Oranga Tamariki decision to be appealed by birth mother

The deputy head of Oranga Tamariki, Hoani Lambert believes the call for no children requiring being uplifted should be supported. (Video first published in October 2020)

The birth mother of a young Māori girl in the care of Pākehā foster parents is going to appeal a judge’s decision that the girl should stay with the foster parents.

Family Court judge Peter Callinicos on Thursday dismissed an application by Oranga Tamariki/Ministry for Children to have the girl removed and placed with a Māori family. The Ministry did not believe the couple could meet her cultural needs.

The case concerns a 6-year-old girl, who for nearly three years has been living with the couple in rural Hawke’s Bay.

Judge Callinicos said “Moana” would benefit from the couple’s “love, stability, care and competence in parenting”, while also able to benefit from having shared guardianship with the girl’s birth mother and a Māori whānau in Wellington that could provide strong and competent links to whakapapa and whānaungatanga (kinship) for several weeks a year.

* Complaint laid over actions of senior judges in Oranga Tamariki case
* Judge lauded for rebuking his seniors in Oranga Tamariki case
* Judge in Oranga Tamariki case rebukes senior judges over intervention
* Oranga Tamariki wants girl removed from couple after three years because it says her cultural needs are unmet

Lawyer for the girl’s mother, Janet Mason, said she had been instructed to file an appeal with the High Court.

Mason said it was inappropriate for her to make any further comment on the matter.

Judge Callinicos’ 145-page decision included stark criticism of Oranga Tamariki, its chief executive Chappie Te Kani, and several staff.

Lawyer for the birth mother of ‘Moana’, Janet Mason, is going to file an appeal. (File photo)
Lawyer for the birth mother of ‘Moana’, Janet Mason, is going to file an appeal. (File photo)

The judge was particularly scathing of Oranga Tamariki staff members’ failure to appreciate the need for honesty and accuracy when compiling statutory reports.

Te Kani said he acknowledged the decision and would take time to consider the findings.

“It is important to acknowledge that the work my frontline staff undertake is complex. It is challenging and every situation presents its own set of unique circumstances,” he said.

“This situation is particularly sensitive and we’re constantly reviewing how we conduct our work. We will always own our actions, fix any mistakes and take the lessons to be learned so as to improve the mahi we do.

“Our priority is and will continue to be going forward, ensuring the wellbeing of the child at the centre of this case.”

Earlier on Friday Ngāti Kahungunu leader Ngahiwi Tomoana said Māori children must be with Māori caregivers and he would support an appeal.

The head of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi, Ngahiwi Tomoana, who had supported the Ministry’s application, believed the decision should be appealed.

“The days that judges can tell us we’re not good enough any more are over. This is just another case of other people thinking they know what’s best for Māori,” Tomoana said.

“If this was to become the norm, then it’s just another traffic flow of tamariki out of our care, and I wouldn’t like to see it be the norm.”

Keeping tamariki within iwi was critical because “it’s part of the kin-based matrix of support from the cradle to the grave and if you break that it will never be stitched up”.

“If the state was giving Pākehā children to Māori families there’d be a hell of a hue and cry about it,” he said.

Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos ruled that a young Māori girl should remain with her Pākehā foster parents.
John Cowpland/Stuff
Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos ruled that a young Māori girl should remain with her Pākehā foster parents.

“We have institutional capacity. We have institutional knowledge. We have intimate knowledge of our whānau and hapū now. All we need is a sharing of resources and data so we can effectively deal with and for our people. We’d be saving government heaps of money, heaps of time, and heaps of resources and headaches,” he said.

Tomoana said he had no criticism of the foster parents, “and I’m not knocking the love and support and everything else they have provided”.

“But ultimately we see failures when people come out of that system. When they hit the age of 16-plus and they come searching for their parents and their culture, they’re in a hell of a mess. It’s the long-term effects that are traumatic,” he said.

Tomoana said there was no shortage of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi members willing to be caregivers.

“Since the attempted uplift at the hospital in Hastings we went out to parents and families to see who would care for children and their parents and we got an overwhelming response.

“There should be no reason from now on for a Māori child not going to Māori whānau.”

The judge, in his decision, said he recognised and respected Tomoana’s views, but he had to make a decision based on legislation and principles that required him to take a holistic approach.