Uplift trauma

Advocacy group to help families.

Advocacy group to help families.

Pixabay file picture

A neighbour who saw the recent uplift of children from their home in Gisborne says she will never forget the babies’ cries, screams of “no”, and wailing from whanau as their tamariki were taken away.

The baby was still being breastfed.

Those who know the family say it did not deserve to happen to them.

Advocates helping the family say they are “very concerned” at the way the uplift was conducted. They say the children have been traumatised.

The neighbour across the road said the uplift happened about 8.20pm on a cold night.

“It was very dark outside. I went outside to see what was going on because of the screams of ‘no’ and crying and wailing.

“I noticed a number of people on the front lawn huddled in a group. I went back inside because I assumed it was a death, judging from the police cars and wailing.

“I didn’t know it was an uplift until my neighbour confirmed it was Oranga Tamariki who took her babies.

Advocates Kathyanne Pedersen and Tuta Ngarimu, and five other Tairawhiti residents, are concerned enough with this event, and several others that have come to their attention, they have formed an advocacy group called Whanau Tautoko Tairawhiti.

They want to support the whanau of children who have been uplifted and whanau who look after children following uplifts.

Among the volunteers in the group are Hayden and Pat (not their real names), a young married couple in their 30s, with three children.

Early last year over a period of a few months they became caregivers for their six nieces and nephews placed with them by Oranga Tamariki.

Their three-bedroom home has to accommodate them, the nine children and Pat’s mother, who lives with them now to help out. They have a seven-seater vehicle.

Five children are in one room, a teenage boy has a room to himself and the rest of the children and grandmother are in the lounge.

The children were uplifted by police and Oranga Tamariki during school and kindergarten hours.

Delay after delay in help for whanau

The couple have cared for their extended family now for more than a year.

They said the children arrived at their home traumatised. They showed signs of depression. One of the young girls sat in the corner and banged her head on a plank of wood. There were lots of emotions, and anxiety. One of the young boys began to soil himself; another became very violent. They said none of these behaviours had happened before.

They asked Oranga Tamariki for counselling for the children in February last year. Eight months later counselling became available. By then Hayden and Pat had taken matters into their own hands and organised their own counselling through the Hauora Tairawhiti mental health service Te Kuwatawata in Peel Street.

They say the children are now more settled.

“They are not the same kids now, but it took so much, and we had to learn as we went. If we’d had more resources and support from Oranga Tamariki it would have really helped,” said Pat.

They also asked Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand, for help finding a bigger house. They had teenagers coming up, young women, who needed to have their own room, they said.

Housing New Zealand found them a home but Oranga Tamariki stepped in and said the house was needed for “youth justice”. They say the house still sits empty today.

“We were always made to feel like we were asking for too much. We asked for blankets when we first got our nieces and nephews last year. We are still waiting for them,” said Pat.

They also asked for help for a bigger vehicle. Oranga Tamariki suggested the couple lease a van and said the agency would pay for it for three months. Then it would be reviewed.

The family were concerned they’d be left paying the monthly fee, setting them up for four years of debt, working out to be around $48,000.

Although they tried to support everyone on Hayden’s pay in the first three months, and with help from the grandfather, they finally had to ask for help. Pat had to send proof to Oranga Tamariki they had no money, which she did — a picture of her bank account records showed a balance of just $18. They received a $400 food voucher. Their grocery bill is $1000 a week.

Oranga Tamariki have a “start up” payment of $350 per caregiver, that can be given out by the agency whenever a child has been uplifted.

But it is a one-off payment, and does not take into account the number of children involved. Pat and Hayden did not even know about it until their advocates told them, 19 months after the children came to them.

They have been paying for school fees, uniforms and stationery for all nine children. Hayden was working 100 hours a week, and took up driving taxis at the weekend to make ends meet.

Their advocates pointed out that the children were under Oranga Tamariki care and as such things like school costs, including uniforms, should be reimbursed. Oranga Tamariki did not notice the oversight until the issue was raised in an advocacy meeting for the whanau.

Advocate Kathyanne Pedersen said after 70-plus years of the Government removing children from their families, they still have not got even the basic processes for fully supporting these most vulnerable children right.

“We’re in a new century loaded with new technology, but still experiencing last century’s issues of removing children from their whole world and placing them in places where they have nothing, for a long time. Nineteen months is a very long time to sleep on a couch.

Mrs Pedersen said the lack of support resources for the children and the families they were being placed with generated more trauma to more children, “and so the cycle continues”.

“We are supposed to be child-centred,” she said. “Show us where the child-centred practices start before, during and after uplift.”

No one was saying there wasn’t a need for some children to be taken into care — “there absolutely is a need for some to be removed for their protection”.

