ACT’s Karen Chhour on a ‘racist’ Oranga Tamariki policy

Karen Chhour writes:

As Act’s Children’s spokesperson and as someone who grew up in state care, I’m starting by fighting against what I view as racism within Oranga Tamariki.

I know a couple in Auckland who took on the huge responsibility of becoming foster parents. They took in a little girl, who for the sake of this story and to protect her identity, I will call Mary. Mary is part Māori. By the age of 7, Mary been put placed with different family members eight times, only to be removed again.

Mary’s foster parents took her in and loved and cared for her. They believed they would be providing Mary with a home for life, giving her the stability she so desperately needed.

After two years of caring for Mary, they were told they had to prove they had Māori heritage, or she would once again be placed back with her whānau.

Oranga Tamariki claimed that the most important thing for Mary was being raised in a “culturally appropriate environment”.

I’d say the most important thing is to be raised by loving parents.

I was a Māori child in state care. I could have only dreamed of a loving home like the one Mary was placed in.

What I needed was what every child needs. To be loved, cared for, clothed and fed.

I bounced between the system and family for years. I still carry the physical and mental scars from that time. It didn’t matter to me whether the adults I relied on were Pākehā, Māori, Chinese or African. I just wanted to be loved and cared for.

Love is universal.

Mary’s foster parents traced their family tree back far enough that they could find enough of a link to say they were Māori. This twist also shows how bizarre the law is, Mary’s foster parents are the same people, but something that happened centuries before they were born made it okay for them to parent.

Mary still lives with them. She has come out of her shell, she is doing well at school, she has a home for life where she is safe and is thriving. Thank goodness for that branch they found on the family tree, or Mary’s story might have been very different.

So if you have a great great great grandparent who was Maori, then you are ok to foster, but if not, you are not. Madness.

I think cultural knowledge etc should be part of what you look for in placing a child with a foster family, but it shouldn’t be a non-negotiable aspect that over-rides everything else.

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