charities the Minister has been meeting with and she refuses to answer. The first wave of legislation to enable privatisation of our child protection services is going through Parliament at the moment.

The risk is real, and it is a risk to all, but mostly it is to Māori, because more than 60% of children in care are Māori.

Taking indigenous children from their families has always been a tool of colonisation. It is still a tool of colonisation, and now there is money to be made from it too.

I also heard this week that between the 1950s and 1980s, around 100,000 children were taken from their families and put into care, and over half of these children were Māori. Children, like Paora herself, were placed in institutions and many were sexually, physically and emotionally abused. Children were severed from their whakapapa and identity. This practice caused indescribable harm to the children and their whānau. Many of those children now fill our prisons and mental health services.

Māori have lobbied for years to get this practice stopped. Their years of effort resulted in the Puao–te–Ata–tu report which made many recommendations for structural change to turn around the mono-cultural nature and practice of child protection services. Most of those recommendations were not adopted although the CYPF Act provisions to allow Māori to care for their children were. For the Government to remove or dilute these clauses risks repeating history, and is a breach of Te Tiriti and our international obligations to children and indigenous people. This is colonisation in action. As Pakeha, to say we know what is best for Māori whānau is colonial thinking.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child this week slammed the Government for the

“enduring inadequate cultural capability of the State care system, despite recent efforts, which disproportionally impacts Maori families and children, who make up over half of the children in State care.”

Removing or even diluting the requirements to place children with whānau/hapū/iwi will make an already mono-cultural/colonising process worse. I can’t see how Serco will do better for tamariki Māori!

Moana Jackson talked about being “filled with sadness and despair that Māori people are again under attack on an issue at the heart of whakapapa and who we are”.

This is not okay.