But it could all be done better, she said, “if we had systems and processes in place, that recognises the mana of the children from the get-go and all the way through their journey with Oranga Tamariki”.

“Because it’s a really lengthy journey for the children once they are uplifted.

“It really feels like the system has been set up for these parents (whanau placement parents) and children to fail when you’re in it and struggling all by yourselves,” Pat said.

“Our marriage was under pressure. If it wasn’t for the support of Tuta and Kathyanne we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Mr Ngarimu organised for Hayden and Pat to share their story on Te Karere, which was broadcast last week.

Within minutes of it going to air, the family had been promised a 12-seater van by Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand is exploring options of a six-bedroom home for them.

A neighbour who saw the recent uplift of children from their home in Gisborne says she will never forget the babies’ cries, screams of “no”, and wailing from whanau as their tamariki were taken away.

The baby was still being breastfed.

Those who know the family say it did not deserve to happen to them.

Advocates helping the family say they are “very concerned” at the way the uplift was conducted. They say the children have been traumatised.

The neighbour across the road said the uplift happened about 8.20pm on a cold night.

“It was very dark outside. I went outside to see what was going on because of the screams of ‘no’ and crying and wailing.

“I noticed a number of people on the front lawn huddled in a group. I went back inside because I assumed it was a death, judging from the police cars and wailing.

“I didn’t know it was an uplift until my neighbour confirmed it was Oranga Tamariki who took her babies.

Advocates Kathyanne Pedersen and Tuta Ngarimu, and five other Tairawhiti residents, are concerned enough with this event, and several others that have come to their attention, they have formed an advocacy group called Whanau Tautoko Tairawhiti.

They want to support the whanau of children who have been uplifted and whanau who look after children following uplifts.

Among the volunteers in the group are Hayden and Pat (not their real names), a young married couple in their 30s, with three children.

Early last year over a period of a few months they became caregivers for their six nieces and nephews placed with them by Oranga Tamariki.

Their three-bedroom home has to accommodate them, the nine children and Pat’s mother, who lives with them now to help out. They have a seven-seater vehicle.

Five children are in one room, a teenage boy has a room to himself and the rest of the children and grandmother are in the lounge.

The children were uplifted by police and Oranga Tamariki during school and kindergarten hours.

Delay after delay in help for whanau

The couple have cared for their extended family now for more than a year.

They said the children arrived at their home traumatised. They showed signs of depression. One of the young girls sat in the corner and banged her head on a plank of wood. There were lots of emotions, and anxiety. One of the young boys began to soil himself; another became very violent. They said none of these behaviours had happened before.

They asked Oranga Tamariki for counselling for the children in February last year. Eight months later counselling became available. By then Hayden and Pat had taken matters into their own hands and organised their own counselling through the Hauora Tairawhiti mental health service Te Kuwatawata in Peel Street.

They say the children are now more settled.

“They are not the same kids now, but it took so much, and we had to learn as we went. If we’d had more resources and support from Oranga Tamariki it would have really helped,” said Pat.

They also asked Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand, for help finding a bigger house. They had teenagers coming up, young women, who needed to have their own room, they said.

Housing New Zealand found them a home but Oranga Tamariki stepped in and said the house was needed for “youth justice”. They say the house still sits empty today.

“We were always made to feel like we were asking for too much. We asked for blankets when we first got our nieces and nephews last year. We are still waiting for them,” said Pat.

They also asked for help for a bigger vehicle. Oranga Tamariki suggested the couple lease a van and said the agency would pay for it for three months. Then it would be reviewed.

The family were concerned they’d be left paying the monthly fee, setting them up for four years of debt, working out to be around $48,000.

Although they tried to support everyone on Hayden’s pay in the first three months, and with help from the grandfather, they finally had to ask for help. Pat had to send proof to Oranga Tamariki they had no money, which she did — a picture of her bank account records showed a balance of just $18. They received a $400 food voucher. Their grocery bill is $1000 a week.

Oranga Tamariki have a “start up” payment of $350 per caregiver, that can be given out by the agency whenever a child has been uplifted.

But it is a one-off payment, and does not take into account the number of children involved. Pat and Hayden did not even know about it until their advocates told them, 19 months after the children came to them.

They have been paying for school fees, uniforms and stationery for all nine children. Hayden was working 100 hours a week, and took up driving taxis at the weekend to make ends meet.

Their advocates pointed out that the children were under Oranga Tamariki care and as such things like school costs, including uniforms, should be reimbursed. Oranga Tamariki did not notice the oversight until the issue was raised in an advocacy meeting for the whanau.

