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LINDSAY MITCHELL: Oranga Tamariki behind the scenes

Another baby known to Oranga Tamariki has died. It is bad enough that a life is lost when it has barely begun. But it is worse when there were opportunities to intervene not taken.


Oranga Tamariki is very preoccupied with process. Perhaps dangerously preoccupied.


They are currently immersed in changing their Practice Approach which involves moving from viewing practice through a western lens to a Māori lens. According to Oranga Tamariki the purpose of the new Practice Approach is to move from "Privileging tauiwi beliefs, values and knowledge (ongoing colonialisation)" to "Preferencing Te Ao Māori beliefs, values and knowledge."


Social workers also describe the approach as shifting from "a risk-focused approach to a more holistic, whānau centred one."


In plain English, babies are not removed; families are worked with. This may be a successful approach in some cases. In others, it might fail. The risk to the dead 10-month-old was not assessed well enough to save his life.


Oranga Tamariki workers are being schooled in the new Practice Approach with a variety of "tools, models and resources" depicted in the following diagram:




All of this new ‘knowledge’ must be propagated and absorbed against a background of a severely overworked workforce. There aren’t enough social workers and the need for them is escalating. Only two days ago a “leading family violence crisis agency” told the NZ Herald that the violence being reported to them was at an “all-time high.” Police statistics for assaults on children bear this out. Serious assaults on under 15 year-olds which resulted in injury increased by 46 percent in the five years to 2023.


Meanwhile Oranga Tamariki have been evaluating their new Practice Approach. While around two thirds of staff were positive there was also resistance including, “Worry that the changes could compromise their management of risk and safety for tamariki and rangatahi.”


Moreover, 59 percent did not respond to the Practice Approach Survey and the following insight indicates a degree of pressure to conform might be operating:


At one site supervisors and practice leads have implemented several practices to support the Practice Approach. For example, they have implemented karakia, waiata, kiwaha, and ko wai au in the morning meetings. They now go around the room and ask social workers what they have done in their work that week to reflect Ngakau whakairo and give examples.


Surely qualified social workers are itching to be out working at the coalface – not sitting around talking about it?


As well as risks to children there are workforce risks - present and future - to consider.


For instance, individuals wanting to work in the field of child protection will be dissuaded by this nebulous, navel-gazing, mumbo-jumbo called Practice Approach. Being best buddies with the whanau may appeal to some character types – and may even achieve the best results with some families – but ultimately, Oranga Tamariki is there to protect the safety, the very lives, of children and young people.


Doubtless many who are employed by the organisation understand and respect that function, but the ideology “framed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi” being gradually imposed upon them will probably undermine their ability and desire to continue.


Yes, the formalised Practice Approach has only been operating since 2022 but the “by Māori, for Māori” ethos has been around for many years now.


How long should it be given to prove it does or doesn’t protect children from abuse or worse? And will we count the answer in time or lives?



Lindsay Mitchell blogs here



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220 Comments


This is simply appalling. At the heart of OT's supposed reason for being is the health and well being of children, not just Maori children. This nonsense has crept into all government agencies; educational institutions and models of practice throughout. It must be stopped. It is economically irrelevant and costly; it is preventing best practice across the board and simply is preventing positive outcomes. I spent 50 years in education and cannot understand why this ideology has permeated every government agency to the point of being vomit making. Nothing gets addressed and meetings are spent wandering through misinformed, detrimental and nauseating so called culturally responsive twaddle. Please stop this and get back to best practice based on outcomes and unbiased…

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None of that practice method considers cultures other than Maori culture.


There are some highly paid leaders in that organisation. Why can't they see that a singular approach to anything is always going to fail someone?


The safety of the child is imperative number 1.

Only after that child is safe can OT begin considering that child's future.


If that future is with their wider family, so be it. But there must be standards. In employment, not on drugs, no recent history with police, corrections, OT, KO.


Start with that

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Thank you very much for talking common sense. Our babies are our future, and over the years organizations like Plunket were there to give guidance and support to young mothers. I for one with no family where we lived and no experience with little babies was ever so grateful for the Plunket nurses guidance and help.

I do not understand how and why the present organization established to help, has to have a karakia before work commences with the very people who should be out helping young Mums and Dads to be good capable parents. It is not that long ago we had baby fantasizing in NZ as boy babies were needed for warriors and little female babies were not…

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I wonder if they ever have to deal with the children of evil white 'colonisers' , or do they just not matter?

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