Last Friday, March the 31st, was the last day that Child Youth and Family ever existed. It sparked the newly designed Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Vulnerable Children to be launched. I thought it significant to make mention of the entire process of creating this new ministry. As is how it will change the course of historic dealings with the vulnerable children of New Zealand that is actually meaningful in some way. In many ways, this chat is an account of how significant this new ministry is from the perspective of a care experienced individual. My own experience is what have given me the incentive to advocate for the youth of New Zealand.
My experience with the system began when I was eight months old when I was taken out of the care of my parents. I was fortunate enough to be taken in by an incredible family who has been able to provide me with the most significant opportunities that any child could have possibly received. At the age of twelve, I was legally given the right to accept adoption as a means of my care and I’ve never looked back since. So that’s pretty cool. But what wasn’t cool was the consistent losses of the voice of children in the care experience. Fortunately, the social workers that looked after the younger me, by reports from my parents, were actually pretty cool. They were the right people for the job, who understood and respected my own culture on the basis of my Maori background but my social workers also placed me with my biological aunty on my dad’s side. So that’s pretty cool too.
But my story is not all great and glamourous. At the beginning was the fundamental basis that a traumatic situation had occurred where I was taken from my parents. That no child should have to experience that level of severity. But I guess where it becomes more serious is the idea that many children do not nearly get the same level of luck that I had. To land with people who were able to project the highest level of opportunities imaginable is truly a miracle. To have been provided with simple basics such as coming home to a loving, caring home that has the strategic expertise to respond to any situation that could have possibly come up. Such as providing me with opportunities as I was growing up to meet my biological parents, to meet my biological sister. To have those connections made was of huge benefit to me, even if I rejected them. They allowed me to move on with my life and not become restricted or constrained without some kind of idea of what happened when I was 8 months old that warranted being taken away in the first place.
Collectively, my experience in the system was pretty good. I was given the right social worker who cared and understood my own personal needs. I was placed in a home that had everything necessary to be humbler and honest and be loving and caring in a way that grew me into the person I am today. I was also given the opportunity to mend broken bridges within my biological family, and lastly, I was provided with the education to be able to go and find out more about my family and find out what the world looks like. The entire story finishes where I acknowledge my step mother for being the one who curated my entire life story thus far, having given me the education that is so intertwined with the person I am today, and giving me constant reason to grow and to fight my battles from a mature and intelligent way, even when there are spelling mistakes.
When you boil it all down, even through my story, the fact is that I was taken away from my family. Regardless of how amazing the recovery is, I have learnt that it is simply not good enough. Those other children shouldn’t have to be lucky in order for their experience in care to be successful. Every child should be given what I was given, at the bare minimum. They shouldn’t be abused, throw around like a rag doll and stigmatised as a vulnerable child. They should quite simply be consulted by the right social worker who provides the child with a voice that they can trust will give them hope to one day reconnect with their parents or at the bare minimum be given peace of mind that none of what happened was in any way their fault. That the child can grow up with a fair understanding of what happened and can happily move on with their life. Period.
So the newly constructed Ministry Oranga Tamariki is a breath of fresh air for an old child like myself. Having been a part of the creation of this whole network designed for children like me of tomorrow. I was head over heels when the network was released. The bi-monthly meetups of our youth advisory panel existed to keep every single bureaucratic member within the Ministry of Social Development and beyond to keep the thoughts and the Mana, authority over identity, with the child at the forefront of the entire ministry. That no adults opinions would ever overrule the needs of the children. At a basic understanding that the ministry would be designed to work ‘with’ children, not ‘for’ children. The hugely massive distinction being that the decisions made would be primarily focused on ensuring that children were being consulted about the choices made for them so that they never ever felt that it was their fault. That they never blamed themselves for the shortcomings of adults who knew what they were doing. A system of macroeconomics where one decision for legislative changes affected the incomes and socio-economics of thousands of families. Where small decisions make massive changes on the well-being of your everyday person, huge consequences can sometimes cause massive impacts on how people manage themselves. A system of inflation, whatever the reason might have been to lead my parents to not successfully being able to look after me to the degree that was needed when I was eight months old. It is simply not good enough.
One of the major changes implicated by the new ministry is that the complaints system is made more abundantly clear. That a child would have a clear pathway to contact Oranga Tamariki, who would be urgently accountable regardless of the significance of the complaint, that the child would know that they have rights in the first place. A previously unrecognised problem is that so many youths, including myself, were not aware that we even had rights. More important measures included youth justice. In the case of youth justice where a person who has been in care would be understood rather than empathised with in a degrading manner. That an advocate would be present at the time of the police officer making an arrest of a child, or where not possible, police officers would be made to understand the voices of youths from care experience so that they, the police officer themselves, would actually be the child’s advocate, would treat the child as if they were their own. That the police officer would be present throughout the child’s entire remand. That they would be present during the entire process to remind all other adults, the child’s parents, a judge, everyone would be aware that this child has a story, that they are being listened to, that they are not the only one who made mistakes. That this would help enrich the child who is in question to grow within themselves, that their support grows also and treats this child as a taonga, a precious treasure. This validation would give them the tools and the knowledge to feel empowered by a figure that usually looks intimidating but instead comes down from its high horse to give these children the understanding that they deserve.
A complaints system that recognises the rights of children in care. A new insight into how children are taken into remand within the new youth justice system. Staff who are more accountable for the decisions made for the child. The last biggest change to Oranga Tamariki versus the previous network includes transition funding. That the new ministry funds children in care from the age of 17-18-years-old. A massive game changer that recognises that most of the children in care do not have financial guarantors who can sign them a lease to a new home, can give them financial literacy like understanding IRD, paying taxes, gaining a passport, applying for a university. All of these micro-dimensions were intimately checked over by the voices of young people like myself and were raised long ago by previous youth advisory panels to help the new ministry grow and to provide a service that more effectively deals with the needs of children who are taken away from their families. that they are given the tools needed to get to where they need to go from a governing body that actually gives a shit.
Beyond the care and experience within a new children’s ministry exists the support of engaging with all New Zealanders. That iwi and government both acknowledge that our country has a problem with child abuse.
That each and every person in New Zealand is responsible for the shortcomings of children within the system who have been dealt a bad hand by the adults who raised them up, but also from a government who is responsible for looking after them. This issue was most notably raised when the Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Bill English when he was present last Friday, the 31st of March, at the launching of Oranga Tamariki. That he spoke with us regarding the entire ministry trying to listen to our voices, trying to take on the significance of the new ministry. And that in itself is evidence enough that this is a change which is necessary. More importantly are the voices of young people who are and have for years been looking for the help that they deserve. That they are no longer vulnerable children but children of us.
Below is a link to my interview with the media regarding the coverage of the launch of Oranga Tamariki.
As always 😉
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