Advocate Kathyanne Pedersen said after 70-plus years of the Government removing children from their families, they still have not got even the basic processes for fully supporting these most vulnerable children right.

“We’re in a new century loaded with new technology, but still experiencing last century’s issues of removing children from their whole world and placing them in places where they have nothing, for a long time. Nineteen months is a very long time to sleep on a couch.

Mrs Pedersen said the lack of support resources for the children and the families they were being placed with generated more trauma to more children, “and so the cycle continues”.

“We are supposed to be child-centred,” she said. “Show us where the child-centred practices start before, during and after uplift.”

No one was saying there wasn’t a need for some children to be taken into care — “there absolutely is a need for some to be removed for their protection”.

But it could all be done better, she said, “if we had systems and processes in place, that recognises the mana of the children from the get-go and all the way through their journey with Oranga Tamariki”.

“Because it’s a really lengthy journey for the children once they are uplifted.

“It really feels like the system has been set up for these parents (whanau placement parents) and children to fail when you’re in it and struggling all by yourselves,” Pat said.

“Our marriage was under pressure. If it wasn’t for the support of Tuta and Kathyanne we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Mr Ngarimu organised for Hayden and Pat to share their story on Te Karere, which was broadcast last week.

Within minutes of it going to air, the family had been promised a 12-seater van by Oranga Tamariki, and Housing New Zealand is exploring options of a six-bedroom home for them.

Oranga Tamariki responds

‘Absolute obligation’ to child’s wellbeing

Oranga Tamariki Wellington and East Coast regional manager Te Pare Meihana said Oranga Tamariki’s role was to keep children and young people safe.

“An order to bring a child or young person into our care is always made by a Family Court Judge, and only after all other options have been exhausted. Our aim is also to work closely with whanau, hapu and iwi to create safety so the child does not need to be in the care of Oranga Tamariki.

“Children are removed from their parents because there are serious safety concerns, such as issues around family violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and addiction.

“We understand it’s a difficult and emotional situation for families but under the law we have an absolute obligation to the child and their wellbeing.”

Ms Meihana disputed some of the claims.

“We have not been asked for blankets by the family and we have not received an official complaint about the uplift, via our official complaints process.

“We acknowledge the family for taking six children into its care. Oranga Tamariki is committed to seeing children in care placed with wider family, such as in this case.

“Although we can’t go into specifics about this family because they don’t consent to a privacy waiver, we are working hard to support their needs.”

As such, the family receives a non-taxable foster care allowance to cover the everyday care costs of having children in their home, such as food, household costs, general transport and all the other opportunities and experiences they will give them as part of their family.

They also receive money to cover school costs, after school care, holiday programmes and camps. Any money already spent by them can be reimbursed.

They would also receive a leased van (due to arrive shortly).

She also pointed out it was standard practice to review a lease every three months to ensure the best use of public money but added if the children remained with the family in the future, Oranga Tamariki would continue to fund the van.

Figures provided by Oranga Tamariki to the Gisborne Herald show children in Gisborne accounted for 27 percent of all instances of children being taken into the care of Oranga Tamariki across the East Coast region up to the end of March.

For the financial year to date 55 children from Gisborne were taken into care, out of a total of 201 across the wider region.

Last year 41 Gisborne children were taken into care over the full financial year, out of a total of 289, across the East Coast region.

The previous year, 44 Gisborne children were taken into care, across a regional total of 259.

“The East Coast is an area that while rich and diverse also faces several challenges, including poverty, a high level of gang affiliation, family violence and drug addiction.

“Because of this, Oranga Tamariki receives a higher number of ‘Reports of Concern’ from the East Coast region compared to many other parts of the country,” Ms Meihana said.

“For example, there were more than 10,000 Reports of Concern in Wellington/East Coast for individual children in the year ending June 2018. That is more than 15 percent of the national total for individual children.

“In the same year, 822 children in Gisborne came to our attention because of family violence.

“Any increase in children coming into care often indicates families and communities are facing significant challenges.

“While the Ministry’s role is to protect children rather than change social ills, we are focused on improving the outlook for children and young people by working closely with families, communities and iwi.”

New National Care Standards which came into force on July 1 this year meant that for the first time, New Zealand’s state care system has explicit legal standards around the experience children in care can expect to have and the support that those looking after children can expect to receive.

“Lifting the standards of care for our children is being funded by an extra $524 million over the next four years,” Ms Meihana said.

“As part of this transformation, $70 million will go towards better meeting the needs of the individual children in care by looking at all their needs and putting plans for this in place.

“This will ensure children receive the help they need to do well at school, be healthy and connect within their communities. Resources like toys, books, laptops, sports equipment and specialist health services, as well as opportunities to participate in community and cultural events, will be supported.”

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