'Pay up to keep kids in iwi care'

Maori leaders have been told to make a stand and pay up for child abuse.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett delivered her blunt message to a closed-door meeting of iwi leaders last week.

They were told to "face up" to child abuse by identifying mothers who let "mongrel men" into their homes, and to stump up with their own funding so abused children could be placed in iwi instead of state care.

Bennett presented the leaders with their own lists of shame - the numbers of abused children from each of their iwi who were currently in state care.

"You know who they are. I need you as respected leaders to go back to hapu, iwi and whanau and say it's time to face up to this. It's time to face up to the fact that Maori children and babies are being beaten, abused and killed.

"It's time it stopped," she said.

About a quarter of all children were Maori, yet they made up half of the substantiated abuse cases and family violence deaths.

Bennett said effort had to go into finding children before they were abused, by identifying mothers with low self- esteem who let "mongrel men" into homes as they searched for "some warped kind of love".

She challenged the Iwi Leaders Forum in Hopuhopu, near Ngaruawahia, to "put your hands in your own pockets" to help find families who could take on children from within their own iwi "because the government doesn't have the money for it right now, quite frankly".

But Ngati Kahu chairwoman Professor Margaret Mutu said what Bennett was saying was nothing new, and although the leaders would always support measures to ensure children remained within their own whanau, the suggestion iwi provide funding and resources was ridiculous.

"We can't. We don't have them. It's a state responsibility. We know how bad it is, we know the helplessness and hopelessness of it, and that we are the only ones who can save ourselves. But we also need resources and the support of the state to do that."

Bennett said some of the leaders were uncomfortable with her address but others were supportive.

"I was saying if we really are in this together, and those are your children, you can't just expect the state to pay for everything."

She proposed a partnership with iwi under which Child Youth and Family "whanau finders" could help iwi identify families who could be called on when a child needed a new home, rather than see them placed in state care.

Bennett told the leaders there were 2227 Maori children in state care. About half of those under five were placed within their own iwi, but she believed work was needed to ensure more found permanent homes within their iwi.