On Tuesday 29th June, 2021, newsroom.co.nz broke the story (Trigger Warning: Violence) on excessive restraint captured by leaked surveillance footage at the Oranga Tamariki residence, Te Oranga.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner and VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai expressed our view publicly on the staff behaviour shown on film.

In response to this disturbing footage, Sir Wira Gardiner, the acting Head of Oranga Tamariki, has announced the Te Oranga residence will be closing this Sunday 4th July at midnight.

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai believes it is important not to forget that there are ten young people significantly impacted by the loss of the Te Oranga staff, some of whom the young people will have become very attached to, along with having friendships with each other. It is also important to ensure that these ten young people are not put at further risk because of this decision. Their voices and involvement appear to have been lacking in the decisions that have been made so far.

We do acknowledge Oranga Tamariki for seeking change and not accepting the behaviour of those responsible for the rough treatment of young people as shown in the media.

However, if the issues related to the closure of Te Oranga are due to lack of training and inadequate supervision of poor practice, there is no guarantee that these issues are isolated to Te Oranga. Splitting these ten young people up to be re-absorbed into other institutions may make them even less visible and able to have their important voices heard. A change in living circumstances for young people because of poor adult behaviour is an all too common and disturbing pattern in their lives. We are calling for consultation with young people through this residence closure process to ensure it is not another trauma for them to endure.

Oranga Tamariki has a duty of care to these young people, who have a right to understand and participate in all decisions being made about them.

Ms Shipton says the alignment of the ICM with ERO banishes the ‘independent’ body to a closed system, with a compliance-driven kaupapa rather than rights-based. “Establishing the ICM was an opportunity to have something profoundly different, to do right by young people, and we are disappointed by this decision. An opportunity to lead the way has been lost and we owe it to our young people to do better”.

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai urges the Government to ensure the integrity of the Independent Children’s Monitor by considering establishing it as an Independent Crown Entity.

Further background:
The Independent Children’s Monitor was established following the findings from the independent report outlining the poor outcomes of the NZ state care system. The Government committed to creating national care standards governing how children in state care should be looked after, which would be held to account by an Independent Children’s Monitor.

Set up in 2019, the Independent Children’s Monitor (ICM) has sat within the Ministry of Social Development as it established itself. The Government had maintained the monitoring body would ultimately move to sit alongside the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to ensure its independence in monitoring the Government department that manages tamariki and rangatahi in state care, Oranga Tamariki. This recent decision is a U-turn on that previous commitment.