A neighbour who saw the recent uplift of children from their home in Gisborne says she will never forget the babies’ cries, screams of “no”, and wailing from whanau as their tamariki were taken away.
The baby was still being breastfed.
Those who know the family say it did not deserve to happen to them.
Advocates helping the family say they are “very concerned” at the way the uplift was conducted. They say the children have been traumatised.
The neighbour across the road said the uplift happened about 8.20pm on a cold night.
“It was very dark outside. I went outside to see what was going on because of the screams of ‘no’ and crying and wailing.
“I noticed a number of people on the front lawn huddled in a group. I went back inside because I assumed it was a death, judging from the police cars and wailing.
“I didn’t know it was an uplift until my neighbour confirmed it was Oranga Tamariki who took her babies.
Advocates Kathyanne Pedersen and Tuta Ngarimu, and five other Tairawhiti residents, are concerned enough with this event, and several others that have come to their attention, they have formed an advocacy group called Whanau Tautoko Tairawhiti.
They want to support the whanau of children who have been uplifted and whanau who look after children following uplifts.
Among the volunteers in the group are Hayden and Pat (not their real names), a young married couple in their 30s, with three children.
Early last year over a period of a few months they became caregivers for their six nieces and nephews placed with them by Oranga Tamariki.
Their three-bedroom home has to accommodate them, the nine children and Pat’s mother, who lives with them now to help out. They have a seven-seater vehicle.
Five children are in one room, a teenage boy has a room to himself and the rest of the children and grandmother are in the lounge.
The children were uplifted by police and Oranga Tamariki during school and kindergarten hours.
Delay after delay in help for whanauThe couple have cared for their extended family now for more than a year.
They said the children arrived at their home traumatised. They showed signs of depression. One of the young girls sat in the corner and banged her head on a plank of wood. There were lots of emotions, and anxiety. One of the young boys began to soil himself; another became very violent. They said none of these behaviours had happened before.
They asked Oranga Tamariki for counselling for the children in February last year. Eight months later counselling became available. By then Hayden and Pat had taken matters into their own hands and organised their own counselling through the Hauora Tairawhiti mental health service Te Kuwatawata in Peel Street.
They say the children are now more settled.
“They are not the same kids now, but it took so much, and we had to learn as we went. If we’d had more resources and support from Oranga Tamariki it would have really helped,” said Pat.
They also asked Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand, for help finding a bigger house. They had teenagers coming up, young women, who needed to have their own room, they said.
Housing New Zealand found them a home but Oranga Tamariki stepped in and said the house was needed for “youth justice”. They say the house still sits empty today.
“We were always made to feel like we were asking for too much. We asked for blankets when we first got our nieces and nephews last year. We are still waiting for them,” said Pat.
They also asked for help for a bigger vehicle. Oranga Tamariki suggested the couple lease a van and said the agency would pay for it for three months. Then it would be reviewed.
The family were concerned they’d be left paying the monthly fee, setting them up for four years of debt, working out to be around $48,000.
Although they tried to support everyone on Hayden’s pay in the first three months, and with help from the grandfather, they finally had to ask for help. Pat had to send proof to Oranga Tamariki they had no money, which she did — a picture of her bank account records showed a balance of just $18. They received a $400 food voucher. Their grocery bill is $1000 a week.
Oranga Tamariki have a “start up” payment of $350 per caregiver, that can be given out by the agency whenever a child has been uplifted.
But it is a one-off payment, and does not take into account the number of children involved. Pat and Hayden did not even know about it until their advocates told them, 19 months after the children came to them.
They have been paying for school fees, uniforms and stationery for all nine children. Hayden was working 100 hours a week, and took up driving taxis at the weekend to make ends meet.
Their advocates pointed out that the children were under Oranga Tamariki care and as such things like school costs, including uniforms, should be reimbursed. Oranga Tamariki did not notice the oversight until the issue was raised in an advocacy meeting for the whanau.
Advocate Kathyanne Pedersen said after 70-plus years of the Government removing children from their families, they still have not got even the basic processes for fully supporting these most vulnerable children right.
“We’re in a new century loaded with new technology, but still experiencing last century’s issues of removing children from their whole world and placing them in places where they have nothing, for a long time. Nineteen months is a very long time to sleep on a couch.
Mrs Pedersen said the lack of support resources for the children and the families they were being placed with generated more trauma to more children, “and so the cycle continues”.
“We are supposed to be child-centred,” she said. “Show us where the child-centred practices start before, during and after uplift.”
No one was saying there wasn’t a need for some children to be taken into care — “there absolutely is a need for some to be removed for their protection”.
But it could all be done better, she said, “if we had systems and processes in place, that recognises the mana of the children from the get-go and all the way through their journey with Oranga Tamariki”.
“Because it’s a really lengthy journey for the children once they are uplifted.
“It really feels like the system has been set up for these parents (whanau placement parents) and children to fail when you’re in it and struggling all by yourselves,” Pat said.
“Our marriage was under pressure. If it wasn’t for the support of Tuta and Kathyanne we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Mr Ngarimu organised for Hayden and Pat to share their story on Te Karere, which was broadcast last week.
Within minutes of it going to air, the family had been promised a 12-seater van by Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand is exploring options of a six-bedroom home for them.