Press Statement:

January 24 

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai urgently calls for accountability as new report shows Oranga Tamariki is not delivering quality health and dental care for all tamariki in their care. 

Re: Aroturuki Tamariki (Independent Childrens Monitor) Report:  

Access to Primary Health Services and Dental Care for Tamariki and Rangatahi in Care 

An in-depth look into the experiences of accessing primary health services and dental care for tamariki and rangatahi in care. 

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai urgently calls for the new Minister for Children, Hon Karen Chhour, to ensure Oranga Tamariki is kept accountable and delivers access to quality health care for all tamariki in state care.  

“The report from Aroturuki Tamariki released today shows that tamariki and rangatahi in state care in Aotearoa New Zealand, are not having their basic health and dental needs met, and if you happen to be of Māori or Pacific decent the picture is even worse. Young people are outraged. How is it acceptable that the basic needs and rights of our most vulnerable tamariki are still not being met?” Tracie Shipton, CEO, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai.

The report highlights that “there continues to be a lack of urgency to ensure that data collection by social workers is improved.” “A lack of recording this data shows a lack of ensuring these services are being delivered to this child, to me that is dangerous and negligent practice” says Lisa Mclaren, Chair of VOYCE’s Te Waipounamu (South Island) Regional Youth Council. It is unacceptable that Oranga Tamariki are still unable to provide real time data on whether children in their care have an active enrolment with a local GP and whether they are receiving their annual health and dental checks.  

Health is a fundamental marker of a child’s wellbeing. Open Home Foundation have proven that tracking data on children in their care is possible. We should not accept anything less from Oranga Tamariki, the state parent of more than 4,000 tamariki.  

“The care system doesn’t even know how well they are meeting the needs of children in their care!” – Tupua Urlich, National Care Experience Lead, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai.  

The young people VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai works with support the findings of the report and know from their own lived experience that there is negligence by the state in making sure their primary health needs are met. 

Primary health and dental care are fundamental needs, and yet those charged with caring for young people in state care have not provided sufficient policy, resource or practice guidance to enable social workers to consistently meet these needs. VOYCE believes this is indicative of the lack of priority that has been given to the implementation of the National Care Standards to date.  

“When a child enters the care of the state, something has had to happen to them, their whānau, or the people around them. That alone should indicate to everyone that a close eye needs to be kept on the child and their health” says Lisa. 

Our care-experienced rangatira stood on the steps of parliament in August 2023 demanding the current and future government honour their duty to care-experienced tamariki and rangatahi as a state parent. Representatives from all political parties agreed to 6 Promises. This report is evidence of the continued failure to keep one of these promises: 

Promise 4: You promised to support me with healthcare when I need it 

Mary-Lynn Huxford, National Care Experienced Youth Participation Advisor, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai adds, “We keep forgetting about the experience of children in care. We talk about numbers and percentages and data – but for every failure to tick a box there is a child whose story and experience of their childhood is being affected. We need to nurture their development, to change the lived experience of these kids.”  

Tupua goes on to say, “It’s really dangerous when the basics are missed.” 

We know that experiences of childhood trauma can lead to adverse health outcomes, and we know that tamariki and rangatahi in state care have experienced trauma. Access to primary health services and dental care should be a priority for all tamariki, but even more so for those in state care. 

“Dental care can have lifelong impacts on overall health and wellbeing – pain, shame, laughter, smiling, being present – it’s all impacting on the person” says Mary-Lynn. 

Sara McLaughlin, Te Tai Hau-ā-uru (Lower North Island) Regional Youth Council member, adds, “There was no support from OT in my teen years when I had traumatic dental experiences, and now as a young adult I have to live with dental pain, and I’ve missed out on the free dental care for under 18’s. I was put into the too-hard basket so many times when I was younger and I didn’t understand the implications that not being treated would have on me in later life.” 

The fact that the report could identify pockets of good practice is positive, and we mihi to those who are finding ways to fulfil these obligations to our tamariki. But for our tamariki in care a positive experience of primary health and dental care appears to be more down to good luck than good management. 

“A guardian would risk state intervention if it was found that a child hadn’t had appropriate medical treatment. How is the state getting away with doing the same?” says Lisa. 

VOYCE (Voice Of the Young and Care Experienced) – Whakarongo Mai is a national independent advocacy organisation for tamariki and rangatahi in care.