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LINDSAY MITCHELL: "Oranga Tamariki has lost trust and confidence"

Oranga Tamariki has just released a review of its secure facilities and community homes for youth and children. This followed allegations of inappropriate staff behaviour in June 2023. Shedding light on what drove such an incident:


"In the cases we heard of harmful behaviour, such as allegations about staff providing young people with vapes or other contraband, allowing inappropriate movies or standing by during fights, the prevailing driver was surviving the shift safely."


The report is damning and sad. Staff morale is clearly very low as they struggle with, amongst other challenges, 'review fatigue'. It would seem the only constant in their environment is change.


Like other front line agencies they do not have enough workers. Youth justice facilities should be able to take 171 residents but can only staff 133. Demand is increasing. While overall youth offending is declining, the seriousness is not and the report refers to an "uptick since 2022". Demand is forecast to rise to 225 in 2024.


Just under half of those in secure residences are aged 16-19 and three quarters of the youth justice residence population identify as Māori. Many have mental health challenges.


"...there appears to be a greater proportion of youth crime committed by so-called ‘life-course persistent’ criminals: chronic offenders whose anti-social behaviour is rooted in an early childhood of trauma and abuse, and who offend well into adulthood. This is a group whose offending is more entrenched and at the severe end of the spectrum."


Children and youth of different age cohorts - and reasons for admission - are getting mixed despite the practice being one that "should be avoided at all costs."


Staff are relatively unskilled in respect of the complex resident needs they face. Many are low-skilled and unqualified youth workers. They are "often left to interpret policies or make up processes and standard operating procedures for themselves." Their work environments are "dangerous". Bullying and harassment - which appears to not only flow between staff, but between staff and residents - is relatively common. The staffing structures are overly hierarchical with too much middle-management. The physical residences themselves are "tired" despite having been purpose built in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Some safety issues are created by legislation, for instance, "Because regulation prevents rangatahi from being locked in their rooms at night, children in a wing or dormitory can move between rooms if they want to (or are threatened). Along with blind spots, this creates an environment at high risk for sexual violence, assault, nighttime escapes and grooming in regard to gangs or higher end offending." Lack of radios, poor wi-fi, security camera blind-spots, old-fashioned keys, and smuggled contraband all contributed to increased danger for staff and residents.


All in all the residences feature a lack of leadership, clarity of purpose, transparency, accountability, trust, and fear of retaliation. The report paints a bleak picture.


Oranga Tamariki was established in 2017 and there have been several reviews since: "Taken together, the litany of reviews makes for confronting reading. They paint a picture of poor agency and system performance, sometimes at odds with Oranga Tamariki’s core mission of being child centred in all it does."


The current review is no less confronting. Middle-management are fatigued by the reviews and have lost faith. “Oranga Tamariki only ever reacts”, said one respondent, “and then generally in an ad hoc and panicked fashion.” “There is no time to embed changes”, said another, “because there is never a considered implementation plan, showing how all the pieces fit together.” Front-line staff are described as "overwhelmed by the constant parade of reviewers." One worker describes how the constant change is "... exhausting and, frankly, it's cynicism inducing."


In the last two years all Youth Justice residences have moved to adopt Māori values working in collaboration with Māori academics and Māori practitioners. There does not appear to be any direct criticism of this approach but the reviewers insist, " Ideologies, catch phrases and lists of projects are not a substitute for a properly considered strategy, operating model and outcomes framework for the secure residences and community home portfolio." A comprehensive reset is called for.


The many recommendations all sound energetic and purposeful but are far too numerous to summarise. I am afraid I got weary reading about what the reset would require and found myself sympathising deeply with those who will be tasked with its implementation. Once more into the breech.


Perhaps though this singular list of failure is just one of many that a new government will have to confront. In the following summation 'Oranga Tamariki' could reasonably be substituted with other public agency names:


"...Oranga Tamariki has lost trust and confidence: the trust of many in the community, of other agencies, of its tamariki and rangatahi, and in some cases, of its own staff."



Lindsay Mitchell blogs here

2,110 views105 comments

105 Comments


Andy Espersen
Andy Espersen
Sep 22, 2023

The latest reviewers of Oranga Tamariki are pretty blunt in their assessment of that organisation. They clearly point out that ".........all Youth Justice residences have moved to adopt Maori values in collaboration with Maori academics and Maori practitioners (what is a 'Maori practitioner'!?!?).


That very obviously shows that Oranga Tamariki is racist - in as much as they prioritise one of New Zealand's many races before others. But the reviewers dare not openly say so.


I hate racism - which is why I always admired The Treaty of Waitangi - which set New Zealand apart from all other colonies ever in the thousands of years' history of human colonisation.


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I trust you mean the original Treaty Form. NOT THE RE MODIFIED X 50 version

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Young people in State care are not all Maori and should not be treated as such.

After complalining 45 years ago about "Children' s Homes" where the young were being kept in solitary confinement in winter 23 hours a day without underclothes, it seems no better. The MInister then resigned but review after review finds abuse and lack of care, Such instirutions are the way to permanent lifers through adaptation to institutional life. Former prisoners can seek to return to a life they know.


Young naturally esacpe and assist each other. They have to commit minor crimes to exist and so get back into the system. This also applies to those who are placed with "foster parents" they frequently find…


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It’s not always the CHILD. Most if not all of the blame can be laI’d at the parents feet. And Most of these parents have been dragged up by parents that were dragged up. An Endless cycle IT All started by dishing out the Benefit $$$ to one and all. So it became open slander on claiming the benefit

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Max Ritchie
Max Ritchie
Sep 22, 2023

I hope this is read by someone in the National party. These are the young crims destined for boot camp. The Army is not equipped or staffed or funded for its proper role, let alone this new one. Boot camps is a dopey idea and it certainly should not be thrust onto our Army.

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True the army would need some extra special people. And extra security with weapons. But the hard graft would soon sort the Tossers out

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Len Lind
Len Lind
Sep 22, 2023

Reminds me of African tribal teachings with child soldiers fighting, for what ? Supremacy, land ? wealth ? Power?

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With regards to regaining an acceptable discipline among our misguided youth for the infusion of a discipline that meant that all us citizens could feel safe no matter the time of day or whether we be alone or in a group or what ever, then there definitely needs to be a systematic method of correction for those who have a record of striking terror, grief and serious bodily harm to others.


Given that these miscreants have no outside mental short comings and therefore should know better, then those in the appropriate institutions of the authority who are responsible for the reeducation and corrective measures probably need to sit down with the authors of the latest report and together come up…


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Very true most Asian country’s have far tougher laws No Soft Touch Judges and prisons that are Prisons not home away from home Also they don’t have StoneAge tribal people to contend with

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