Children’s commissioner: Oranga Tamariki bill risks mokopuna falling through state care cracks

Children’s Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato) is worried the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People's Commission will allow Aotearoa's most vulnerable children to fall through the cracks of state care.

The bill passed its third reading last week.

Eivers doesn’t understand why there was a rush to pass the bill when the recommendations from the Royal Commission into abuse of children in state care have been made as “this law is about making sure that we have a good system for the care of mokopuna who have the need for state care”.

Until now the children’s commissioner has had the role of advocacy, investigating complaints and monitoring of Oranga Tamariki.

“It’s about relationships and communities and ensuring that practices and procedures fit whānau and individuals,” the judge says.

The biggest change under the bill will see the children’s commissioner stripped of her power to conduct investigations into Oranga Tamariki.

'Greater investment' needed

The power to investigate and have oversight of Oranga Tamariki will go to the Ombudsman and a new independent monitor inside a government agency.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has said he expects an increase in complaints about Oranga Tamariki and Eivers notes “I will do the best I can for the mokopuna of Aotearoa - that is what I was appointed for”.

“What’s needed is a greater investment in helping these children in the awhi and the aroha to make sure that we recognise that they behave like that because of the trouble, because of the trauma.”

The children’s commission will be a board in the future, with advocacy as the main part of the role.

Eivers says that, with the stripping of the ability to conduct investigations, it will cause “more of a process” to receive needed information.

National, Greens, Te Pati Māori and Act were all opposed to the passing of the bill and have been asking why Labour pushed the bill through.

“This is a case of less haste and more speed as this is a real opportunity to make real change for our whānau and mokopuna who really need help and support,” Eivers says.