Karen Chhour’s maiden speech

Too many maiden speeches for me to cover them all, but Karen Chhour’s stood out, as she has first hand experience of the child welfare system.

This is when a worker told me, “I’m sorry, none of your family wants you.” I asked whether I could go back to my grandmother and was told, “Your grandmother can’t take you again—it’s too hard for her.” I spent years resenting my grandmother for this, and it was only when I got older that I found out she had begged social services to have me, only to be told she was too old. Can you imagine being a child and hearing from a social worker that nobody—not even your family—wants you? I have lived with these words my whole life.

Beyond awful.

 It is high time the Government stopped the lip service and did something that actually helps the people that need it the most. Governments past and present have spent years avoiding making any real meaningful decisions, but at least we can now say we’ve had an inquiry into abuse in State care.

The royal commission report is a good thing. It brings some closure to the victims and I am grateful that these people have been given the opportunity to speak up and finally have a voice. But does this report really tell us anything we did not already know? Now we need more than just words. Apologies only go so far and cannot be taken seriously when what we apologise for is still happening.

I stand here today not only as a survivor of abuse as a child but a survivor of our system’s abuse. It is time we said what needs to be said: enough is enough and we won’t tolerate it any more. We must focus on our most vulnerable, our children. Parents are grownups. They can make their own choices and decisions. Our children don’t have the ability to make big choices yet, and they shouldn’t need to. They deserve our guidance and protection.

ACT thinks this can’t really take place while there’s such a focus on race and culture in an organisation delivering that protection. As I recently said, when Grainne Moss stood down as Oranga Tamariki chief executive, ethnicity and culture should not be how we decide what’s in the best interest of our children. Oranga Tamariki should be colour-blind and open to whatever will ensure a child’s wellbeing and safety. It is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and having legislation that tries to make it that way doesn’t work for our children.

Incidentally Karen is Maori.

If that means placing a vulnerable child into a home of a family who desperately want to love and care for them, rather than doing everything possible to place their child back into a family that made them vulnerable in the first place, then that should be the solution. As someone who has experienced three elements of placement—non-family who wanted me, family who didn’t, an extended family who did—I can tell you, as a young person you’ll take love, compassion, stability wherever you can find it. 

Sadly if the immediate family is dysfunctional, the wider family often is also.

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