Hundreds of newborns taken from mothers over last three years

The number of babies taken into Government care within their first month has increased over the last three years. (File photo)
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The number of babies taken into Government care within their first month has increased over the last three years. (File photo)

The number of newborn babies being taken away from their mothers into government care is leaping, new figures show.

Over the last three years, 574 babies ended up in Government care within the first month of their life, according to figures released under the Official Information Act.

Forty five of these were taken from their mum the day they were born.

Child protection agency Oranga Tamariki said some of the babies would have been taken for planned adoption rather than protection reasons and taking any child away was a last resort.

Yet a social worker says many of the uplifts are harmful and unnecessary.

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The number has climbed over the last three years, with 225 in 2017 - 38 more than 2016 and 63 more than 2015.

Paora Moyle, a social worker of 20 years, now working on a PhD around state care, said more children are being uplifted from their family than ever before.

The practice was doing more harm than good for the babies, Moyle said.

Moyle, who used to work for Oranga Tamariki - then known as Child Youth and Family - said caregivers aren't always screened and social workers are over-worked and under-resourced.

"We are uplifting at a rate that we can not find placement for," Moyle said. "When you do that you put children at risk. So we either put them in a risky situation at home if they are older kids or we put them with caregivers who have not been screened."

More than half of these newborns are uplifted from young Māori mothers, Moyle said.

"You've got institutional racism rife.

"I know what it is to grow up in state care and be taken from my whanau. I spent 14 years in state care. I've seen it all. The same practice was happening then is the same practice that is happening now."

A large proportion of eventual prisoners come from a state care background, she said.

"There are more children harmed going into state care than there are being saved.

"It's not good enough."

In 2017, Auckland had the most cases at 79, while Te Tai Tokerau had the least at nine.

Midlands region, including the Waikato, saw 37 cases in 2017.

Oranga Tamariki chief social worker Paul Nixon said in a statement that planned adoptions were behind some uplifts.

And when the uplift was due to safety concerns, taking any child away was a last resort.

"A newborn may be taken into care due to care and protection concerns. In the case of newborns, assessments may have begun before a baby is born if concerns are evident at that time."

Oranga Tamariki were unable to provide data on how many babies were taken into Government care due to drug-related concerns.

Other family members are the first point of call, Nixon said.

"In some cases, the right support can help a parent/caregiver bridge that gap so they can safely care for their child again."

The ratio of caregivers to babies is a problem, educational psychologist Dr Kathyrn Berkett said.

Berkett, who trains agencies working with children in care, said Government caregivers often deal with about four children at one time. Outcomes of newborns in care can be good, providing the baby has a caregiver aware of it's needs, Berkett said.

"It's not that someone has to be paid to look after kids, it's not that they have to be family, that doesn't matter. What matters is can they attune and [whether] they have them for long enough.

"A lot of our care givers in government care move through quickly.

"[Newborns] can't tell you that they're hungry, they can't tell you that they're tired. The absolutely only way they can get their needs met is if somebody recognises their needs and appropriately responds."

But every baby is different and without consistent caregivers able to recognise their needs, social and cognitive development is compromised.

"It's not a judgement on those people doing the care.

"To think of even possibly being able to do that at a four to one ratio ... when we've got higher numbers, I don't care how good that person is - you can't attune to [four] newborns."