Politics | Karen Chhour

Karen Chhour - I know what state care is and I don’t want that for our children

Minister for Children Karen Chhour. Photo: NZME

Karen Chhour is the Minister for Children. She grew up in the state care and was elected to Parliament as an Act Party MP in 2020. She is a mother of four and has lived on Auckland’s North Shore for the past 30 years.


Young people ought to be able to experience their culture and to be able to experience that in a positive way. But connection to whakapapa should never be pursued at the cost of a child’s happiness, safety and wellbeing.

Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act was introduced about five years ago with good intentions, to bring attention to Māori children and encourage them to be connected to their hapū and their iwi.

Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act introduced legislative obligations and explicit duties on the chief executive to demonstrate a practical commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Photo / Samuel Rillstone / NZME

But the legislation has had unintended consequences. We’ve seen what happens when an interpretation of Te Tiriti is placed above the needs of the child.

In some cases, we have seen “reverse uplifts”, where a child is removed from a loving foster home to be placed with relatives deemed more culturally appropriate.

I have seen firsthand the devastation on caregivers’ faces and the pain in their voices after being told a “forever home” did not necessarily mean just that. I saw the damage caused to a family being threatened with a reverse uplift because they were not Māori, who by the grace of God managed to find a Māori ancestor generations back in their bloodline. That was enough to save them from a reverse uplift.

I have had caregivers tell me of being forced to send children to visit previous abusers just to keep the family connections, with the attitude that the child needs to know where they came from.

Then we had the very public case of a young girl referred to as Moana. Moana was traumatised and neglected for years before being removed and placed into a safe, loving home – until a social worker decided they needed to remove Moana from their care because a Pākehā family could not provide for her cultural needs.

All I’m asking is for Oranga Tamariki to make sure that we’re putting safety and wellbeing first. Everything else must come second to that.

The Opposition has tried to make this issue about me. In the debate chamber, my colleagues across the aisle have called me a puppet and a sell-out.

On social media, Te Pāti Māori even suggested that I should have been uplifted as a child myself so that I could have been raised as the right kind of Māori.

I would prefer to ignore these attacks, but I have realised they speak to the divisive, damaging worldview that drives some groups’ continued support for Section 7AA and reverse uplifts – the idea that there is one “correct” pathway for a Māori child to grow up and find an identity. What a sad, closed-minded idea.

It is true that my own experience informs my politics. I grew up dealing with Child, Youth and Family, and I learned that what matters most in a home is stability, love, and safety – not race.

But more relevant than my own experience is that of children harmed today under Section 7AA.

Child abuse is a national shame, and people have been calling for years for something to be done to protect our most vulnerable children. Now that we are doing something about it, those same people respond with personal attacks and call us racists.

Every child deserves to wake up every morning knowing that they’re going to be safe. Because ultimately you have to be able to survive to enjoy your culture. And at the moment, we are working with children in care who need our help just to survive.

- NZ Herald