Well intentioned but harmful

The Herald reports:

Maori Party co-founder Dame Tariana Turia has blasted the Government for “institutional racism” in its proposed reform of child protection laws.

She said a proposal to abolish a principle requiring child protection staff to consider the effects of decisions on whanau and iwi, as well as on the child’s well-being, was “a big step backwards”.

“I am going to speak to MPs, and I am going to speak to various iwi around the country to get them to understand what institutional racism really is, which is what we are experiencing yet again,” she said.

Cabinet papers released by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley last weekrevealed that the Government plans to axe a provision that gives priority to placing abused children with foster parents from the same extended family or tribe.

A new law, which will create a new Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamakiri, would require that any child who was removed from its family and cannot be returned to immediate family “must be placed with a safe, stable and loving family at the earliest opportunity”.

The change would remove a provision in the 1989 Children, Young Persons and their Families Act that gave priority to placing a child with “a person who is a member of the child’s or young person’s hapu or iwi [with preference being given to hapu members], or, if that is not possible, who has the same tribal, racial, ethnic, or cultural background as the child”.

The current law is well intentioned but has been a failure. The Government is being brave in confronting this.

If everything else is equal, of course you would want a child to go into extended family rather than strangers. But this ignores the reality of many families. If a mother and/or father are so dysfunctional that they abuse or neglect their child, then often the wider family has significant issues also. Bad parents do not get created out of nothing. So placing a child with an aunt or a grandparent or a cousin often leads to the child continuing to live in unsafe environments.

Instead, the first principle in the new arrangements for children removed from their parents is that “decisions should be centred around the child or young person’s best interests and understanding the views and needs of the child”.

That is the correct focus. If the best interests of the child is with extended family, then that is great. But there should not be a legislative priority to extended family, when our sad history is this is often from the frying pan to the fire.

Turia’s target is another proposed change axing a principle in the 1989 law that “consideration must always be given to how a decision affecting a child or young person will affect (i) the welfare of that child or young person; and (ii) the stability of that child’s or young person’s family, whanau, hapu, iwi, and family group”.

The Cabinet paper proposes replacing this with a single focus on the child’s well-being, proposing a first principle that “a child or young person have a safe, stable and loving home”.

If we didn’t have 30 years of history and evidence, I’d agree with Turia. But the reality is the current law has failed to make children safe, and the focus must overwhelming be on the safety of the child, not the welfare of the wider family, whanau, hapu or iwi.

Turia said a child’s well-being depended on having a good relationship with its family.

Not when they are the problem.

“The principle is that the well-being of the child primarily lies within the whanau,” she said.

If the parents were not coping, she said the law should continue to prioritise finding foster parents within the wider whanau and iwi.

“I’ll use my own [Whanganui] iwi as an example,” she said. “You can’t tell me that within 8000 people connected by our river, you cannot find someone to care for a child.”

Wrong question. You probably can, but will they be the best person for the child?

In some cases, even many cases they may be. But not in all cases. The welfare of the child must come first, second and third.

Current Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox declined to comment on the proposed changes last week. But after Turia issued her statement today, the other co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell, said children “should be placed with whanau”.

Sadly whanau are often the problem, including the extended family. Listen to the evidence.

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