Thursday, April 25, 2024

Is Oranga Tamariki guilty of child neglect?

One of reasons Oranga Tamariki exists is to prevent child neglect. But could the organisation itself be guilty of the same?

Oranga Tamariki’s statistics show a decrease in the number and age of children in care.

“There are less children in care now than as at 30 June 2019 when there were 6450 children and young people in care and protection custody and 140 in youth justice custody, a total of 6590 children in care. As at 30 June 2023 there were 4317 children and young people in care and protection custody and 162 in youth justice custody, a total of 4479 children in care.”

That’s a big drop of almost a third. Of particular interest though:

“… recent changes in practice …  have seen a decline of the number of children being brought into care, particularly in the under 5 years age range …”[i]

On the face of it this sounds positive. But not one to take anything at face value, I want to know what it actually means.

Oranga Tamariki and the New Zealand Police both perform the statutory roles of child protection.

It is now possible to interrogate police victimisation data[ii] and look specifically at children aged 0-4 who were victims of crime. In the following graphic, the year June 2018 to June 2019 (as per the Oranga Tamariki data above) is selected:

(left click on image to enlarge)

There were 891 acts intended to cause injury perpetrated against 0-4 year-olds. The ethnic information is limited and inconclusive given 44.5% had ethnicity ‘not stated’.

Next, I moved the time period forward to the year June 2022 to June 2023:

There were 1,296 acts intended to cause injury perpetrated against the same age group. That’s an increase of 45% (with no equivalent rise in the size of the demographic.) The group with ‘no stated ethnicity’ has climbed further to 69 percent, though where ethnicity is recorded the usual disproportionality remains.

So over the 4-year period in question, there were fewer under 5-year-olds taken into care (which can actually mean they come under the care of the state but remain with their caregiver) and more acts against them intended to cause injury.

Which then begs the question, were injuries (or worse) sustained?

Here I am unable to isolate just the 0-4 year-old age group, but for under 15 year-olds serious assaults resulting in injury rose from 1,820 to 2,438 over the exact same period.[iii] A 34% increase.

But back to the pre-schoolers. Almost 1,300 acts intended to cause injury equates to more than three every day against the very young and defenceless. Oranga Tamariki data implies the situation is improving whereas the Police data implies the situation is deteriorating. They can’t both be right.

Is the rate of intentional injury increasing for the very reason that Oranga Tamariki is taking fewer children into state care?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then the whole drive to leave mainly Maori children with their whanau for cultural reasons is flawed.

But how do we know it is Maori children being hurt given police’s growing propensity to omit victim ethnicity?  Data from Health New Zealand confirms ethnic disproportionality[iv]:

It is overwhelmingly Maori children who are hospitalised due to domestic violence.

A recent op-ed[v] published in The Post and elsewhere, written by a regular columnist and past Greens/Maori Party staffer, criticised Karen Chhour’s move to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act. It claims, “There is no empirical evidence to support this decision.” 

I beg to differ based on Police and Health NZ data.

Then he states, “By Māori, for Māori services such as Whānau Ora have had extraordinary success working alongside Oranga Tamariki to place children in safe, secure, and culturally appropriate care.”

If the last statement is correct, then we can only assume matters could be even worse than they are; that Maori children could be even more disproportionately victims of violence than is currently the case. To accept that scenario a positive trend would need to be evident.

Which is what we get from Oranga Tamariki … but not the Police.

I don’t mind being wrong but it feels like the safety of Maori children is being neglected, perhaps even sacrificed, to prove a political point: that culture matters more than care.